Advanced Soloing: Cream

“And, of course, there was Cream. I still love to sit alone in a room and wrap myself up in that music. They created an amazing fusion of Blues and hard rock, and some of their most beautyful songs were covers.”
Martin Scorsese, Feel Like Going Home [1]

Let’s go back into the 60’s to learn a bit more about how to build up a Blues based guitar solo. The history of Cream is filling books, it was one of the first so called “super groups” in rock music. Bruce’s and Baker’s more jazz-based background together with Clapton’s Blues roots created a new magic music style, they were among the first who introduced long improvisations into modern popular music. And this is where we want to take a closer look at – building up a solo architecture like telling a good story instead of the flashy “look how fast I can play”-style.

Song list:

  1. Crossroads
  2. I Feel Free
  3. Spoonful
  4. Stormy Monday Blues (2005 reunion)
  5. Cream Farewell Concert Video – The Clapton Interview
  6. Outside Woman Blues

General Thoughts


No, not again all this scales and progressions stuff. You’ve read enough about it before, now it’s time to go one step ahead. You should know about the basics, have your favorite licks, but now you need to know more about the way you can use it. You should know how to express your thoughts while playing without thinking about scales.

Compare it with learning a new language. Imagine you’ve learned some words and some grammar too, but you still think in your native language and translate it back. That’s time consuming and doesn’t give you all possibilities the new language may have. A child learns to speak without any grammar. It gets a feeling for the words and sentences. That’s what we need for our guitar playing, too. The ability to think in music directly. You need some experience to do that, no doubt. A good way to train this is trying to play the songs or licks you’re listening to on the radio or CD or watching on MTV, VH-1, your favorite Blues DVD or video etc. and then trying to add your own ideas. Composing while playing.

This could be also entitled

“Why is someone playing with the speed of light not automatically the better (Blues) guitar player?”

The reason is that being able to play fast is useless if you don’t find the right notes in real-time, while playing. You can learn a song note-for-note, play it faster and faster, include tapping, sweep picking, palm-muted speed picking until no one can follow, but if you play your solo, you’re helpless. Speed is not evil by itself, a good technique as well, but it’s no end in itself. It’s more important to be able to express yourself through the guitar, that you know which notes/licks/phrases will move the audience. Sometimes a fast run is great to outline raw energy (like on the following Crossroads), but don’t overload a song running scales up and down. That’s boring. Shredding is nice if you want to build up some speed, but it’s a hard time to listen to. There’s nothing to discover.

Below I’ll discuss some songs from Clapton’s Cream era. Although I have to use tablature to explain some things, you should not simply copy them trying to sound like EC. Look behind and try to find out why it’s played that way and how you would have done that. Think in music.

Crossroads

Eric Clapton, please… vocals
– Jack Bruce at the end of the song

I’ve always had ‘Crossroads’ held up as, like, one of the great landmarks of guitar playing, but most of that solo is on the wrong beat. Instead of playing on the two and four, I’m playing on the one and three and thinking, ‘that’s the off beat.’ No wonder people think it’s so good-because it’s wrong!”
– Eric Clapton, April ’98 interview with Britain’s Mojo.


Robert Johnson composed (or modified a traditional) this Blues classic and recorded it in 1936. Many Blues greats from Ellmore James to Homesick James played their version of it, there’s also a movie where Ry Cooder played the soundtrack. Crossroads (“I went to the crossroads, fell down on my knees”) was among the first Blues songs which EC played in a completely new way, mixing it with Johnson’s Traveling Riverside Blues (“I’m goin’ to Rosedale, goin’ take my rider by my side”) , he also sang the lead vocals. This one is the live version from the album “Wheels Of Fire”, with the timeline included from “Those Were The Days” (+ 9 sec.). It was recorded live at the Winterland Ballroom on the 10th March, 1968, EC played a 1964 (not 1961) Gibson SG. Later versions of Crossroads lack a bit of that fire, they were slowed down to a slow Blues or even reggae style.

