Singing has never been a strength of Eric Clapton. His expertise on the guitar has been used profusely throughout his career as a mask to hide his lacklustre vocal faculties. Nobody is more cognisant of this weakness than the man himself.
If it was up to Clapton, it is worth noting, then he would never have had to sing a single note throughout his career. Singing has been a necessary evil throughout his vocation, rather than an endeavour explored with his intuition. The decision to step up to the mic arrived, initially, because nobody else would raise their hand.
Even on his Yardbirds side-project, Eric Clapton and the Powerhouse, he shied away from vocal duties. Instead, he recruited Steve Winwood to fill the role, and he was left to his guitar.
However, following his departure from the group and the formation of Cream, Clapton had to face his fears. His voice was never the focal point of the group’s appeal. Instead, the allure was the alchemy that took place when he shared the stage with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.
Since the group disbanded, Clapton has continued in the role. With that, one would presume that he’s become comfortable with the way he sounds over the decades, but it’s still all a facade, and the guitarist is still as anxious now as when he began. “I hate my singing. I don’t like the way I sing,” Clapton professed to Mojo in 2010. “It all sounds like I’m 16 years old from Surbiton. I do my best to try and feel it. You know, when I watch Ray Charles sing, I think, That’s it, that’s how it’s done.”
As much as he wishes that he was Ray Charles, Clapton has never believed for a moment that their voices are in any way comparable. Most significantly, it was the late singer’s ability to feel the songs he delivered that made ‘Slow Hand’ envious. He continued, discussing the impact of Charles: “He remembers thousands of songs and he sings them all as if they’re the most important song he knows. He does it from the bottom of his heart, every time, every song. And that’s, that’s the inspiration.
“That’s my influence. But I’m imbued with so much self-doubt about my singing, that it’s very difficult for me to get to that freedom that those kinds of singers have.”
Similarly to his personal views, Clapton has opted to take a conservative approach to his singing throughout his career. Rather than taking experimental risks in a bid to get in tune with the essence of the lyrics, Clapton has chosen to stay within the comfort zone of his six-stringed weapon of choice to emit emotion.