Better Than Clapton? Blasphemy!


Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood roll into Houston tonight for a stop on their current tour.  It’s always a pleasure to see Clapton, particularly when he’s not in one of his blues modes, or his unplugged modes.  Nothing is better than being in the same room with this awesome guitarist when he cuts loose on a rock song – you certainly want to agree with that classic 1960s graffiti: “Clapton Is God.”

But is Eric Clapton the best guitarist in rock?  Most people would agree, others (particularly those who like to start fights in bars) would disagree.  A few years ago Rolling Stone magazine listed the “100 Greatest Guitarists in Rock,” and Clapton wound up No. 4 on their list.  That list alone could start about a million bar fights, but anyway… Who could believably be considered a greater guitarist than Clapton?  Let’s take a look at five candidates.

1. Jimi Hendrix – During only a few years in the international spotlight (1967-1970), Hendrix managed to accomplish more than many other guitarists do in a lifetime.  Rightfully named No. 1 on Rolling Stone‘s list, nobody has ever come close to this guy – not even Eric Clapton.

MP3: “Little Wing” (alternate version) by the Jimi Hendrix Experience

2. Jeff  Beck – Clapton’s successor in the Yardbirds, Beck certainly has a style and technique that is all his own.  He’s managed to graft jazz fusion into a ferocious rock style.  Beck has often sacrificed commercial success for experimentalism, which makes for some fascinating (and sometimes boring) albums.

MP3: “Sweet Little Angel” by Jeff Beck w/ Rod Stewart & Ron Wood 

3. Jimmy Page – The third Yardbirds guitarist and the mastermind behind Led Zeppelin, Page is a powerful guitarist – and the sides he cut with Zeppelin in the late 1960s-early 1970s still wield a mighty influence today.

MP3: “Achilles Last Stand” by Led Zeppelin

4. Peter Green – The troubled genius from the first, bluesy incarnation of Fleetwood Mac may actually be a better pure blues guitarist than Clapton.  He was no slouch as a songwriter, either; he wrote the song attached here.  Nobody played like Peter Green – and today, neither does Peter Green.

MP3: “Black Magic Woman” by Fleetwood Mac

5. Stevie Ray Vaughan – This Texas boy thrilled audiences before leaving us way too soon but he left behind some classic recordings and live shows.  It may a take a few listens for newbies to figure out what makes this guy so great; listening to a Stevie Ray performance is like unwrapping an unexpected Christmas gift.

MP3: “Pride and Joy” (live) by Stevie Ray Vaughan

BONUS: “Little Wing” (live) by Eric Clapton & Steve Winwood

Rolling Stone 100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time list

Photo courtesy of Eric Clapton’s official website  

18 Responses to “Better Than Clapton? Blasphemy!”

  1. Stefano Says:

    One one hand Clapton has been associated with alot of great music and great playing – for me particularly Cream, DATD and some of his solo work. On the other hand he has become synonymous with lazy, cliched blues solos. There are many guitarists I like better – John McGeoch, Ollie Halsall, Danny Kirwn and one of the guitarists in the latest P-Funk tour band…this guy is red hot and wears a STR type hat and plays like a STR/Stevie Vai cross. Don’t know if he’s a writer, but he’s a player. But give Clapton his due. His only crime may be that he’s been around so long.

  2. 30daysout Says:

    There have been so many fantastic guitarists in the years after Clapton’s rise, that Eric may be consigned by history to a particular era – say, the late 1960s-early 70s. But Duane Allman, Pete Townshend, et. al. will give him a run too.

    There are so many great guitarists left off Rolling Stone’s list: Ron Wood, Nils Lofgren, Joe Satriani, Gatemouth Brown …

  3. Did you forget Carlos??

  4. This is heretical, but I’ve said it before in print; for my money, Wilco’s Nels Cline may be the best, and most inventive rock guitarist since Jimi Hendrix.

  5. Clapton has had his day..he ruled the waves for quite some time as a very talented influential guitar player however he has been left behind in the dust of many ..Eric lost his fire and passion about the same time he started cleaning up his health..not for a minute advocating substance abuses but you have to wonder about Eric`s style before and after ..Having said that he is a truly wonderful player but there are others now ..oh yes..there are others..for pure style and singular skils I have to mention Jimi,Sonny Landreth,Jeff Beck,Danny Gatton as possibly and probably the best there is….