Crossroads is a standard Blues in A (A7/D7/E7) with the beat going on 1 and 3 rather than on 2 and 4 (EC’s “error”, see the quote above). This one is good to start with because it’s short and uses the typical 12 bar chord progression even during most of the solos.

Chords:

A7 D7 E7

At first the intro, listen to it and assign the chord progression. The first 4 bars use the A chord (I) like:

I-----------------I---------------------I--------------------I---------------------I
I-----------------I---------------------I--------2-0-2-------I--------2-0-2--------I
I--2--2-0-2-0h2-0-I------2--2-0-2-0h2-0-I--------2-0-2-0h2-0-I--------2-0-2-0h2-0--I
I--2--------------I------2--------------I--------------------I---------------------I
I--0--------------I-3b4--0--------------I-3b4--0-------------I-3b4--0--------------I
I-----------------I---------------------I--------------------I---------------------I
 0:09

Use the palm of your picking hand to mute the strings. To increase the power of the 3rd and 4th bar EC used double stops. We know already what has to follow according to the 12 bar Blues structure – you’re right, the next two bars use the D7 chord (IV):

I-----------------2-----I---------2-2---2-----I
I-----------1-1-------1-I-------------1-----1-I
I---------------2---2---I-----------------2---I
I------0-0--------------I-----0-0-------------I
I--3b4------------------I-3b4-----------------I
I-----------------------I---------------------I
  0:16

Notice that the strings are allowed to ring out in opposite to the first 4 bars. The next wo bars are played like the 3rd and 4th bar (A chord, see above, still following the 12bar structure). After this EC left the “playing with chords”-mode completely and finished with a fast run over the minor A Blues scale, including his favourite major note on the 6th fret of the G string, the note that separates the A minor from the A major chord. He ends with the root note of the V chord E7, opening it for the vocals:

I---------------------------------------------------5--------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------5---8h(5)---5-----------7----------I
I------------------------5b(6)---7h5---5b-6---5h6-----------7---5h6---5h6------------I
I-----------2-2------5-7-------7-----7------7-----------------------7----------------I
I-3b4-0-----0-0--5/7--------------------------------------------------------7~~------I
I-------0-------------------------------------------------------------------0--------I
  0:24

Now we have 3 vocal choruses with some fills in the style above. The chords still follow the 12 bar blues progression, as does at 1:37 the first solo. We start using some deep notes of the A major pentatonic scale and work up to higher notes of the minor pentatonic. Adding a few double stops gives additional power. The solo is 2 x 12 bars long and uses the quick change standard Blues structure. Try to associate the notes played to the corresponding chords: A(I) – D(IV) – E7(V). Remember that in Blues you can play major and minor pentatonic scale notes over major (seventh) chords.

measure 1 - 4
I----------------------------------------------5---5---------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------5h7-5-7---5h7-----------------------------I
I-----2---2-2---2---4b(6)------2---2---------------------7-5h6------------5~~--6p5---I
I-2h4---4-----4---4--------2h4---4---4/6-----------------------7------5-7----------7-I
I-----------------------------------------------------------------5-7----------------I
I-major scale notes------------------------------------------------------------------I
  1:37

measure 5 - 8
I-------5---------------------------------------------------5--------8-10------I
I---------8-----------------------------8-----------------5---8b(10)------10~~-I
I-7b(9)-----7b(9)-5h7~-5h7p5----5h7/9-9---9\7-5b------5h6----------------------I
I----------------------------7-------------------7-7---------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-minor scale notes------------------------------------------------------------I
  1:44

measure 9 - 12
I-------8-------8---------------------------------------------5--------------------------------I
I--8h10---8h10-----------------------5----------------------5---8p5---5------------------------I
I-----------------9\7-5-7p5----5h6-7---7-5b-------------5h6---------7---5h7p5b--------5h6------I
I---------------------------7---------------7----------------------------------7-5-7-----------I
I---------------------------------------------7\5------------------------------------------7~--I
I-------------------------------------------------8b-5-------------------------------------E---I
 1:51

