Way back in 1991, I was doing a lot of movie score work as a session player, and I received a phone call from a Hollywood contractor with a question many of us would love to hear.
She asked, “Can you play in the style of Eric Clapton?”
I answered, “What era?”
This completely confused her, because she knew of just “one” Clapton—the 1980s version. Back then, records such as Behind the Sun (1985), August (1986), and Journeyman (1989) generated radio friendly hits, and these songs were the extent of her knowledge of his discography. Over the phone, I educated her about the Les Paul that Eric played with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, as well as the Cream era and his wildly painted Gibson SG known as “The Fool” (named after the Dutch artists that painted it). Then, I told her about the ES-335 famous for “Crossroads” and other amazing tones during Cream’s late- ’60s run. Somehow, the vibrato he got with that guitar is his most wicked ever.
There was some Telecaster work on the Blind Faith album of 1969, followed by “Brownie”—a ’56 two-tone sunburst Stratocaster used on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Clapton played the parts guitar Strat known as “Blackie,” as well as plenty of other instruments.
So here it was in 1991, and when you get a call like that your second question has to be, “Why do you need somebody to sound like Clapton?”
The simple explanation was that EC was scoring the 1991 film Rush, the story of small town cops that go undercover to catch a major drug dealer only to get sucked into the drug culture (Gregg Allman played a drug lord in the movie). Apparently, Eric had to be in Milan, Italy, that week and wouldn’t be available to come to Los Angeles to fix a few musical cues that had to be changed. This happens a lot in the movie business. A director re-shoots a scene, the original music doesn’t work anymore, and a “cleanup session” is called to rerecord the cue.
I decided to take the gig, and, not one to take chances, I brought the appropriate guitar and amp for each of the major Clapton periods I described to the contractor. At the session, the producer sampled each rig, and we decided on my own version of “Brownie”—a 1958 twotone sunburst. Using a Fender Princeton Reverb amp, I was able to reproduce the Laylaera EC tones, which seemed to work with the sounds Eric had already tracked for the film.
When the movie came out, I bought the soundtrack album to see how my Clapton impersonation stacked up against the real guy. It was pretty close— which only attests to my fanboy appreciation (especially of Cream). During the session, I got around to asking the producer, “Why was Eric in Milan, and not playing on the final days of his film score?”
He answered, “He had an appointment with his tailor, Giorgio Armani.”
Carl Verheyen is a crtically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer, clinician, educator, and tone master with 12 CDs, two live DVDs, and two books released worldwide.