Podcasts Rock

Podcast: Why is Clapton Great?

  1. 11:16

Here is a simple question: Why is Eric Clapton a great guitar player?

To me, the right question isn’t “Why is Clapton great?” Instead, the question is “What makes a great guitar player?” It’s a far more difficult question than in directly competitive endeavors. We know LeBron James is great because he leads or is near the top in measurable metrics. Magnus Carlsen can make the case that he is the greatest chess player ever in the form of his ranking and the list of people he has beaten. Usain Bolt. Floyd Mayweather. Mariano Rivera. Easy conclusions. They out ran, out boxed and out closed their competitors.

Eric ClaptonBut art is subjective. Anyone raised on rock and roll who now is at retirement age or older grew up with the understanding that Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jerry Garcia, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Duane Allman and a few others are in the pantheon. Like the fact that the Knicks will never again win the NBA title, calling this group the top of the mountain is an article of faith that is so deeply engrained that most people don’t think too much about it.

There actually are ways of describing Clapton’s greatness, however. One simply is that he helped invent the form of rock and roll that we have today so of course he will be considered to be really good at it. If the founders of rock and roll had simply played random notes and if the genre had somehow survived, those random note players would be considered geniuses. It’s sort of like the anthropic principle.

It’s more than that, of course. I discussed the question with my brother Walter (who I also spoke to about Hendrix) recently. He suggested four contributing factors: phrasing, tone, technique and choice of collaborators. I’ll let him elaborate.

Walt references a solo in the version of “Got to Get Better in a Little While” from the 2013 Crossroads Guitar Festival at Madison Square Garden in NYC as a good illustration of Clapton’s genius. The podcast starts and ends with the solo.

A final and meaningless side note: Nobody seems to refer to Stevie Ray Vaughan as “Vaughan.” It would be odd to hear somebody say, “I love Clapton, but my real favorite is Vaughan.” It’s either “Stevie Ray” or “SRV.” Odd.

Photo Credit: This page Ericclapton007; Homepage: F. Antolín Hernández


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TDMB has focused on music and musicians. We will continue to do that, of course. We're also expanding our coverage to include vinyl and analog equipment.

More specifically, we'll look at this huge and interesting world from the perspective of music lovers who want a better experience, not committed non-audiophiles.

Check out is some of what we've written so far:

-- Assessing the Value of Vinyl Records: An Overview

-- 7 Quick Tips on Optimizing Your Turntable Cartridge

-- Why Vinyl Records Continue to Thrive

-- Finding the Best Amplifier

-- Finding the Best Phono Preamp

-- What Speakers Do I Need for My Turntable?

Check out more articles on analog equipment and vinyl.

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Our Music

--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

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The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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