No one doubts that Eric Clapton is one of the best and most important guitarists in history. The mark left by the Englishman through his time with the Yardbirds, Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek & The Dominos or alone has been felt by most rock guitarists in history. You just have to have a quick look at Guitars Exchange to see he is one of the most talked about names in our pages. Yet his impact has been shown in various sessions for others too, where he has always left a sample of his enormous class. Here we’ll look at 10 of our favourites:
Aretha Franklin - Good To Me As I Am Good To You (17 December 1967)
To put the cherry on top of Lady Soul, Ahmet Ertegun thought to invite Eric Clapton, who was in Cream at the time. The legendary English guitarist, 22 years old, was so excited and at the same time intimidated by Aretha Franklin’s voice, that he didn’t record his part with the others. So when he turned up at the studio Aretha was there with her friend Bobby Womack trying to record the guitar part for the bluesy Good to Me as I Am Good to You. He made his appearance with a teased up haircut, pink pants, and very likely his SG ‘The Fool’ painted psychedelically. Franklin, who didn’t know the guitarist started to laugh but when he began to play the laughter turned into admiration. Poor Womack couldn’t believe it, a white boy was showing him how to play the blues. The song fulfills its promise with one of the best voices in history together with one of the best guitarists. A treat for the ears.
Jackie Lomax - Sour Milk Sea (June 1968)
The friendship between Eric Clapton and George Harrison has been one of the most profitable in rock history (though it was also a source of much talk outside the music world). With the music division of Apple recently created, Harrison began to produce one of his first signed artists, the English singer Jackie Lomax. The Beatle gave this opportunity all he had and let him have one of his songs, Sour Milk Sea, which he had already introduced to his mates on the White Album sessions. At the end of June 1968 he put together an elite group of players for the recording, all the Beatles except Lennon, McCartney on bass, Ringo Starr on sticks, Harrison himself on guitar, and even the great session pianist Nicky Hopkins. To sit in for Lennon, Harrison called his mate Clapton to splendidly play lead guitar on the song which incredibly did not become a massive success. It’s a great song and besides, it probably became the inspiration for McCartney on Get Back, recorded a year later.
Beatles – While My Guitar Gently Weeps (6 September 1968)
Without a doubt the most famous collaboration of his career. Clapton is one of the few musicians who can boast about playing a solo on one of the Beatles records, although he wasn’t given credit for it. He did it at the request of his friend Harrison, the author of this incredible song, who was trying to get it put on the White Album and found himself with the familiar disdain by Lennon and McCartney towards his material. Harrison knew it was something special and decided to bring Clapton to the studio. He was a bit embarrassed for rubbing shoulders with the world’s biggest band and he told Harrison “nobody plays with the Beatles” but Harrison insisted telling him, “Don’t bring a guitar, I have a good Les Paul you can use”. It was ‘Lucy’, the ‘57 Les Paul Red that Clapton had given him the month before. Clapton went and everyone was on their best behavior, especially when they saw the result they got, because Lucy truly wept in the song.
Billy Preston - That’s The Way God Planned It (June 1969)
Another Harrison production for Apple allowed Clapton to play on this remarkable piece by Billy Preston, the singer/keyboardist who had played with the Beatles for the Let It Be sessions. For the verses and chorus, Clapton laid down some tidy licks (as some response to Preston’s organ work) but in the end he rips into an incredible solo reminiscent of his time in Cream, partly because Ginger Baker is also there on drums, although instead of Jack Bruce, we have one Keith Richards on bass.
Delaney & Bonnie - Groupie (Superstar) (November of 1969)
One of the key moments in Clapton’s career came about when he heard Music From the Big Pink by The Band, that simplicity and focus on the song, instead of, in his own words “long and boring guitar solos just because”. He found something like that in the band that was playing curtain raiser for Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, a band in which he would find the future members of Derek & the Dominos and the pianist Leon Russell. Just at that time he went through another basic change, Clapton began to play Fender instead of Gibson, and changing his amps to Fender as well in place of the usual Marshall. The first thing he recorded with the duo was the single Comin’ Home and Groupie (Superstar), as side B, which would become a classic after the Carpenters took it to the bestselling lists. Oddly enough, we can add that it was written with him in mind, according to Rita Coolidge who gave the idea to Bonnie that the song was about the effect his way of playing had on women...
