ERIC CLAPTON: Where would you rank him among the top rock guitarists of the 1970s?

JOHN D writes ...

Whenever someone would call Clapton “the best” or “Guitar God” back in the day I’d just shrug and say OK. I was a big Cream fan but really for the band as a trio.

Then I had 451 Ocean Blvd and it was Meh….

Best blues? You mean like Albert King or Peter Green or Elvin Bishop or Mike Bloomfield? Not to mention BB. Ever heard of Keb Mo? Clapton is playing the blues FORM. Albert King hoots and hollers.

I LIKE Clapton except he’s gone loony on us. Calling him “The best” is kind of a suburban white teenager thing, I guess.

I guess Johnny Winter was just too much for those kids to handle……

RICHARD M writes ...

These questions always amuse me.

As it happens, I saw Clapton play two nights ago in Detroit. While I was listening to him play, I never once mentally compared him to any other guitarist, living or dead.

Clapton is an incredibly skilled guitarist with a very distinctive style. Where people rank him normally comes down to what they think of him as a person or how much they like his music. Add to that the ‘cachet of cool’ that some people think they earn by pissing all over those who are highly regarded. Those are the ones who usually namedrop guitarists they think are better.

He’s among the most influential guitarists of any generation. He’s been successful throughout a career that’s lasted almost 60 years, and people still turn out to see him play. Maybe one of these days, someone will invent an algorithm that will objectively analyze music and we can, for once and for all, come up with a definitive ranking of the greatest guitarists who have ever played. Until then, I will look forward to discussions like this, which usually tell you more about the people who answer the question then they do about the original subject.


If we get away from rankings based on virtuosity, one would have to rank Clapton highly, perhaps at the top, in terms of influencing the next generation of guitarists. He was bluesy yet melodic, cool yet accessible, and he contributed recognizable riffs to an amazingly diverse bunch of radio hits. That combination was attractive to people learning guitar who didn’t necessarily dream of sounding like Eddie Van Halen or Angus Young.

That was me 30 years ago, and it’s why I taught myself lead guitar in part by listening to the first Crossroads collection,

Leave a Reply