Slower Hand

Several years ago, as a demonstration about the importance of the rhythm unit (bass and drums) to a band’s sound, I had to play bass guitar to a live audience for the first time in over thirty years.

And I could barely play for more than a few seconds before the pain in my knuckles and wrist slowed me down. I haven’t touched a bass since.

At the time, I was 54 years old. How it would feel to play now, almost ten years later, I can only imagine — and how much pain I’d feel in another ten years or so is unimaginable.

Which is why I read this headline with the utmost sympathy for the man:

Musician Eric Clapton, 72, admits he’s going deaf and his “hands just about work” as he reveals concerns he will “embarrass himself” at 2018 shows

To say that I’m a fan of Eric Clapton would be one of the world’s great understatements. I first became aware of his skill when I heard the Cream hit “White Room”, which was a ground-breaker in that it had two lead solos — unheard of in any popular tune of the time. What was also ground-breaking was Clapton’s virtuosity, because (as I once explained to my son) while the solos now sound unremarkable, almost pedestrian, they were unlike anything else being played at the time. His playing was such that it spawned the various “Clapton Is God” graffiti on so many walls in Britain. My friend, the late Johnny Fourie was not only one of the jazz guitar greats, but was also for a couple of years the band leader at the famous Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in London. After having seen him play a late-night jam session there, Johnny later described Clapton to me as “a shy, skinny kid who played like his guitar was on fire.”

And he got better. Much better.

I’ve seen Clapton play live, once at Madison Square Garden (during his Cocaine period), and much later at the old Chicago Stadium where he played only his favorite blues songs. While he was good at MSG, he was sensational in Chicago, and anyone who knows anything about him will know that while rock music might have made him famous, it’s the blues which holds his heart.

Here’s (to my mind) one of the best examples of his blues prowess:

Stormy Monday

…and here’s something different he did a couple years ago:

Autumn Leaves

Yeah, he can play the old jazz standards as well. Well, duh; he’s Eric Clapton.

Old age catches us all in its icy grip eventually, and not even “God” can escape it.


  1. I was fortunate to hear Clapton play with three different bands in what seems like a couple of years; Cream’s farewell tour, Blind Faith and as Derek and the Dominoes. Of Blind Faith, I saw Steve Winwood a couple of months ago and the musicianship (and voice) are still as strong as the Traffic days. The u-tube rabbit hole lead to a 2005 video billed as “The BEST Layla performance”. Good, but sorry Mr. Poster, that guy on the second guitar is not Duane Allman.

    1. Watched Clapton and Winwood performing “Had to Cry Today” on the 2010 Crossroads festival, and they were both better than on the 1970 Hyde Park performance.

  2. The silver lining is that due to the wonders of technology, people will still be able to hear Clapton at his best, forever. No, not live, but imagine all the virtuoso who died prior to the invention of various recording media, whose voices/skills will never and can never be heard again. I hope Eric still has a few good years in him, I’d like to see him in concert again, but I can always put a disc in the player.

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