[Slowhand] More Cream Musings

RMS1 Debby at Avalonrecords.com
Fri Mar 7 09:35:37 EST 2008

DN, that was beautifully and eloquently put. Your best explanation of
why you love the "Beano" album and the Mayal era so much.

Debby J.


From: DeltaNick [mailto:deltanick at comcast.net]
Sent: Wednesday, March 05, 2008 10:53 PM
To: Slowhand Digest
Subject: [Slowhand] More Cream Musings

With all the discussion of Cream vacuum bands, and Led Zeppelin, I'd
like to add the following:

The really significant change in music wasn't Cream at all, but Eric
Clapton's guitar. Quite literally, nobody had ever played guitar like
Eric Clapton before. Clapton combined the talents of a blues guitar
virtuoso -- there weren't too many skilled rock musicians before Clapton
raised the bar - and a new guitar playing style, in which he developed
and advanced the capabilities of the electric guitar using the by
products of overdriven amplification: distortion, feedback, and sustain.
The guitar's amplifier actually became part of the musical instrument,
not simply its amplification. And by doing so, Eric Clapton, literally,
reinvented the electric guitar.

Any new electric guitarist learns that an amplifier can be turned up too
loud, creating all sorts of "unwanted" effects. The normal reaction is
to turn it down. And until Clapton came along, that's pretty much what
everyone did. Previous to Clapton, nobody purposely overdrove a guitar,
obtaining distortion, feedback, and the resultant sustain on purpose,
except as a novelty sound effect. Some examples of this are the
introduction to the Beatles' "I Feel Fine"; and the "fuzztone" guitar on
the "Green Acres" TV show theme and the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction."

And yes, I know about Brian Jones overdriven electric slide guitar on
the Rolling Stones' "I Wanna Be Your Man," but that sounds to me like a
mistake that Jones thought sounded cool and kept. And I don't think
Jones ever used the effect again, so it was a novelty. And I've also
read how several British rock musicians credited Bernie Watson (who
ironically preceded Clapton in John Mayall's band) as the first to use
distortion. But the standard BEFORE Clapton was a clean, merely
amplified sound, in which the electric guitar was not much more than an
amplified acoustic guitar, allowing it to be heard alongside other
instruments in a band.

You can hear Clapton playing with an overdriven guitar on a few
Yardbirds tracks from 1964. Although he first became popular while with
the Yardbirds -- picking up the nickname "Slowhand: along the way --
Eric Clapton's reputation grew while with John Mayall And The
Bluesbreakers. Although they released a few singles including Clapton's
use of "over-amplification" ("I'm Your Witchdoctor"), things REALLY
picked up when "Blues Breakers" was released on 22 July 1966. Clapton
had just left Mayall's band a few days earlier, but "Blues Breakers"
showed his passionate virtuoso playing.

Prior to Eric Clapton, there was no desire for anything but a "clean"
guitar tone. Gus Dudgeon, for example, engineer on the "Blues Breakers"
album, told the record's producer, Mike Vernon, "I can't record this,"
referring to Clapton's overdriven, distorted guitar, but record it he
did. Although it may have not been the very first time an overdriven
guitar sound was recorded, "Beano" became "the shot heard 'round the
world," so to speak. So, "Blues Breakers" (aka "Beano") showed the world
what a truly overdriven guitar could sound like, especially in the hands
of a skilled craftsman, a real musician.

After "Beano" was released, Clapton's fate was sealed and within a year,
he became probably the best-known guitarist in the world. But most
importantly, by combining his virtuoso playing with the overdriven
style, Eric Clapton single-handedly, changed the electric guitar
forever. Of course, some kids simply heard the sonics, the overdriven
guitar instead of the music, and after Cream's breakup filled the vacuum
with more crunch, feedback, and sonics, and little music. I think the
term "heavy metal" first appeared in a review of a Jimi Hendrix
performance, but it became the title for a genre associated with
multiple Marshall stacks, lots of very loud noise, and Spandex clothing

A bit more on the guitar playing: at an early age, Clapton's guitar
playing was noted and characterized by deep passion, its lyricism (the
melodies that Clapton created, often resulting in "a song within a
song"), his excellent sense of rhythm and timing directly contributed to
his easily-accomplished but difficult-to-imitate phrasing, and his
incredible mastery and control of the guitar (technique). This all
allowed Clapton to create solo architectures defining the rock guitar
genre to this day. Clapton set the standard by which others are judged.
And one final point: the revisionism surrounding Jimi Hendrix ,in death,
credits him with what Clapton actually popularized before Hendrix went
to England and became a star. It was Eric Clapton, NOT Jimi Hendrix, who
reinvented the electric guitar.


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