[Slowhand] Comparing Guitarists
deltanick at comcast.net
Sat Oct 10 15:54:31 EDT 2009
After reading Fabio's contribution ...
1. Let's not forget that Eric Clapton did more to change the electric
guitar than anyone else in history, with the possible exception of Les
Paul. The overdriven, distorted electric guitar sound (incorporating
sustain and feedback) was first popularized by Clapton. Whenever it
"happened" by an earlier player, it was a "mistake," a by-product, not
purposely done, and usually lasted merely a second or two. Clapton
incorporated the sound into his style, playing this way regularly, and
he did this all before Jimi Hendrix went to the UK, in late 1966
("Beano," for example, was released in July 1966). But what I describe
in this paragraph is merely the electro-technical part.
2. Clapton came armed with incredible technique. However, he is NOT a
technique-oriented player. His playing was fluid, smooth, and
extremely neat and tidy, as opposed to "sloppy." He punctuated all
sentences carefully, which VERY few can do as well (Mick Taylor comes
to mind as another especially "neat" player). Examples of "sloppy"
players would be Jimi Hendrix and especially Buddy Guy. This is not to
demean, in any way, their guitar playing, but merely a description of
their styles. I consider both Hendrix and Guy to be great players. But
it's more difficult to articulate everything that you attempt to play,
to be "neat." The sloppier players, if they're normally sloppy, just
don't have the technique.
3. Clapton's musical architecture -- by this, I mean the composition
of his guitar parts: rhythm playing, lead fills, and especially his
solos -- was near-perfect, and his solos were always textbook-quality
examples of improvisation. And one who improvises creates new ideas
and sounds if he does it well, as Clapton did. His solos were normally
sturdily-constructed examples of tension building, call and response,
and such explosive, show-stopping release that few other musicians
have ever achieved. If you wanted to hear the best-composed solos,
correct and complete in nearly every way, you'd listen to Eric
Clapton. Speed-oriented guitar "shredders" have no idea what I mean
4. And finally, Clapton, as I stated above, was not a technique-
oriented guitarist because he always expressed passion -- heavy doses
of passion (feeling, empathy, soul) -- as nobody else could via his
guitar. Again, "shredders" are oblivious to this idea, which goes
right over their heads.
Notice also how the lower-numbered paragraphs actually feed into the
higher ones, above. I'm not saying that you cannot accomplish #4
without doing #3, but including all the above elements makes one a
more complete and compelling musician. For example, I always hear
Buddy Guy miss lots of notes. He attempts to play things that he never
quite gets done. On the other hand, Clapton pretty much always
"accomplished his mission" with all the above elements included.
A speed-oriented "shredder," on the other hand, seems to be aware of
just the first two elements. So many -- especially the younger crowd
-- believe that a guitarist's speed (how many notes he can hit in a
nanosecond, a subset of technique) is what makes a great guitarist.
Check out all the 16-year-old speedsters on YouTube! Incredible speed,
but near-zero musical value. There are plenty of such "shredders," and
nobody will remember them in 2, 20 or 50 years. Not so with Clapton. A
NY Times article, just the other day, was titled "Tapping Your Inner
Clapton." It was not titled "Tapping Your Inner Hendrix, Vaughan, Vai,
or Van Halen." It takes musical maturity to understand and accomplish
#3 and 4. And THIS, my friends, is the mark of an artist.
So, in response to Fabio, with whom I do not necessarily disagree, I
think the above melds together all the elements of what makes one
truly great, rather than just good. So many, however, have forgotten
that Clapton accomplished #1 (Fabio wrote, "create 'new-sounds'") more
than any other guitarist, except for, possibly, Les Paul himself. But
again, #1 is merely the electro-technical part. While it's true that
Clapton TODAY plays with primarily a "clean" tone, he doesn't do it
all the time. But Eric Clapton, not anyone else, was the one who
popularized the overdriven, sustained guitar sound.
But do not forget that Clapton, an artist, is so much greater than the
sum of elements #1-4, above. And very few others are.
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