Each era witnesses the emergence of albums that seem to tilt the world’s axis, altering the musical landscape entirely. While artists contribute to the prevailing musical currents, certain bands create masterpieces that divert the flow entirely, compelling the rest of the world to follow suit in their pursuit of matching such unparalleled power. Among the multitude of landmark albums Eric Clapton has been associated with, he identifies one record that triggered a seismic shift in the very essence of music.
Clapton’s musical preferences invariably gravitate toward one constant: the blues. Despite receiving acclaim for pioneering rock and roll across his discography, Clapton’s heart remains deeply entrenched in the diverse realms of the blues, ranging from the soulful sounds of the Mississippi Delta to the vibrant tunes echoing in cities like Chicago, always seeking innovative ways to pluck that additional heartstring.
His exploration of uncharted territories began with collaborations with bands like Cream, offering him an education in the possibilities beyond the blues. Immersing himself in the sounds of jazz and psychedelic rock, some of the band’s most revered moments stemmed from venturing beyond their conventional medium, producing timeless riffs like the iconic ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’.
While Clapton continued to weave in the influences of his blues heroes like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters, the American music scene experienced a resurgence in the realm of R&B. With artists like Ray Charles ascending to global acclaim, labels like Motown became veritable hit factories, churning out classics from the likes of the Jackson 5 to Marvin Gaye.
Amidst the plethora of hitmakers, Stevie Wonder emerged as a force of nature in rock and roll. In contrast to contemporaneous rock stars tethered to the blues, Wonder’s pop sensibilities, coupled with his profound understanding of music theory, resulted in some of the most sophisticated songs of his era, showcased in albums such as Songs in the Key of Life.
When Clapton first plucked his initial chords on the guitar, the transformative moment was triggered by the song ‘I Was Made to Love Her,’ released during the era when Stevie Wonder still performed as ‘Lil’ Stevie Wonder,’ demonstrating his prowess both at the piano and with a harmonica. Beyond Wonder’s solo prowess, Clapton found equal fascination in the collective brilliance of the backing band.
Reflecting on his first encounter with the song, Clapton asserted that it marked a pivotal juncture in his musical journey. Speaking to BBC Radio 4, he emphasized, “It seemed to be a changing point in music for me. I heard it in the 60s, and the bass playing in this song by James Jamerson changed R&B and rock and roll radically overnight, I think.”
Clapton wasn’t alone in his admiration for Jamerson’s playing; Paul McCartney later acknowledged adopting his style while working on The Beatles’ experimental records like Rubber Soul and Revolver. Jamerson’s influence went beyond showcasing individual abilities; he imparted a crucial lesson to countless musicians that tasteful playing always serves the song.