The Day Eric Clapton Changed My Life

Picture the scene; leather sofas, a massive wide screen TV on the wall, the strong aroma of coffee and two lawyers running a drop in session for free legal advice. That’s right, we’re in a coffee lounge. But not just any one, an exclusive one not open to the public. Let’s begin.

It was the summer. I’d finished college and was waiting to go to university. My dad had set me up with my first job. Someone he knew ran a coffee lounge. They were going on holiday and wanted someone to cover for them. It was kind of important, as they were the only person who worked there, so it wasn’t just about making the drinks, it was about buying stock, keeping the accounts up to date and doing all the cleaning too. So like everyone, I wanted money, so I met with the lady my dad knew and woohoo, I had my first job.

It was around this time that I was beginning to really get stuck into learning to play guitar too. I had started on a £5.00 charity shop acoustic (still own it), graduated to my first ever £50 electric guitar (a double cutaway from an unknown brand I got from a department store, came with a 5 Watt practice amp, still own both the axe and the amp) and I was using an Encore Les Paul guitar with a Korg multi effects pedal into the 5 Watt amp (Yep, still own the Encore and the FX pedal). I knew one song, “Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr Hook, all the basic major and minor open chords, I knew all about power chords and I could play the pentatonic scale using shape 1 and shape 4. I had learnt about “The 3 Chord Trick” and I could write simple chord progressions and improvise over them. I also believed that, when using just power chords in a song I was writing, having all the gain possible from the amp and the FX pedal was all important. I felt unstoppable.

When I was working at the shop, I had one person there who could help me out if I didn’t know what to do. His name is Al. Now, he didn’t work in the coffee lounge but he did have an office down the hall, because this coffee lounge was inside an office building that was surrounded by other office buildings and only people in those offices could use the lounge. I know, pretty high class gig for a first job.

One day, I don’t know how we got talking about it, but he found out I was learning to play the guitar. Turned out that Al could play the guitar and we were talking about different guitars and different guitarists. At this point in time, I didn’t really know any guitarists, I just liked music and wanted to make my own. Al did something very cool. He went to his office and came back with a pen. He took a napkin and he drew a D Major open chord on it. He then showed me on the napkin how, by moving just one or two notes around by a fret or two, that I could come up with tons of other chords like 7ths, Dominants, how I could imply 9ths, 11ths, 13ths and so on. Needless to say, I was very impressed. I went home at the end of that day, with the napkin, and practice what he’d shown me. My mind was blown.

So when does Eric Clapton come into this? How about right now.

I went into work the next day and as soon as I’d set up shop for the day ahead, Al came in. He was carrying a small pile of CDs with him. One of the CDs was John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. That’s right, the Beano album. He told me to take them home, listen to every CD in the pile, then bring them back to him when I had. I finished that day and I went home. The first CD I put on was the Beano album. Up until this point, I’d never really listened to the blues at all.

The opening notes of track one hit me like a ton of bricks. The emotion, the soul, the feeling coming from the electric guitar. The fact that it wasn’t playing chords but was soloing between the vocals or matching the vocal melody, I’d never heard this done before. Ever. The guitar was sort of distorted but it wasn’t anything like the high gain I was using at all. There was such clarity within the bite of each note. I could hear points where the 3 chord trick was being used but there was this new, different groove to it, it wasn’t just straight ahead strumming or down picking but rather, a sort of boogie, to it all.

Track blurred into track and I never wanted the CD to end. I was absolutely captivated by it, I didn’t even notice the other instruments or even the singing. I was just fixated on the guitar playing. The CD ends and I look at the album notes to see who was playing guitar. One name. Eric Clapton. I didn’t know who he was, if he was still in this band, what else he’d done, I didn’t know what guitar he used, or what amp. I was sat on my bed with my portable CD player next to me, with the headphones still in my ears even though nothing was playing and all I knew was that one day I wanted to be as good as whoever this Eric Clapton was. This CD, along with the other CDs in the pile Al had given me (which will be the topics of the next few posts to come), were my first steps into the arena of the guitar world. I listened to the other CDs that same evening but I couldn’t tell you how many times I played that Beano album over and over that night.

I took the CDs into work and gave them back to Al. Every day for the rest of the time I worked there we spoke about the guitarists on those CDs and about what they were doing in their playing that made it sound the way it sounded. I learnt a ton about tone, technique, song writing and becoming a better guitarist from Al. He was such a great teacher that he taught it all to me without a guitar in his hand, just with a pen and the spare napkins by the coffee machine. I’d go in each day and be longing to hear what he had to tell me that day about playing the guitar. He also has a friend, Jasper, another amazing guitarist who I learnt a ton of stuff from (I’ll talk about him in another upcoming post as well).

My time at the coffee shop ended and my dad took me to a semi-local music shop a few villages over. I went in and asked to look at the Stratocasters because that’s what Eric Clapton was playing (I’d done my homework on him at this point). If I remember rightly I was between £50 and £70 short on the Squier by Fender Standard Series Stratocasters. I knew there was no way at this point in my life I’d be able to afford an actual Fender. I tried out the squier in the store and it played so beautifully. It has two single coils and a humbucker in the bridge so I had so much more options sonically that just the two humbuckers I was used to on my Encore Les Paul. My dad took the guitar to the counter and paid for it. Then we went across the road to a cash point and I withdrew all the money I’d made from the job and gave it him. He wasn’t concerned with the shortfall I had that he covered. We put the guitar in the car and had a coffee before driving home.

