Is Eric Clapton really that good of a guitarist?

Written by on July 14, 2020

Jake Gerber · Musical Session Player , Guitar , Bass ,And Vocals (1962–present)

My answer is coming more from a traditional jazz/pop player, so please bear with me. Eric Clapton is or was a very good (rated 3rd on Rolling Stone’s ‘Top Guitarist’ listing) and an inspired blues based lead guitarist and I think that is where he shined. All around, he is a great and tasteful guitarist when performing the right genre. I thought what he did on the sessions for George Harrison’s composition, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” on the 1968 The Beatles ‘White Album’ was great and very simplistic yet melodic. He was the right man for that song. Eric also played some great hooks like ‘Layla’ his ode to George’s first wife. So that’s the blues-pop genre .

Now the downside. I heard / watched a video of Eric doing ‘Over The Rainbow’ a rather unsophisticated audience in respect “ standards “ ate it up. Eric like 99% of players of blues based players never frequented the use of chords, it was all about solos with very little if any thought of what could be done via various guitar chord playing.

I read his autobiography a few years ago and I was very impressed with the man. He has integrity to spare . It wasn’t always that way . When this book was written and it gave a brutally honest portrait of Eric. Back to ‘Over The Rainbow‘ Eric didn’t know many chords to speak of other than what most blues players know. That does not lend itself well to tunes that require certain phrasing with the chords outside of the major and minor chords or possibly a diminished seventh chord. He’s not a chord savvy guitarist, and his voice did not lend itself to a song considered a standard . In my opinion, ‘Over The Rainbow‘ was a disaster .

To the question. Yes, he is a very talented guitarist in his own genre, it’s just not a classical or jazz genre. Within the blues genre, it’s another story , and more importantly Eric Clapton is a top tier guitarist , as well as a humble human being .

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