Clapton is God read London graffiti in an earlier generation.

There was little doubt by the late 1960s that only Jimi Hendrix could vie with Clapton for the mantle of Guitar God in rock’s pantheon. Clapton had already starred in more superstar bands than most people play in during their entire careers. Stints with The Yardbirds, Derek and the Dominos, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream and Blind Faith had made Clapton the go-to guy for guitar in England.

He became a contemporary of The Beatles, eventually recording with them in different configurations and knew everyone on the London scene. He and George Harrison somehow became close friends despite Clapton marrying Pattie Boyd only two years after she divorced Harrison. Rock legend has Clapton pining for Boyd throughout the years, and some suggest that she was the inspiration for Layla.

After grappling with heroin addiction in the early 1970s, Clapton became a solo artist, never again performing in a band’s regular lineup. His version of I Shot the Sheriff went to #1 very quickly, but surprisingly, remained his only #1 song on Billboard’s Hot 100 or Pop Singles chart.

Clapton spent the next two decades deftly mixing well known album cuts with hit ballads. Tears In Heaven, written by Clapton and Will Jennings after Clapton’s four year old son died, was a #2 single and Lay Down Sally charted as high as #3. These radio friendly tunes and others like Change the World, Promises and Wonderful Tonight mixed with long album cuts and legendary concerts that produced a series of live albums.

With his music unknown to a new generation of fans, Clapton ushered in the MTV Unplugged era with a stripped-down version of Layla that became a hit single and helped propel his Unplugged album up the charts. As he aged (turning 60
in 2005), Clapton continued exploring his roots. During this phase he recorded an album of Robert Johnson covers and an album with legendary bluesman B.B. King.

Indeed, the blues, which Clapton had always based his leads on, became his refuge. In a public statement on his web site during 2004, Clapton is quoted as saying, “The blues are what I’ve turned to, what has given me inspiration and relief in all of the trials of my life.”

More than two generations of fans may very well have said the same about listening to Clapton’s many solo albums.

–G. Bounacos