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Credit: Chris Hakkens

The guitarist that proved to Eric Clapton that rock 'n' roll wasn’t dead

Every few years, the musical landscape seemingly laments the death of rock ‘n’ roll, which usually begins with a star of yesteryear gyrating the changing of the seasons. Then, a new messiah comes along, and the genre pops its debauched head above the parapet once more before a short-lived revival falls into place.

Eric Clapton played an imperious role in the explosion of bands that dominated London in the 1960s and made the city the most exciting place in the world, yet, things soon changed the decade after. Rock’ n’ roll fell to the wayside, people started seeking something new, and even bands like The Rolling Stones had to prove their worth.

Then punk rolled along, and anyone with even a micro understanding of Clapton’s conservative political beliefs will understand that bands like The Clash hardly resonated with him. Yet, his resistance to punk doesn’t mean that ‘Slowhand’ was against somebody evolving the genre, and the guitarist who resuscitated rock ‘n’ roll for him is somebody you wouldn’t suspect.

Prince is a guitarist who splits opinions between musos, despite his unavoidable majesty. ‘The Purple One’ was a guitarist of the highest technical proficiency, and if you disagree with that statement, then take it up with Clapton.

The veteran English musician has often cited the singer as one of the best guitarists the world has ever seen. He noted Purple Rain as the injection of energy rock and roll needed to stay alive, saying “at a time when I thought rock ‘n’ roll was dead.” His loving words weren’t done there, Clapton continued, “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.”

When Prince prematurely passed in 2016, Clapton was beside himself in grief, and even though they weren’t close friends, the music of ‘His Royal Badness’ was like a lifeboat to he was at his lowest ebb during the pits of his battle with drug addiction. “I’m so sad about the death of Prince,” he wrote. “He was a true genius, and a huge inspiration for me, in a very real way. In the eighties, I was out on the road in a massive downward spiral with drink and drugs, I saw Purple Rain in a cinema in Canada, I had no idea who he was, it was like a bolt of lightning.”

Adding: “In the middle of my depression, and the dreadful state of the music culture at that time it gave me hope, he was like a light in the darkness. I went back to my hotel, and surrounded by empty beer cans, wrote ‘Holy Mother.’ I can’t believe he’s gone.”

Clapton’s deeply personal connection to Prince is impossible to describe in words alone, and not only did he bring rock ‘n’ roll back from the dead in his eyes. More poignantly, he also helped prevent the death of Clapton too, and he won’t be the only person saved by the music of ‘The Purple One’.

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