Most folks these days know Eric Clapton as the grey-haired guy who sings old blues tunes. Granted, paying tribute to the tome of the blues ain't a bad vocation. Truth be told, I've been known to saddle up to a Deluxe Reverb amp and a Shure SM58 a few times myself. While I admit my lexicon of riffology is spectacular only by the lack of any redeeming qualities. There was a time when Clapton wore a different face. In the late 1960's Eric Clapton was more than King, he was hailed a God. It was no false title and Clapton earned the designation, even though he was uncomfortable with it. First with John Mayall and the BluesBreakers and then in the power trio of The Cream. Clapton reigned the stage, wielding sonic pontification through the power of a 100 watt Marshall stack and a sunburst 1959 Les Paul. He absolutely blazed on tracks like White Room, Steppin' Out and Crossroads. Cream was the big leagues and Clapton was a true heavy hitter. Make no mistake, Eric Clapton was, and still is, a top gun. He is the embodiment of a world class musician. "Clapton is God" was the mantra of rock fans of the time. That phrase was shouted at concerts, published in print and sprayed in graffiti on the streets of London. That all changed one night in 1967 when God was staggered and shaken by a devastating purple haze. There, on a cramped stage in London, a guitarist named Jimi Hendrix joined a jam session with Eric Clapton. The Seattle native was basically an unknown at the time and this was his first trip to the UK. Who is this guy, the crowd wondered. Then Hendrix unleashed an acrobatic display of fretboard dexterity that opened a reality bending warp in the continuum of sound. The crowd went saucer-eyed, transfixed...who the hell is that? What the hell is that? Hendrix wasn't just bringing them music, he showed them a future of incandescent mermaids and Jovian methane seas. At some point during that sonic prophecy God walked off the stage in defeat. Clapton's words from the sidelines? "You didn't tell me he was that good". Try to understand...this level of total air supremacy was without precedence at the time. Hendrix was a game changer, he represented an evolutionary shift in lyrical phrasing and song writing. Ultimately, Hendrix is what you would get if you injected a scrawny musician with Captain America's super solider serum.
I will talk about my favorite Hendrix album Electric Ladyland soon but for now consider this. Clapton was considered by many as the penultimate rock guitarist of his era. Trust me, he rightfully earned that praise. Then Hendrix came along and while he and Clapton shared common musical influences, Hendrix took that shit to a level not of this world. For example, both men had an appreciation of old guard bluesmen like HowlinWolf, Muddy Waters and T-Bone Walker. Not surprisingly, they both utilized the pentatonic scale as the foundation of many solos. In other words, they incorporated elements of the old guard into their new interpretations of the blues.
We see this action of incorporating the old into the new in many forms. Contemplate how comics creator Jack Kirby formulated his Fourth World series. The New Gods of the Fourth World were crafted from the heated kiln of Kirby's Asgardian work at Marvel. His departure to DC Comics in 1970 was a extinction level Ragnarok that forged the old Norse Gods into the New Gods of the Fourth World. Orion and High Father of the New Gods were transcendent of Thor and Odin. In truth, the New Gods should have superseded the Norse Pantheon. However, from the standpoint of pop culture the Fourth World is relatively unknown. Is it because of better marketing from Marvel? More engaging stories from the Marvel bullpen? No, I think it's because the comic book incarnations of the Norse Gods has the advantage of a millennia of associated history with oral and written tradition. Thor in the comic books is a departure from the red haired god of traditional Norse mythology. Yet, the comic and movie version of the thunder god retains enough of the DNA of the source material to allow neophyte viewers a clear path of reference to the familiar mythology. Likewise, it is my opinion that Hendrix in addition to all of his flash, song writing talent and bombastic skill ultimately had the ability to express a more clear conduit to the familiar source material than Clapton. Am I downgrading Clapton's importance in rock or his immense talent? Hell no! Clapton is a true heavyweight. Just his work on the Beano album is a testament to his power. My point is that a key component of surpassing the old gods is the ability to effectively assimilate the raw ideal of the familiar past and to use that ideal as a gateway into the transcendental. Don't believe me? That's cool, but get hip to this. Many of the pagan practices of ancient times were meticulously woven into the core foundations of our current systems of social norms. The myth of Mita, The Lupercali and ancient sky worship sects are so fully integrated into our daily lives that we no longer notice them. But that does not mean we aren't affected by their legacy. I'm looking at you, Halloween. Likewise, Hendrix created a tapestry of sex, love and exploration of the soul drawn from a primal pool of synchronicity. He had the ability to relay information directly from the source wall in a language that the masses could relate to and expound upon. Oh, and the New Gods of the Fourth World? Well, DC recently replaced them with the Fifth World Gods.