Before going on, try to play variations of this theme. Start with minor notes (1-4) only and listen to the difference of sound.
Next one with some double stops, still not going above the 12th fret (leaving it for the final solo to increase the tension):

I--8b------10-11-12-12b(13)-8b--------8b----------------------------------8b-10b(12)-I
I-----10~~---------------------10~10~-----/8-8-8--------------/8-8-8-8h10------------I
I-----------------------------------------/9-9-8-9\7-5--------/9-9-9-----------------I
I------------------------------------------------------7-5-7~------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
1:58

I--10b(12)-10b(12)-10b(12)rb10p8-10-------8b--10b(12)rb10-8-10----------------7b-----I
I-----------------------------------10-10----------------------10p8h10------8-8b-----I
I-----------------------------------------------------------------------7h9------\7--I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
2:06

I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------------10-10----10-10-10-12p10----10~~~----------10----10-12b(14)------I
I-5b-7p5---5-7/9-11b-------11----------------11-------11--9h11----11-----------------I
I--------7---------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
2:12

I-------------------------------------------I
I-12b(14)-----------------------------------I
I---------10~~------------------------------I
I------------------5h7p5--------------------I
I--------------5h7-------7-5---(vocals...)--I
I----------------------------5--------------I
2:18

Although in this solo we have found many things we’ve learned before like the use of major notes in minor scales, the power of 1+5 double stops, the root note as the main note to resolve the tension to and not to forget bends and vibrato even when we’re playing fast, we can feel (or hear) that this was not the final solo of that song. As mentioned before, we left one option open: stepping to higher notes above the 12th fret. At 2:41 it’s time for the second solo, and we start around the 17th fret, which is not easy on guitars with short necks (21 frets or less). Another problem is the high distorted sound together with the feedback of the Marshall amps, so it sounds quite different if played “clean”.

I--------------------------------------------17-------------17-17-17-----------------I
I----------17-17-17--17----------17----------------------------------20b(22)~~~------I
I--19b(21)--------------19b(21)-------19b(21)----repeat...---------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
 2:41

I---17-------------------------------17------------------20b(22)-20-17h20p17---------I
I------20-------------------------17----20p17--------------------------------20------I
I---------(21)rb19-17-19----17-18-------------19-17b---------------------------------I
I------------------------19--------------------------19------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I---------------------------Compare it to the intro (+12 frets)!---------------------I
 2:44

I--17-----------17-------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-----20b(22)~~----20--------------------------17------------------------------------I
I---------------------(21)rb19-17-19-----17-19----19b~~-17--17----17-17----17--------I
I-------------------------------------19--------------------17h19----19-17-----------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
2:50

I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-17-------17----17-17-------17----17-------------17-------17----17-19-17------------I
I-17h19-19----19----17h19-19----19----------17h19----17h19----19----19----19---------I
I-------------------------------------17h19-------------------------------root!------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
2:54

I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------17-17---------17-17-17-17--20p17----17-------------20b(22)rb20--------------I
I-19b(21-------19b(21)--------------------19----17p19h17----------------17-19-17~~~--I
I--------------------------------------------------------19--------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
2:57

I----------------------------17------------17----17---------17----20p17----20b(22)---I
I----------------------17-19----20b(22)~~~----20----20b(22)----20-------20-----------I
I----------17-17---------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-19p17----17-17---------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------19-------19~~~---------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:01

I-20b-17----17------------17---------------------------------------------------------I
I--------20----20b(22)~~~----20-17-20-------------17b(19)rb17-15-17------------------I
I-------------------------------------19-17-19----------------------17h19~~-17h19p17-I
I----------------------------------------------19------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:05

I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-----17-19-----------------------17----17-------17-----------------17~~~-----20p17--I
I-----17-19--------17-19----17h16----19----17h18----19p17-----17-19-------19---------I
I--19-------19--19-------19-------------------------------19-------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:12