  6. Jack Johnson the boxer not Jack Johnson the surfer Says:

    Richard Thompson deserves mention as well.

    But why the “argument” when just about anybody (including Rolling Stone) ranks others higher? If the question were, for instance, “Who is a greater soul singer than Aretha Franklin?” then there would be trouble a-brewin’, and all for the good.

  7. 30daysout Says:

    To Jack Johnson the boxer not Jack Johnson the surfer:
    You know us guys from Texas, we just like to argue. But the reason I wrote the post is because … I happen to think Clapton is the best.

  8. 30daysout Says:

    The best … alive, I should have said.

  9. rogue46 Says:

    I second the motion for Richard Thompson. Not only has he had a highly successful career in Fairport Convention and on his own, but he was reputedly invited to join The Band and Eagles and chose not to. He is a master of his craft.

  10. 30daysout Says:

    I saw Richard Thompson play at the Houston International Festival, solo acoustic, and he was awesome. He is also an incredible songwriter and Hand of Kindness is one of my all-time favorite albums. But better than Clapton? Hmmm, you think?

  11. It’s really a tough comparison – apples and oranges most of the time. For influence on guitarists after him, I think you’d be hard pressed to argue Jimmy Page shouldn’t be at the top of that list, but then again, Eddie Van Halen completely re-defined guitar based music in the late 70’s. It’s just a tough call with so many brilliant guitar players to choose from and Clapton is certainly on that list.

  12. best guitars in? Blues? Jazz? Rock? Slide Guitar? Electric? Acoustic? Classical? Too many variables to name a best. Jordan or Kobe?
    i’ve been lucky enough to see most everyone mentioned here, Townsend, Thompson, Vai, Van Halen, Landreth, Lofgren, “Gatemouth”….All were great live. As for moving a room, taking over a crowd…Van Halen and Gatemouth were the one’s when I saw each live. But for the best I ever saw live, the best at ‘owning’ the room, moving and entrancing the crowd, captivating me…it was Roy Buchanan. But still, I have to agree that Clapton is king of the Rock-era guitarists.

  13. Jerry Garcia must rank a place on this list

  14. Pete Townsend took Clapton to see Hendrix when he first came to London. He told him “this guy is going to put us out of work” I saw Hendrix at a concert hall from the sixth row. He could move a room alrite! I saw Clapton in Cream, I saw him in Blind Faith, I heard him at Leon’s show at the Hammersmith (he played behind the speakers, not yet ready to face everyone). I have seen him solo and the ronnie lane show. So I think I can say that no one can lift an audience and send them on a sonic journey like Eric. Doesn’t you heart race when you hear the opening notes for Layla?
    Yes he used to play faster but its not the number of notes you play in a minute, its what you put into each note.
    I also think that Carlos Santana should have a place here, and Mark Knopfler.
    But above all Clapton is God, remember.

  15. Watched Jeff Beck Live at Ronnie Scott dvd. Beck and Clapton play a couple of songs together. Beck blows Eric away, tone wise and lick wise.
    Beck is amazing.

  16. mmm Clapton and beck are fine players but my top 10 would be this anyday!

    3 – Van Halen
    4- Kossoff
    7- Rory Galllagher
    9- Angus Young

  17. a list that places players like angus -3power chord -young, or tiddly van halen ahead of Jeff Beck is rubbish. Jeff can do what these guys do in his sleep, they cannot do what Jeff Beck does..there are good players , great players, and then there are players like Jimi,Jeff,Danny Gatton, sonny Landreth…just heads hands and feet above the regular crowd..
    don`t confuse your testosterone fuelled reaction to power chords as a watermark to guitar greatness…

  18. I would like to add an Australian or two to the list – Lloby Loyde on electric guitar and on acoustic Lloyd Spiegel.

    I waited a lifetime to see Clapton in Australia and rated his concert one of the worst I had seen , there was no emotion it was just play the songs and get off. lucky he had Derek Trucks on the tour.




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