Eric Clapton is unequivocally one of the greatest guitar players, period. The iconic musician has a list of solos as long as his arm, material which could easily be considered God tier. However, there is one solo by a different artist which has 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’s would play a pivotal role in shaping the creative vision of the next generation who would go on to try to emulate his greatness. Following in his footsteps would be setting down a marker for what was possible to do with one person armed solely with a six-string.
Clapton was greatly inspired by the American blues genre, a period which shaped him as a guitar player in his formative days. However, even after he had climbed to the mountain top of music world, he always kept an eye on what was going on 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’ ‘Hey Jude’, an effort he would establish his reputation on and helped him get the clout needed 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?'”
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’. “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.”
The now-legendary collaboration between Pickett and Allman was, in reality, a happy accident which 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 down. Allman was also in town because he was due to be working for Hall but was told that he already had too many guitarists so the 22-year-old asked if he could just stay around to soak everything in and help wherever he can.
Allman then suggested that Pickett decides to record a version of The Beatles’ ‘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 1 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, okay. 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.