I----------------------------------17------------------------------------------------I
I-----20p17----20p17----20b(22)~~-----20-17------------------------------------------I
I--19-------19-------19---------------------19b(21)-17-19-17-------17b---------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------19-19-----19p17---------I
I----------------------------------------------------------------------------19------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:17

I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-----------------------------------------------17-19-19b-19-19b-19-19b-19-19b-------I
I-17-19-17----17-17----17-17----17-17-17--------17-19-19b-19-19b-19-19b-19-19b-------I
I-17-19-17-19-17-17-19-------19-17-17-17-19-19---------------------------------------I
I----------19------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:21

I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I----19b----19b----19b----19p17------------------------------------------------------I
I-19-----19-----19-----19-------19b-17~~---------17----17-17-17----17-17-----17------I
I---------------------------------------19p17----17h19-19-19-17h19-19-19--19---------I
I---------------------------------------------19-------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:27

I----------------------------17-----------------------------17---------------17------I
I--20p17----20p17----20b(22)----20-17-20b(22)-20-17-20b(22)----20-17-20b(22)----20---I
I--------19-------19-----------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:29

I-----------------------------------------------17-------------------------19b(21)---I
I-17-----------------------------------------17----20p17----17-----------------------I
I----19b(21)rb19p17----19-17-----------17h18-------------19----17h19p17--------------I
I-------------------19-------19p17-19-----------------------------------19-----------I
I--------------------------------------compare to the intro:-------------------------I
I--------------------------------------one octave higher!----------------------------I
3:33

I-19b(21)-17-19----17~~----17----17-17----19b(21)----20b(22)-20-17h20p17----17~------I
I---------------19------19----19-------19---------17---------------------20----------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:36

I---------17--------------------------------------------I
I-20b(22)----20-17-------------------------------17-----I
I------------------19b(21)rb19p17-19p17----17h18--------I
I---------------------------------------19--------------I
I---------------------------------------------------19--I
I-------------------------------------------------------I
3:42

You see that EC is playing with the licks, combining and using on different positions of the scale. When reaching the end of the playable scale and it seems he can’t increase the tension, he again used double stops to go one step ahead. Analyze them and try to find out which chords belong to them. Take a look at the simple but effective turnaround at the end of the solo: going back to the root note and then without a break adding notes from the V chord (E7) ending with E, waiting for the last verse to come. Finally: this is not something to learn note for note. Listen close how to use what you’ve learned and try your own style!

I Feel Free


Another short but great example for a good solo is the one played on “I Feel Free” from the album “Fresh Cream”. The song was recorded at London’s Rye Muse Studios and was the second work of Jack Bruce and the poet Pete Brown together and also released as the second single after “Wrapping Paper”.

It’s not a Blues, and except the short break (I can down the street…) which uses the chord sequence C/Bb/A/F/D and the opening chord, EC’s (and Jimis, too) favorite E9 (=E7+9) chord, there are only two chords, E and D played all over the song. Both chords can also be played as power chords (leaving out the 3rd) with E as bass note.

EC again used his famous woman tone, usually considered as neck pickup, full volume, tone zero, but sometimes also described as neck and bridge pickup, both tone controls to zero, neck pickup volume full up and bridge pickup around 6.

Chords in standard position:

E D E9 C Bb A F D

We can’t play a classical Blues solo here, so let’s take a closer look at EC’s work. The main opening theme (bum bum bum ba bum bum…) relies on the E note (yes, the key is E) like

I-------------------------------I
I-------------------------------I
I-------------------------------I
I-2-2-2-0-2-2----0-2-2-2-0-2-2--I
I--------------2----------------I
I-bum bum...--------------------I

Clearly notes from the minor E pentatonic scale. Then there is the humming, and it gets more difficult, the minor pentatonic alone doesn’t do it:

I------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------I
I----------------9-------------------------I
I--10b(12)~~~------12-10-9~~---------------I
I----------------------------11-11/14~~~---I
I--hmmmmm...-------------------------------I

We can either use the mixolydian scale to describe it or use our well known mixture of minor and major pentatonic scales. We use the second way, because later in the solo we also get this mixture. We need this main theme to build up the solo, which picks it up does some variations of it. Two techniques are essential for this solo: precise string bending and a good vibrato. Without mastering these two things really good the solo will not sound. You have to reach the right pitch and you must be able to put a clean wrist vibrato on it.