I sat in the back of the car in the middle seat with my Stratocaster (Yep, still own it) on my lap the whole ride home. All I could think of was the thought that one day I was going to be as good as Eric Clapton and one day my guitar playing would be filled with just as much emotion as his. I changed my tone from being super heavy on the gain to one that was more subtle and suitable for blues rock and asked my Dad if he could buy me an Eric Clapton CD. We went to the city and I picked out a compilation CD of all his well known hits at the time. It was the first time I’d heard him play something that wasn’t on the Beano album. I heard “Sunshine Of Your Love” and learnt it from the CD, I heard “Layla” and learnt it from the CD and on and on I went hearing Eric play something on my CD and then spending a whole day or week until I’d figured out what he was doing and taught myself how to do it, too.

Eric, if you ever read this, all I can say is thank you. I could never put into words what your music meant to me when I first heard it as a young boy learning guitar, or what it still means to me today. It makes me smile, it makes me want to dance, it makes me fight back the tears and it made me truly fall in love with the guitar. You inspire me to want to be a better guitarist each and every day. Thank you.

I’m going to spend the next few blog posts talking about the other CDs Al showed me and how those other players impacted my guitar playing in ways I never thought possible.

Until next time.

Speedy Out.

11 thoughts on “The Day Eric Clapton Changed My Life

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  1. Nice story. I play electric guitar, but it’s just a hobby. People always seem to mention Eric Clapton when guitarists are mentioned, and a lot of people place him at the top, but for me the greatest players were/are Gary Moore and Mark Knopfler. I always assumed that people who thought Eric was great had never listened to Gary or Mark LOL I like the fact you learned to play certain songs, like ‘Layla’ just from an album. I could never do that, you must be very talented.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the compliment, I really appreciate it and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Gary Moore is insane, I freakin’ love his playing. Did you know Ozzy originally wanted Gary in his band, but Gary didn’t fancy the gig and it was him who recommended Randy Rhoads to Oz? Check out Gary telling the story here. EC does seem to hold a very prominent place among the guitar playing community both with pros and hobby players alike and my guess is that he was one of the first ‘proper’ guitar heroes and in doing so, cemented his place in every guitar players DNA (to some extent). I’m very familiar with Gary’s work and I’ll have a post up about him soon but I’m not as familiar with Mark’s work (other than the two well known hits), wanna recommend some albums/songs to sink my teeth into more of Mark’s playing?

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      1. If I were to recommend any of Mark Knopfler I would say Dire Straits first four albums (they are, Dire Straits, Communique, Making Movies and Love Over Gold). Every album is worthy but the early albums (before they really sold out to ‘chart music’) are just amazing. For a single I would say ‘Tunnel Of Love’ shows his range and if you listen to the full song (over 7 minutes) it’s just mind-blowing, other than that there is always the most obvious, ‘Sultans Of Swing’. I didn’t know about Ozzy wanting Gary, that was news to me. Gary is the master though and it’s a shame he left us so soon. I look forward to seeing a post about Gary, I was a fan from his early years with Thin Lizzy. I was a great Thin Lizzy fan back in the day!

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      2. Thanks for the recommended listening, I’ll hit those suggestions up and do a post on Knopfler down the line. Yeah, I didn’t know it until semi-recently. I love Randy, but can you imagine how badass Ozzy would have been with Gary? We can only imagine. Yep, there will be more to come on Moore here, don’t you worry. Nothing wrong with Thin Lizzy on this site! It’s their 50th anniversary of their formation this year isn’t it?

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  2. Good story about Clapton. I am a hobbyist guitar player too and he has impacted my own playing quite a bit in terms of what I’ll call the ‘economy’ of his playing. I’ve learned the intro solo to ‘Have You Ever Loved a Woman’ and that is the epitome of what I refer to as economical playing. The first thing I ever heard him play was ‘Born Under a Bad Sign.’ I can’t say it impacted me as much as the Beano album did you but it was probably the first real blues I ever heard.

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    1. Hey Jim,

      Thanks a lot for taking the time to read my post and to comment, I truly appreciate it. I completely agree with you about Eric’s economical playing, even in his more complex songs, he has this seemingly effortless lead style truly defined with the title Slowhand. Who was your first guitar hero?

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      1. Boy that’s a really good question. I don’t know if he was a guitar hero to me per se but maybe the first time I really appreciated guitar was Chuck Berry, then to some extent George Harrison. But my first real ‘hero’ was Clapton followed by the usual suspects, Page, Allman, Hendrix, Beck, etc. But as mentioned, ‘Wheels of Fire’ made me sit up and take notice. And then when Duane came along, I HAD to play.

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      2. Chuck really did kick off the licks we so know and love. Funnily enough, I really didn’t get into him all that much. I appreciate what he did musically but I’ve just not really sat down and heard enough of his stuff. Recommend an album of his to me? I know quite a few people who mention Harrison as a huge inspiration, including Steve Lukather (one of my all time heroes) so you’re in very good company there, Jim. I’ve started getting into The Beatles a little more these days, although I do still prefer screaming guitars haha.

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      3. Oh, I’m a huge Chuck fan for sure. If you listen to this album, you’ll hear a good compilation of his stuff. If this doesn’t get it for you, well, you’ll never be a Chuck fan:

        https://www.amazon.com/Chuck-Berry-Definitive-Collection/dp/B000A2H1D2/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1546206712&sr=8-2&keywords=chuck+berry

        You could always hum or sing Harrison’s stuff and while not as complex or bluesy, always sounded great. That said, some of his early solos were admittedly clunky. But melodically so much of his stuff just worked.

        I can definitely appreciate screaming guitars. Depends on my mood I suppose.

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      4. Thanks for the link, I’ll be sure to pick up a copy of that Chuck CD. A melody you can hum is very underrated today, it used to be the pass mark for the New York song writing scene decades ago, if an old man couldn’t hum or whistle the melody after hearing the song a couple of times, it wouldn’t be a hit, hence “The Old Grey Whistle Test” turn of phrase. It worked for them then, perhaps we need more of it today?

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