By Damian Fanelli
When I was a young'un in the early '80s, still new to the guitar and looking for great players to inspire me, I asked a few adults, including my father, to name some great guitarists, people I should listen to and learn from.
Every one of them, Dad included, mentioned Eric Clapton. (Note: He was cool enough to also mention Eddie Van Halen.)
So imagine my surprise when I went out and bought Clapton's latest album at the time, the fairly subdued Money and Cigarettes.
Yes, there were catchy songs, a great natural Strat sound and a guest appearance by the amazing Albert Lee, but the young version of me asked, "Where's the fire? The big solos? Why isn't he giving Stevie Ray Vaughan a run for his money?" A little later on, I found out the brilliant, country-flavored second guitar solo from the hit live version of "Cocaine" (from 1980's Just One Night) wasn't played by Clapton! It was, in fact, Albert Lee. Argghhh!
So I guess I caught Clapton at, well, a laid-back time, guitar-hero-wise — right at the end of his country-inspired "Strat, direct into the amp" phase. He started breaking out the heated solos again on Behind the Sun, Journeyman, From the Cradle and other subsequent albums, of course. And his playing at Cream's 2005 reunion show was stellar.
Anyway, it didn't take me long to discover the adults' reference point in terms of all the Clapton hubbub: the Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton album — and everything he ever did with Cream. Now this, well ... this was something freakin' special. This was the Eric Clapton my father & Co. were remembering, the "Eric Clapton of the Mind."
From the Bluesbreakers through Cream (1966 through 1968), Clapton was — simply put — one of the best, most explosive and influential guitarists on the planet. And while footage of Clapton during this era is rare, we are lucky to be able to see some very fine (although oddly edited) video of Cream's farewell concert, which was filmed in November 1968 at the Albert Hall in London.
The video, which you can watch below, captures the explosive version of EC. It also shows him explaining how a Gibson's volume and tone knobs work and demonstrating his "woman tone."
By the way, I've grown up a lot since my Money and Cigarettes disappointment days; I can appreciate exactly what Clapton was going for; I know he got very tired of the long, loud jams with Cream (as would I). Hell, I think Old Sock is a cool album, and I loved The Road to Escondido, the album he made with J.J. Cale in 2006.
I am a Clapton fan, and I'm proud to admit it!
Anyway, here's hoping you enjoy this little bit of time travel.
Damian Fanelli is the online managing editor at Guitar Aficionado.