Eric Clapton: The Evolution of a Blues Music Icon

A distinct genre of music originated between 1890 and 1910 drawing from elements of African American music, and emerging ragtime and jazz and this genre came to be known as the blues. The main instruments of blues music are the guitar, piano, harmonica, along with violin, mandolin, string bass, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, and the drum set. From the late 1950s, following the incorporation of electric bass and keyboards into blues ensembles and the ascendancy of electric lead guitar and soul blues singing, blues experienced a slowdown in its evolutionary development within the American black community.

This halt also coincided with the growth of white interest and involvement in the blues. And soon a few white solo performers, such as John Hammond, Jr. , began to emerge as blues specialists (Moore, 2002). This provided great impetus in the growth of blues popularity among American whites and internationally. Most of these performers continued to work within established contemporary blues parameters or explored and re-created historical sounds, creating new songs, sometimes developing new themes to reflect a more modern lifestyle, and maintaining a high level of instrumental virtuosity (Moore, 2002).

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While rock and blues have historically always been closely linked, blues-rock as a distinct genre did not arise until the late 1960s. The genre was originally British, with artists like Alexis Korner and John Mayall forming bands. John Mayall started a band called The Bluesbreakers in 1963, and he was able to recruit a young British guitarist named Eric Clapton in 1965. Eric Clapton is a British guitarist, singer, and songwriter, specially noted for his virtuoso guitar playing and whose style is based on American blues as played by "T-Bone" Walker, B.

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B. King, Muddy Waters, and particularly Robert Johnson.

Clapton was influential in the development of rock music in the 1960s, playing with the Yardbirds (1963–65), John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (1965–66), Cream (1966–68), Blind Faith (1969), and Derek and the Dominos (1970–71). His first solo recording, Eric Clapton, featuring the hit "After Midnight," was released in 1970. In seclusion from 1971 while battling heroin addiction, he resurfaced in 1974 with 461 Oceanside Boulevard, which included a version of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff. " (Where’s Eric, 2006).

Eric Clapton's "influences and upbringing" played a huge role in his evolution as a blues musician. As a teenager, he was drawn to such blues masters as Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson. Jamming in pubs and clubs, Eric soon joined the Yardbirds, a commercially performing group marked for great success. Eric Clapton left the band in 1965 and seeking a purer avenue to the blues, he briefly joined John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers. Eric stayed for just one album and decided to break away mainly because the work rate imposed by Mayall left little time for fun.

Moreover, Eric got bored of simply copying his blues heroes in John Mayall's band and felt it was time to turn his artistry into creativity. He also recognized a kindred spirit in Jack Bruce. In 1968 that Clapton formed Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. This group showcased his talent at potent, extended guitar improvisations and produced vastly different original music including the hits "White Room," "Strange Brew" and "Sunshine of Your Love" (Roberty, 1995) Eric Clapton, over the years has recorded many blues songs. But he always made it a point to provide benefit and credit to the original artists of blues music.

Clapton's recording of Skip James' “I'm So Glad”, was recorded when Clapton was a member of the power trio Cream. The credit obtained through this song was a huge help for original blues artist James; royalties from the recording paid James's medical expenses at a time when he was virtually destitute (Weissman, 2004). Cream folded two years later when Clapton left to form Blind Faith with Steve Winwood, Rick Grech and Ginger Baker. This group too did not last over a year and soon Clapton, in search of further freedom and expression recorded his debut solo album in 1970, joining forces with the American team of Delaney and Bonnie.

It was then that he began to actively develop his vocal skills simultaneously working on the state of rock guitar, as part of Delaney and Bonnie & Friends. He also worked with Derek and the Dominos, where, in the company of Duane Allman, he fashioned such enduring classics as "Layla" (Roberty, 1995). The early and mid-seventies was a time of great struggle for Eric Clapton as he battled with drug addiction. He had huge solo hits such as 461 Ocean Boulevard and also traveled a lot during this period. Albums in the mid-to-late '70s, such as ‘There's One in Every Crowd’, E.

C. Was Here and No Reason To Cry, were all Top 20 chart hits. It was an era defined by such Clapton-classics as "Wonderful Tonight," "I Shot the Sheriff,” Lay down Sally" and the 1978 release “Slowhand”. Clapton began an amazing run of gold and platinum successes that continue to this day. Clapton's place in music history had long since been assured but it is important to note that his popularity was largely due to his strong adherence to total musical integrity, which brought him, time and again, back to the basics of the blues.

Recently Eric Clapton on the success of his blues album “The Cradle” has said: "The bones of this thing are coming from inside me and my need to pay back all these people that I heard from Day One”. In this latest album, he has paid tribute to blues gurus such as Robert Johnson, Lowell Fulsom, Elmore James, Willie Dixon and the inimitable Muddy Waters. Thus, whether playing electric or acoustic, Eric Clapton remains the quintessential blues guitarist.


Where's Eric! (2006), A Brief Biography of Eric Clapton.

Issue 39. http://www. ericclaptonfaq. com/biography-ecs-life-career/clapton-biography-mother-father-grandparents-wife-children-son-daughter-addiction-. html Moore, Allan (2002).

The Cambridge Companion to Blues and Gospel Music. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, England. 2002.

Weissman, Dick (2004). Blues: The Basics. Routledge Publishers. New York. 2004

Eric Clapton: Blues You Can't Loose. http://www. iem. ac. ru/clapton/ Roberty, Marc (1995).

The complete guide to the music of Eric Clapton. Omnibus Press. 1995.

Updated: Nov 20, 2023
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Eric Clapton: The Evolution of a Blues Music Icon. (2016, Aug 11). Retrieved from

Eric Clapton: The Evolution of a Blues Music Icon essay
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