In the mid-60s, graffiti began to appear in London: “Clapton Is God.” This came from his stint in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, where he stamped his seal on the blues with songs like “Hideaway” and “Five Long Years.” His technical brilliance and fiery playing earned him an underground following.
But, it always made me think, “is this really where Eric Clapton made his bid for god?”
Plus, what other guitar players have made their bid for god?
I’m not looking for your standard greatness, like B.B., Albert, or Frank Zappa. Pretty much everything they touch is awesome. I want to know who hit something… transcendent; a place where an already great guitarist just goes off, out of their head, and reaches for it.
Placing a bid for god status. Here are 10 I think made their bid.
Bid for god: The bridge from “Not Fade Away” into “I Know You Rider” from Skull And Roses. I have listened to a lot of Grateful Dead (and their fans), and many people feel their albums were just an excuse for their live shows. Hooey. The bridge just explodes off the vinyl/CD/download (last time for that phrase) An exquisite link from one song to the next, show casing a smooth attack and a brilliant blend of one song into another.
Bid for god: The easy answer is everything he ever did, from tuning right on through the Star Spangled Banner. But I’m going with Hear My Train A’Comin’ from Live At The BBC. Long a bootleg, and now legitimately available, Hear My Train A’Comin is some of the craziest playing Jimi ever laid down. A stone bluesman through and through, this is pure Jimi insanity, based on the foundation of the blues. So awesome.
EC / Carlos Santana
Bid for god: Eyesight To The Blind from Crossroads 2 Live In The Seventies. Clapton’s Box Set Crossroads- groundbreaking, stunning. Crossroads Two- Live In The Seventies- Not so much, with one exception: EC and Carlos Santana covering Eyesight To The Blind.
Six minutes of transcendent guitar, from a pair of guitar heroes. The supposed back story -Clapton was going through a bad time, and he was touring with Santana, who was a very spiritual man. So in an attempt to “find” himself, on alternating nights Clapton and Santana would either meditate, or get wildly hammered.
Don’t know whether this was alcohol or meditation fueled, but it really doesn’t matter.
Bid for god: When Duane Allman hooked up with Eric Clapton on Derek And The Dominoes, he completely changed that album. With “Have You Ever Loved A Woman,” Allman hits the apex of his studio blues. EC finishes his fills through the vocals, and at 2:35 , Duane starts. The tone is fatter, the sound more soulful, the music deeper. In 2011, in the Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists list, Duane Allman was number 2. He proves it right here!
Bid for god: Death Letter, from Under Great White Northern Lights. The first song I heard from this DVD was Jolene, on my shaky car radio, and I thought to myself, “When did Led Zeppelin record Jolene?” But no, it was the White Stripes, so I had to have this.
But that’s not the song. At that same show, they play Death Letter (a Son House cover). Strings flying, Meg double timing and then stepping up the beat, and Jack White just beating the sh*t out of his acoustic guitar. I gotta believe if they played that song again in Canada, there are pieces of that guitar all over the country!
Bid for god: Since I’ve Been Loving You from Led Zepellin DVD. I was never so mad when an interviewed Jimmy Page said that The Song Remains The Same weren’t great shows, merely the shows when they had the cameras. He said there were shows “that make the hair on the back of your neck stand up”. But where were they? And then came Led Zepellin DVD. Finally, standing hairs.
When Plant And Page re-united for No Quarter, Plant said he missed Page’s stagger. A perfect description. Since I’ve been Loving You from Led Zepellin DVD is Page’s bid, and let me tell you, this one was the hardest to pick. Too many options!
Bid for god: Down By The River from Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere. I used to buy every Neil Young album the day it came out, until Reactor, Trans, and Landing on Water. But despite his tangential forays (he was actually sued by his record company for making albums that “weren’t Neil Young albums!), he is still one of the most formidable guitar players alive. Starting at 1:53, Neil plays a riff I could play, and I don’t play. So simple, so perfect. And then he expands, to lay down a path that he would travel off and on for the next 40 years. WWND indeed!
The Rolling Stones
Bid for god: Sympathy For The Devil from Love You Live. While not a guitarist per se, the Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil From Love You Live is the epitome of the Stones sound. Keith Richards gets down and lays it out, with Ronnie Wood laying in the grace notes that make the ending of the song a guitarists tour de force. If you want to understand rhythm guitar, go no further than Keith Richards.
Bid for god:While My Guitar Gently weeps from The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame 2004. In 2004, both Prince and George Harrison were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison (George’s son) are all onstage to play While My Guitar Gently Weeps, with Prince to play the Clapton solo. Just watch. It’s not that Prince looks over and reaches down for two more choruses every time Tom Petty tries to sing, it’s not that Prince alternately drops the hammer both technically and visually, or that he falls into the audience during the entire process, it’s that at the end of his blow-out, he flows seamlessly back into the song, just like it was nothing. Watch the video, only Dhani gets it. Absolutely crazy.
Bid for god: Maggot Brain from One Nation Under A Groove. George Clinton snuck this in as a bonus track, and what a bonus. Eddie Hazel just launches himself into the ozone. The story of the song is that Eddie Hazel, the Funkadelic guitarist, was given a scenario by George Clinton. Pretend that you heard that your mother had died, and then found out that she was really still alive- what would you play? George Clinton, the master of funk, letting Eddie light it up!
You’ll find that Eric Clapton is all over this list. And of course I left out Further On Up The Road with The Band from the Last Waltz. But he’s there with Santana, and Duane Allman, and is the genesis of Prince’s solo as well. So maybe the graffiti is right.
And thanks for reading to the end of the blog. I know it’s a little long, but so is a great solo.
Did I miss any? Got your own place where a guitarist makes his bid for god? Let us know. We might even put together a list from your suggestions. Plus, I’m always interested in hearing about different guitarists . . .