Leon Russell – Prince of Peace (14 November 1969)
Leon Russell was one of the most prominent session players in the 60s, being part of the legendary Wrecking Crew, but it was his friendship with Harrison and Clapton, whom he met on his contribution with Delaney & Bonnie, which made him a star on his own account. On his debut album he had an incredible lineup of invited guests (Harrison, Jagger, Ringo Starr, Stevie Winwood, Joe Cocker…) but the brightest was Clapton on Prince of Peace that shows how in his prolific stage of his career he was totally inspired.
Doris Troy - Give Me Back My Dynamite (Diciembre de 1969)
Doris Troy was a soul singer who was very successful in 1963 with the irresistible Just One Look, but her career was fading commercially and at the end of the 60s she moved to England. There her name was still revered by bands of the British Invasion and in 1969 appeared on You Can’t Always Get What You Want by the Stones. That summer her friend Madeline Bell invited her to the recording sessions of That’s The Way God Planned It at Apple. That’s where Harrison told her he was a fan and offered her a contract with the label. For her first record the Beatle threw himself into the production, the songwriting, (as in Give Me Back My Dynamite, composed between the two of them) and taking some friends to the studio such as Clapton, who shines with his ample knowledge of the blues.
Stephen Stills – Go Back Home (June of 1970)
Clapton recorded his first solo record between November ‘69 and March ‘70, backed by Delaney & Bonnie’s people, with the stellar appearance of Stephen Stills. In June of 1970 when he started to record his own debut (following the success reaped by Crosby Stills Nash & Young), Clapton returned the favour by appearing on Go Back Home. A song that opens like a kind of jam driven by Stills’ heavy wah until the end when Clapton appears with his fabled guitar Brownie, a Fender Stratocaster which would define this stage of his career (with which he recorded Layla). Despite being in the middle of the start of his heroin addiction, Clapton rips out an amazing solo. Years later, having quit drugs, he got back together with Stills and they listened to this song. Clapton told him, “ Man, you’re really cooking the solo at the end”, to which a surprised Stills had to tell him “That’s you”...
George Harrison - I'd Have You Anytime (Summer of 1970)
The recording of All Things Must Pass by Harrison served as a primer for the creation of Derek & The Dominos, with Clapton testing the band and managing to record their first single, with producer Phil Spector, and Harrison sitting in on guitar. Yet, how could it be otherwise, Clapton also left his mark on this masterpiece by his friend. Perhaps the best example is on the first notes of I’d Have You Anytime, where Clapton flashes his magic, sounding similar to Harrison’s style (with a wink at Something) and, at the same time remaining true to the song instead of looking for the spotlight. A real treat that Harrison chose to put at the top of the list on his first post-Beatle record. It was almost a declaration of intent, before he had Lennon and McCartney, and now Dylan, who co-wrote the song with him, and Clapton. That’s getting by with a little help from your friends.
Freddie King - Sugar Sweet (5 August 1974)
Clapton has played with practically all of his blues idols (except for the ones, like Robert Johnson, who died before he rose to fame), names such as Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, B.B. King and Howlin’ Wolf. But perhaps his biggest thrill was playing with Freddie King. Besides the time when he played with him was one of the most significant: right after he overcame his drug addiction, at the time of his triumphal return with 461 Ocean Boulevard, when he had time to sign up his hero for RSO Records and play with him on Burglar, a remarkable record where the ‘Texas Cannonball’ and ‘Slow Hand’ exchange notes, and Clapton makes clear his tremendous respect for Freddie, making fine use of Blackie in the funky Sugar Sweet.