“Eric Clapton is God” was scrawled across a London railway bridge for some time during the 1960s and ’70s as one man seemed to dominate an entire scene with his virtuoso playing. A guitar was all Eric Clapton needed to forge a career that many would dream of, and he did it with the utmost gusto and compelling command of his weaponry. While many would attest to being swept up in the wave of creativity in the ’60s, Clapton was a determined and focused player. He meant every single note.
Not only an integral member of his own bands Blind Faith and Cream, but Clapton was also at the forefront of the real swinging set in London. Often performing as a session musician for the glitterati of pop music, Clapton earned his moniker as one of the most gifted players around through serious playing. With such a competitive edge running through all his work, who would Clapton call his favourite guitarists of all time?
It’s easy to get lost in the mystique of rock ‘n’ roll. The sex, drugs, wild tours and tales of decadent debauchery make the salacious side of music all too tempting to veer away from. However, Eric Clapton has always championed music over the lifestyle, to some degree at least. His purist artistry relentlessly pushed to keep the music at the forefront of everything he does and has seen him become a cut-throat champion of musicianship.
Clapton has always been ready and willing to share his thoughts on who he thinks are great players or musicians and, on occasion, which he doesn’t think could cut the mustard. Below, we’ve pulled together a list of Clapton’s favourite guitarists of all time, and it makes for an inspirational playlist.
There may have never been a definitive list, but judging by some of the superlatives Clapton has laid on our first name, it’s hard to deny his inclusion. Duane Allman, one of the era’s virtuoso performers, provided Clapton with his favourite guitar solo of all time, so it’s safe to assume he’s up there with his favourites. The guitarist once stated: “I remember hearing ‘Hey Jude‘ by Wilson Pickett and calling either Ahmet Ertegun or Tom Dowd and saying, ‘Who’s that guitar player?’”.
The former Cream man says that he then got told that the guitar player was a 22-year-old session musician who went under the name of ‘Skydog’ – AKA Duane Allman. “I just filed it away,” Clapton adds. “To this day, I’ve never heard better rock guitar playing on an R&B record. It’s the best.”
Having picked Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson as part of his Desert Island Discs selection in 1989, it’s a fair bet that the two rank highly in Clapton’s estimations as to the greatest. Waters has often been cited as one of Clapton’s favourite artists, and he admits he has “had the greatest influence on me”.
Highlighting Johnson’s heart-wrenching blues standard ‘Crossroad Blues,’ he said: “For me, he’s the most disturbing and almost hardest to listen to of all the blues singers because it’s such emotionally charged music.” He confirmed, “Musically, it’s the most complicated.”
Of course, Jimi Hendrix wasn’t just an incredible friend of Clapton’s; he was competing in the field, too. Cream offered the American his first performance in London, and the guitarist dutifully got up and blew everybody away from the very first notes he played. Keith Altham of The Guardian and famed rock journalist of the time, notes of the meeting between Clapton and Hendrix, as he remembers: “Chandler going backstage after Clapton left in the middle of the song ‘which he had yet to master himself’; Clapton was furiously puffing on a cigarette and telling Chas: ‘You never told me he was that fucking good’.” Clearly, Chandler had not only found a gem of an artist but a legitimate contender for the throne.
While Prince may not be the first name you think of when dreaming up a list of your favourite guitarists, that would be letting The Purple One’s other talents cloud his guitar genius. Clapton had often cited the singer as one of the best guitarists the world has ever seen, noting Purple Rain as the injection of energy rock and roll needed to stay alive: “At a time when I thought rock and roll was dead,” he said, before adding: “This is someone who is a reincarnation of Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix and James Brown in one. I thought that’s exactly what the world needed.”
Another surprise inclusion for some and a clever choice for others as Clapton has been noted of praising singer-songwriter John Mayer. A pop heartthrob for a time, Mayer’s soft vocals and use of acoustic guitar often belie his incredible talent on the guitar, as able to noodle and meander up and down the frets as any other. While it’s easy to point to his inclusion in Dead & Company as proof alone, Clapton’s inclusion of him on his album Eric Clapton & Friends should convince any doubters. What’s more, when Mayer did work on the record, he apparently cut the three tracks in just over an hour, hitting each part on the “first or second take”. It blew Clapton away, “I was gobsmacked. Really. I knew respect for John because he’s extremely gifted, his facility is phenomenal. He is a master.”
But the greatest, according to Eric Clapton, the bonafide guitar god, is Albert Lee. The guitarist has worked with some big names, including Emmylou Harris and The Everly Brothers. Considering Clapton’s appraisal, we all should be listening to Lee: “He’s the greatest guitarist in the world. The ultimate virtuoso. His skill is extraordinary, his ear is extraordinary and he’s gifted on just about every level.” There’s no higher praise than that.
Below we’ve pulled together a quick introductory playlist to these seven incredible artists, but we heavily implore you to dig deep into the work of these genius guitarists.
Eric Clapton’s favourite guitarists:
- Duane Allman
- Muddy Waters
- Robert Johnson
- Jimi Hendrix
- John Mayer
- Albert Lee