Eric Clapton's Top 10 Guitar Riffs
At some point in the summer of 1967 a now-famous piece of graffiti appeared on a wall near Islington tube station featuring three words that had begun popping up on walls all over London: “Clapton is God.” Immortalised by Roger Perry's photograph of a dog urinating against the wall bearing the slogan, the phrase marked a tribute to the man who was at the time considered to be one of the best blues guitarists on the planet.
One of three guitarists who began their path to fame as a member of The Yardbirds (the other two being Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck), Eric Clapton's guitar-playing skills would see him become one of the most in-demand axemen of his era, playing guitar for bands as diverse as John Mayall's Blues Breakers, Blind Faith and legendary rock supergroup Cream, not to mention a string of solo albums under his own name and another under the guise of Derek and the Dominos alongside Duane Allman. He even popped up on The Beatles' self-titled double album – although uncredited – performing the guitar solo on 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps'.
With all that under his belt and career record sales totalling somewhere north of 100 million albums, Eric Clapton is a man who needs little introduction and the prolific guitarist has churned out an impressive 23 solo albums since 1970. His 24th, entitled I Still Do, arrives in stores this Friday.
A mixture of original compositions and cover versions from the likes of legendary bluesmen Skip James and Robert Johnson, the album also features an appearance from a figure named 'Angelo Mysterioso', who is credited as providing acoustic guitar and vocals on the track 'I Will Be There'. As dedicated fans will likely be aware, this was a pseudonym once used by George Harrison when guesting on a Cream album, reportedly using a fake name to avoid licensing issues with his record company. However, despite speculation that the track is an unreleased collaboration with the late Beatles guitarist, Clapton has refused to confirm or deny the identity of the mystery collaborator and there have been suggestions that it could also be Harrison's son, Dhani.
Either way, the rumours add a sense of intrigue to the new album and you'll have to judge for yourself whether either Harrison appears on the record or not, but that's unlikely to bother hardcore fans too much when tracks like 'Can't Let You Do It' and 'Stones In My Passway' show that Clapton has lost none of his deft touch as one of the world's most skilled blues guitarists.
To celebrate the release of I Still Do this Friday, we went digging through Clapton's back catalogue and drew up a list of his most iconic guitar riffs. Here goes...
10. 'Steppin' Out' (Blues Breakers)
One of the tracks from Clapton's short-lived stint in John Mayall's outfit, the opening riff from 'Steppin' Out' is just one great example of Clapton's mastery of the blues-based riff, and from there we're straight into shredding solo territory as Clapton shows off the best of his blues chops.
9. 'The Shape You're In'
Taken from 1983's Money & Cigarettes, 'The Shape You're In' is opened and propelled throughout by Clapton's shuffling guitar work as he duels with the album's second guitarist Albert Lee. Sure, the riff owes more than a little to the likes of Bo Diddley, but hey – if you're going to steal, steal from the best.
8. 'Motherless Children'
Not to be confused with the rather more sedate 'Motherless Child' that Clapton would later record, this track is taken from his second solo album 451 Ocean Boulevard and its intricate riff is first doubled and then tripled with a harmony line over the top, all at a frenetic pace. You'd be hard pushed to drive from one coast of America to the other without hearing this on the radio at least once, but that's just as well since this is a tune best enjoyed at high speeds on a long, straight road.
Clapton's cover of this JJ Cale tune is probably more famous than the original and many assume that it's a Clapton original. It isn't, of course, but it's easy to see why Clapton's version is regarded as the definitive one and if listening to them side by side only emphasises how good that riff sounds in Clapton's hands.
6. 'Politician' (Cream)
One of the weirder cuts from his time in Cream, if you break 'Politician' down to its bare structure it's basically just a 12-bar blues, but here Clapton's angular guitar work makes it sound like something from a Black Sabbath record, which is no bad thing at all.
5. 'Had To Cry Today' (Blind Faith)
Clapton was a restless soul at the tail end of the 1960s and his stint in Blind Faith must count as one of the shortest-lived in rock history, but it was long enough to turn in one classic album and of all the cuts from their eponymous LP, the opening track has a riff that's easily as good as anything he did with Cream.
4. 'Strange Brew' (Cream)
Another track featuring a heavily blues-influenced riff, 'Strange Brew' finds Clapton playing a little more loosely than he'd done with John Mayall's band, but with a rhythm section comprising Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce backing him up, he can afford a little more room to move and the result is one of the best songs Clapton was ever involved with.
3. 'Crossroads' (Cream)
Originally a song written by blues legend Robert Johnson in which he claims to have met the devil and sold his soul in exchange for fame and success, Cream's version is a very different beast to the original and Clapton's frenetic guitar picking on this track remains one of his most recognisable licks.
2. 'Sunshine Of Your Love' (Cream)
The only reason we didn't put 'Sunshine Of Your Love' at the top of this list is because the riff in question was actually written on the bass guitar by Jack Bruce. Clapton could have done anything over the top, really, but he chose just to double the bass riff with the guitar – and with a riff this good, why wouldn't you?
1. 'Layla' (Derek & The Dominos)
There can be only one riff at the top of this list that's not 'Sunshine Of Your Love' and that has to be 'Layla'. Recorded as Derek and the Dominos, 'Layla' was reportedly written during a period in which Clapton was infatuated with Pattie Boyd, who was then the wife of his best friend George Harrison. Eventually Clapton and Boyd married following her spilt with Harrison, but not before he'd penned this tale of unrequited love. Whereas any dedicated guitarist or hardcore Clapton fan would probably know most of the riffs above, there's hardly a person on Earth that couldn't sing you the riff from 'Layla', even if they don't know a single lyric.