The solo is well structured and consists of 3 main parts from the type AB-A’B’-B’C. The first one AB goes like (I didn’t include the timeline because there’s only one solo, which is easy to follow):

I--------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I---------------------------(14)rb12-------12b(14)~--15(rb)14-p12----------I
I-13b(14)~-(14)rb13-p11--13----------13~~~------------------------14-13~~~-I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------I

EC used the major pentatonic scale with some slow bends into the minor pentatonic, starting and ending with G#, the major 3rd. The next one A’B’ is a variation played a bit higher:

I---------------------------(16)rb14-------------------------------------------I
I--14b(15)-(15)rb14p12--14-----------14~~~-------------------------------------I
I~-----------------------------------------11b(14)--12(rb)11-p9-11----9-11-9~~-I
I------------------------------------------------------------------11----------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

After repeating the last lick, the solo ends with B’C’ using a dramatic change in sound: not only that he switched the pickup of his Les Paul (from the neck to the bridge position) to get more volume, he also switched to the pure minor pentatonic scale:

I------------------------------------------12---------17b(19)-17b(19)rb17-15------------15-17-15b(17)---I
I---------------------------------------12----17~~-17------------------------17-15-17~~-------slow-bend-I
I--11b(14)--12(rb)11-p9-11----9-11-9~~------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------11---------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

Summary:

  • played using variations of the main musical theme
  • start with major pentatonic and bends into minor scale notes
  • at the end changing the pickup and switching to the minor pentatonic using higher notes
  • perfect use of bending and vibrato, plus the combination of it. A great example that speed alone doesn’t do it. You have to learn other techniques as well to master it really good. No one may hear it if you’re picking a wrong note during a high speed lick, but one slow bend into the wrong pitch or a vibrato without any feeling and you’re alone on stage.

Spoonful


Spoonful was first released on the “Fresh Cream” album, but originally this Blues written by Willie Dixon was a big Howlin’ Wolf hit, recorded 1960 at the inevitable Chess records. It is based on a very old Charlie Patton Blues named “A Spoonful Blues”, released 1929(!) on Paramount.

This Blues is a shuffle in E minor with a very characteristic theme, which is the base for the solo. This theme is simply a E – G progression (with a small bend added), which is a change between the I and iii. The chord played all over the song is Em, except the end, where there is a G followed by a E7#9 chord.

Chords:

Em G E7#9

There is no real 12 bar Blues structure. Although this simple background together with the very basic main theme of only two notes doesn’t give much room for improvisation, Spoonful contains a great solo by just using the E minor pentatonic scale. The main theme at different fretboard positions as notes and chords goes like:

  main theme                                 chords
I-----------------------------------------I---------------------I
I-----------------------8b---8b----8b-----I---0---------8-------I
I---------------------9----9----9-----9---I---0-----or--7-------I
I-----------------------------------------I------2------6----2--I
I-----------------------------------------I------2------7----2--I
I-0-3b-0-3b-0--3b--0----------------------I------0-----------0--I

The intro is played together with Jack’s harp like

                                                                                  Em
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------8b-----------8b~~-----8b~~-----8b--------repeat---------------------------8---------------------I
I----------9~~~--7-9-------9--------9-----9~~~---theme----------------------------9---------------------I
I-harp---------------------------------------------------7h9~~--------------------9---------9-(12)rb9---I
I-bass----------------------------------------------------------could...diamonds--7-...gold-------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
0:03

The next interesting and often used theme is at 0:29, walking down one octave to the root note E:

I---------------------------I
I---------------------------I
I---------------------------I
I-2-2-2-0-------------------I
I---------2-1-0-------------I
I---------------3b-0-3b-0---I

The solo starts at 2:23. Using the minor pentatonic scale EC adds some major notes (as usual) to increase the tension and to get another color into the solo, which otherwise would sound a bit boring because of the E minor chord all over the time. Note that the bass E (root) note is often played to finish a lick.

