Is Clapton Overrated?

originally published June 6, 2012

So I was asked somewhere if Eric Clapton is overrated. A very broad question and one I didn’t want to spend too much time or energy thinking about.  But here are my brief thoughts:

I think he got his reputation as a guitarist early on and that kind of stuck over the years. The guitar god thing has often overshadowed his solo career too, which is strange because none of his solo work really showcases what he’s capable of with the guitar (Just One Night and From the Cradle are exceptions)…meaning, he spent a few years as God, and then spent the next 40 as a writer of mediocre pop songs.

Live Cream is the best example of just how badass Clapton could be. And he’s at his best when he’s playing the blues. He’s a great guitarist, yes, but it ends there. I can think of at least a dozen guitarists who are much more interesting. Probably more. But even at his best, he’s just another interpreter of the blues. Still, he’s very good at it. But there’s only so much one can do with the blues because it’s all the same song.

Aside from some of the occasionally good and often bland and uninteresting pop songs he’s recorded, his most associated-with song (Layla) is completely owned and dominated by Duane Allman, perhaps the best solo he ever played was on a Beatles song, and his few great solo recordings were cover songs. So, my favorite things I personally associate him with, can’t completely be claimed by him.

Overrated? Yes and no. Yes, because of what I said above about his guitar playing and song writing. No, because the “Clapton is God” line of the late 60s and early 70s has leveled off over the years to a simple “one of the best” status, so it’s not like people are out there bowing down and praying to him in the past four decades. And no because as a solo artist, he’s not particularly all that acclaimed or even relevant. And he isn’t really treated that way. He gets by today on his history alone like every other active artist of his generation…and rightfully so.

As a total artist in general? At best, he’s made a fine and humble mark on rock and roll…at worst, he’s harmless. But thank God for him.

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