Paging Mr Clapton…

Anybody who knows anything about me as a guitarist or has heard me play soon realises that when it comes to my primary influence I wear it pretty much on my sleeve:

Mayall-era Clapton.

As exemplified on the groundbreaking ‘Beano’ album and a handful of odd tracks it was old ‘Slowhand’ who really inspired me to play.

His sound on that album – a Les Paul Standard through a cranked up Marshall combo – is my favourite guitar tone of all time and his playing was equally impressive. Playing with real flair and joie de vivre, Eric plays his way with panache through up tempo and slow blues and shows exactly why ‘Clapton is God’ appeared as graffiti all over London in 1966.

Even when he split with Mayall to form Cream along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker he managed to keep this exuberance and some bootlegs of early Cream reveal someone who still had the ability to stun an audience with his playing. Sure, his sound changed a little – playing through two Marshall stacks will do that – but the vibrato, extremely well-controlled bends and breathtaking invention were still all there.

However, things quickly changed. Playing ever and ever longer versions of numbers from what was a fairly limited repertoire, Clapton started to repeat himself and the Cream of the final tour in 1968 sounded redundant and tired.

Then the real transformation started. Soon abandoning Gibsons and Marshalls for all Fender gear, Clapton tried to reinvent himself and, whilst always staying with the blues, he branched out reaching a trough of mediocrity in 1989 with the ‘Journeyman’ album which saw him totally blanded out on MOR pap.

It was then that he sought to return to more blues-based material, but by then it was too late.

He’d lost it – totally.

Instead of progressing as a blues player he’d just stagnated and marked himself down as maybe rock’s number one underachiever with 4 years of glorious playing and then over 40 more years – with perhaps just the exception of the ‘Layla’ album – of simply treading water.

Why I’ve chosen to write this now is because I’ve just ‘acquired’ a superb bootleg of the Madison Square Garden gig on the 18th of this month (3 days ago! How do they do it?) from his joint tour with Jeff Beck.

Sure, Jeff’s past his best really, but compared to Clapton he sounds inspired, interested and – above all – as if he still enjoys playing and isn’t just going through the motions like old Eric is. When they get together to play a final third set together after a solo set each I’m really quite amazed at how Eric manages to play in the face of such energy from Beck.

Maybe it’s to his credit that he doesn’t just throw down his guitar and walk off, but at least that would be an honest response, because I can only see two alternatives – he wants the dosh or he still thinks he’s got something to ‘say’ on guitar.

Well, the dosh isn’t a problem, so it must be the latter reason and that’s just simple self-delusion…

Give it up Eric, soon, please.