Eric Clapton, a controversial figure in the eyes of most, often proves to be a central talking point in the debate around one’s ability to separate the art from the artist. While on the one hand Clapton is unequivocally one of the greatest guitar players of all time, on the other, he is a Covid vaccine conspiracy theorist with a vile racist rant to his name.
“I don’t think we can separate the art from the artist, nor should we need to,” Nice Cave once said. “I think we can look at a piece of art as the transformed or redeemed aspect of an artist, and marvel at the miraculous journey that the work of art has taken to arrive at the better part of the artist’s nature. Perhaps beauty can be measured by the distance it has travelled to come into being,” he added. Whether this is an approach that sits well with you or not, Far Out will continue to report both sides of the coin with transparency.
Clapton, with a list of solos as long as his arm, boasts an armoury of material that would leave many an acclaimed artist green with envy. However, there is one solo by a different artist that has maintained a very sacred place in his heart and the one that he considered to be among the greatest of all time.
Dating back to his days with Cream, a time which inspired the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Clapton would play a pivotal role in shaping the creative vision of the next generation who would go on to try to emulate his success. Following in his footsteps offered an opportunity to set down a marker for what was possible for one person to achieve armed solely with a six-string.
Clapton was greatly inspired by the American blues genre, a period that shaped him as a musician in his formative days. However, even after he had climbed to the mountain top of the music world, he always kept an eye on what emerging across the pond — and this is where his favourite ever solo derives from.
This solo in question is Duane Allman’s astonishing performance on Wilson Pickett’s R&B cover of The Beatles track ‘Hey Jude’, an effort he would build his expanding reputation on. It was a track that helped him get secure the recognition required to get more eyes on his next move, which would, of course, be when he established The Allman Brothers Band the following year.
In the video below, Clapton states: “I remember hearing ‘Hey Jude‘ by Wilson Pickett and calling either Ahmet Ertegun or Tom Dowd and saying, ‘Who’s that guitar player?'”
Detailing further, the former Cream member explained that he was once informed that the guitar player was a 22-year-old session musician who went under the name of ‘Skydog’. “I just filed it away,” Clapton said. “To this day, I’ve never heard better rock guitar playing on an R&B record. It’s the best.”
The now-legendary collaboration between Pickett and Allman was, in reality, a happy accident that ended up being a match made in heaven. In November 1968, Pickett had shown up at Rick Hall’s Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, with a plan to record material but no concrete plans of what to lay it down. Allman was also in town because he was due to be working for Hall but was informed that he already had too many guitarists, so, instead, the 22-year-old asked if he could just stay around to soak everything in and help wherever he can.
Shortly after, Allman then suggested that Pickett decided to record a version of The Beatles track ‘Hey Jude’ with his assistance, which was initially viewed as ridiculous by both Hall and Pickett, but they eventually came round to the idea, and the rest is history.
In Randy Poe’s book Skydog: The Duane Allman Story, Hall recalls how it all came about: “Pickett came into the studio, and I said, ‘We don’t have anything to cut.’ We didn’t have a song. Duane was there, and he came up with an idea. By this time he’d kind of broken the ice and become my guy. So Duane said, ‘Why don’t we cut “Hey Jude”?’ I said, ‘That’s the most preposterous thing I ever heard. It’s insanity. We’re gonna cover the Beatles? That’s crazy!’ And Pickett said, ‘No, we’re not gonna do it.’ I said, ‘Their single’s gonna be Number 1. I mean, this is the biggest group in the world!'”
Adding: “And Duane said, ‘That’s exactly why we should do it — because [the Beatles single] will be number one and they’re so big. The fact that we would cut the song with a black artist will get so much attention, it’ll be an automatic smash.’ That made all the sense in the world to me. So I said, ‘Well, OK. Let’s do it.'”
Listen to the glorious cover below and decide for yourself if you agree with Clapton about it being the greatest guitar solo ever.