Poor Eric Clapton. He would have been the greatest guitarist of the 20th century* if Jimi Hendrix hadn’t come along and, more importantly, died. Clapton’s fame in London in the 60s extended to people writing “Clapton is God” on walls, and yet when he saw Hendrix for the first time even God himself was shocked at how great a musician he was. Hendrix was wildly inventive and swiftly shunted rock music sideways in terms of sound, while sticking to the same fundamentals as Clapton. Hendrix’s rock star death meant that was immortalised young and perfect, and could never have the inevitable tragic decline.
Meanwhile, Clapton spent the 70s producing a lot of mediocre work but also some utterly excellent stuff. It seems to me that the Post-Hendrix world forced Clapton to look more broadly into Reggae and Gospel music, because the blazing blues-rock god position had been taken.
In the end maybe it was all for the best – Clapton seems so modest and taciturn and never happier than playing some simple but endlessly subtle blues riff with a couple of friends. His own life has settled down over the last 20 years and allowed him to do just that. Maybe it’s all he ever wanted.
* With the possible exception of Django Rheinhart