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Me and Mr. Johnson, Eric Clapton

Striking the Chords of Innovation: Eric Clapton's Tribute to Robert Johnson

A few years back, at a conference, someone I've known in the innovation circle introduced me. The person I met listened closely, then remarked with a smile, "Ah, so you're the Eric Clapton of innovation."

Eric Clapton has one of rock history's longest, most productive, versatile, and collaborative careers. He started in the Yardbirds, one of the first blues-inspired bands in the UK in the 60s, which included not only him but also Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. His career continued into the legendary bands John Mayall’s Bluesbrakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominoes, and Delanie and Bonnie until he broke solo. Since then, he has recorded many classic albums and appeared as a guest player on classic records (i.e., Beatles White Album) and legendary concerts like George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, The Secret Police Ball, and Live Aid. In a derogatory way, my friend Polo would call him the “prostitute of music” because he’d also show up in every concert known to men, not sticking to any genre or style.

I could have chosen to recommend his most acclaimed studio album, “Slowhand*,” with hits like “Lay Down Sally” and “Wonderful Tonight,” “Journeyman,” my favorite studio record, or even “Just One Night,” the live album I’ve listened at nauseum. But I chose “Me and Mr. Johnson” because it is a wonderful showcase of what Clapton does best: play the blues. And what better blues to play than Robert Johnson’s?

Robert Johnson, born in 1911, was a pioneering blues guitarist and singer-songwriter. His recordings from the 1930s, including "Cross Road Blues" and "Sweet Home Chicago," are timeless classics. Despite a brief career cut short by his untimely death in 1938, Johnson's influence on music is profound. Legends surrounding his life, like a supposed pact with the devil, add to his mystique. His innovative guitar techniques and emotional lyrics continue to inspire generations of musicians, Clapton included. He’s been covered by innumerable rock legends like Hendrix, Cream, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Allman Brothers, White Stripes, Peter Green, ZZ Top, Johny Winter, Jeff Beck, and many more. Robert Johnson is, undoubtedly, part of the DNA of rock music.

“Me and Mr. Johnson” gives us a wonderful selection of some of the most classic songs in blues history, played by one of the best blues performers in history. This is a great place to start if you want to learn about blues. In this album, not only we can see the wonderful display of Clapton’s guitar but also the piano company of Billy Preston, the 5th Beatle, the bass of The Who’s Pino Palladino, and the harmonica of who might be the best in the industry, Jerry Portnoy. 

This collection of songs was released in 2004 and was Clapton’s 15th studio album. One has to stop and wonder. Why did it take him that long?!

As I reflect on my own introduction as the "Eric Clapton of innovation," I can't help but appreciate the parallel between Clapton's musical journey and my own pursuit of innovation—a journey shaped by reverence for the past, a commitment to excellence, and a willingness to explore new frontiers and collaborate. Just as Clapton's music continues to inspire, so too does the spirit of innovation, fueled by the timeless desire to improve our world, building on the legacy of those who came before us.

Slowhand - Eric Clapton earned the nickname "Slowhand" due to his deliberate and restrained guitar-playing style. The name was first given to him by his fans during his time with the Yardbirds and later became widely known. Some believe the nickname originated from Clapton's habit of breaking guitar strings during performances, which led to him taking longer to replace them, thus prompting the audience to clap slowly to fill the time. However, Clapton himself has offered a different explanation, suggesting that the name was given to him sarcastically by his fellow bandmates because he played with such speed and dexterity. Regardless of its origin, "Slowhand" has become synonymous with Clapton's legendary guitar prowess and his soulful, blues-infused playing style.

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