The sound of Eric Clapton’s wailing guitar has echoed through British music for decades. The singer, who principally became known as the dynamic guitarist in Cream, put together a string of other projects away from the band that would quickly ascend Clapton to rock and roll royalty.
Having rubbed shoulders with the great and good of contemporary music’s leading lights, Clapton’s understanding and appreciation of pioneering artists is second to none — it’s what makes his collection of favourite songs so compelling. Despite being born in the United Kingdom, Clapton’s influences emanate from the other side of the pond, and it is there that he draws most from more prominently in a list of his favourites.
When you’ve been in the music business as long as Eric Clapton has, then the chances are you’ve been asked to name your favourite song, album, or musician countless times. It means that no list is truly definitive and each list is likely consistently evolving. However, if you’re happy for a CD compilation to be made of the selections, it’s more than likely that you’d be willing to stand by them.
In 2005, Clapton was asked as part of an ongoing Uncut to provide 15 songs that he’d call his favourite. With indie music peaking the charts once more – and a return to the garage rock of the sixties already being firmly adhered to – Clapton reminds the audience of the inspiration behind all those bands.
If you look back at the most successful bands within the 1960s British music scene, chances are they have their roots firmly in the delta blues. Whether that’s John Lennon, Keith Richards, The Kinks or The Who, most bands of that time may have been leading the way in music, but they were doing it off the back of the blues.
With his favourite song choices, Clapton picks out 15 tracks that may not all be firmly labelled as blues, but are certainly all imbued with a degree of soulfulness that highlights Clapton’s desired commitment to their craft. All of the musicians and genres represented are performed with power and passion. Yet, Clapton’s heart is in the blues.
One of the only times on record Clapton has answered a similar question was his 1989 appearance on Desert Island Discs, in which he discussed the impact of leading lights Robert Johnson and Freddie King: “I was into the blues form a very early age,” he said. “I went on a pilgrimage to record shops and bought every R&B record I could buy and I would study them at home and learn as much as I could by ear.”
“In fact,” Clapton continues, “That’s been my method all my life. I decided that I was gonna be a blues player. It had the most profound effect on me the most dramatic effect of all the music I listened to. I felt in a way it was something I could pick up.” The universal nature of the blues meant that even a young Clapton could connect with the source of hardship or woe.
In 2005, Clapton was keen to ensure the memory of the blues was fresh in everybody’s mind as they continued to cherry-pick pieces of the sixties subculture as their own. While the blues will never go away, it is worth remembering that it isn’t a single genre or style; it is a state of mind, one that comes with letting your soul into your art.
Of all the wide range of music Eric Clapton has selected as his favourite songs, each is doused in soul. Below, we’ve got the full playlist.
Eric Clapton’s favourite songs of all time
- Freddy King – ‘I Love The Woman’
- Robert Johnson – ‘Kindhearted Woman Blues’
- John Lee Hooker – ‘Hobo Blues’
- Bukka White – ‘Special StreamLine’
- Elmore James – ‘Hand in Hand’
- Wes Montgomery – ‘For Heaven’s Sake’
- Blind Willie McTell – ‘Statesboro Blues’
- Thelonious Monk – ‘Crepuscule With Nellie’
- Leroy Carr – ‘Alabama Woman Blues’
- Luciano Pavarotti – ‘Che Gelida Manina’
- Blind Lemon Jefferson – ‘Chock House Blues’
- Louis Armstrong & The Hot Five – ‘Struttin’ With Some Barbecue’
- Chocur De L’Orchestre Symphonique De Montreal – ‘Pavane, op 50’
- Pat Metheny Group – ‘Another Life’
- Mississippi John Hurt – ‘Frankie & Albert’