E.C. Listening: Eric Clapton's 50 Greatest Guitar Moments
Clapton at 70: The 50 greatest guitar moments of Eric Clapton's five-decade career.
Cream—Wheels of Fire (1968)
“Crossroads” has long been regarded as Eric Clapton’s most inspired and well-crafted lead guitar performance, and with good reason.
This live, highly reworked cover of Robert Johnson’s “Cross Road Blues” features him and band mates Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker performing some intense—and extended—interactive jamming on a 12-bar blues in A, set to an uptempo, double-time groove with a driving even-, or “straight-,” eighths feel.
The high point comes during the arrangement’s second, prolonged guitar solo, when the group engages in a rhythmically dense improvisation that represents the exhilarating apex of blues-rock freeform jamming. Conjuring a killer creamy tone with his 1964 Gibson SG Standard and stacks of 100-watt Marshall amps, Clapton exploits the rig’s available sustain, using his signature vocal-like finger vibrato technique to make his guitar sing.
Particularly noteworthy is Clapton’s consistently wide and impeccably intonated bend vibratos (bent notes that are then shaken), especially during his upper-register second solo, which he plays mainly in the 17th-position A minor pentatonic (A C D E G) “box” pattern.
He combines notes from this scale with those from the parallel A major pentatonic (A B C# E F#) to create varying hues of melodic “light and shade,” more so during his first solo, and seamlessly shifts/drifts from one position to the next by using legato finger slides.
The result is a performance that ably supports the then-popular declaration that Clapton is God. “Crossroads” may be a song about striking a deal with the Devil, but this recording shows Clapton in supreme command of his divine powers.
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