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--12b(14)rb12b(14)~~~--12b(14)-12-10----10------------------------12-------------------12(14)rb12b(14)-I
I-------------------------------------13----12~~~-------12-14b(15)-----12-14-12-------------------------I
I-------------------------------------^--------------14-------------------------14-14~~-----------------I
I-------------------------------------major scale note!-------------------------root--------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
2:23

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-12-10b------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------12b--------------------------------------------------------------14b(15)rb14p12----------------I
I------------14-12-14~~------12-14-12-14-12-14-12-14-12-14--14---------2-----------------14~~-----------I
I----------------------12-14-----------------------------------12~~-------------------------------------I
I----------------------------------------------------------------------0----------------------0---------I
                       2:40

I-------------12----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I----------12----15p12-15b(17)~~---15b(17)-15-12----12----------------------12-15-12----12--------------I
I--14b(16)---------------------------------------14----14-12----12----12h14----------14----14p12----14--I
I------------------------------------------------------------14----14----------------------------14-----I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I----------------------------------fast across minor pentatonic-----------------------------------------I
2:53

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------12----------------------------------I
I-----12~~~---12f------------12-14-12----14b(15)rb14-12-14----12-14----14-12-14-12---------9~~-----7----I
I--14---------artificial--14----------14-------------------14----------------------14----------7h9---9--I
I-------------harmonic----------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------0----------------I
2:59

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--9-7----------------14b(16)-14-12-14-12----12-14-14b(15)-14-12-14-12b---------11b(12)-11b(13)-11b(12)-I
I------9-7--------------------------------14----------------------------14~~----------------------------I
I----------10b-7----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I----------------0------------------------------------------------------------0-------------------------I
3:10

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-11b(13)-11b(12)---11(13)p10p9--11b(12)p10p9-11--7-9-7-9~~----9b(12)rb9-7-9-7-9-9---7------------------I
I--------------------------------slow--------------------------------------------------9-8-6-6-7-6------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------7----I
I-----------------0-----------------------------------------0-----------------------------------------0-I
3:20

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-----------------------------------------------8~~--10b(11)rb10p8~~--------8-8-10b(11)rb10p8~~---------I
I--9b(12)rb9p7h9p7-9b(12)rb9p7h9p7...--9~~--9~~----------------------9-8-9----------------------9-8-9---I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
3:29

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--8b------10-10-8-10-------8b-10-8-------8b(9)--10b(11)rb10-8~~----------------------------------------I
I-----9~~-------------9-8-9---------9-9~~------------------------9-8-9-7---7----------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------9---\7-5-7-5b(6)---------------I
I-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------7-------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------0...-3b-0---I
3:38

After all, more then I wanted to tab at first. But it’s so interesting how a rather simple form with only one chord can be brought to such a solo. Study it, it’s worth the time. Don’t just play the notes!

Stormy Monday Blues

“You’ve got to feel the blues to make them right. That kind of music really affects people, too. It’s played from the heart and if the person listening, understands and is in the right mood, why, man, I’ve seen them bust out and cry like a baby.”
– T-Bone Walker

The Stormy Monday Blues written 1947 by T-Bone Walker is one of the most popular and most frequently covered Blues ever. EC played it several times live, with the Cream 2005 DVD (and some more or less rare compilations like “Blues”) it was released official for the first time.

T-Bone Walker’s influence on the modern, electric Blues can’t be overrated. Being the first player who played the Blues on an electrified guitar, he put the guitar to the front and used it with a little help from Charlie Christian (the Jazz legend) and Blind Lemon Jefferson as a solo instrument in both big orchestras and small combos. He was also among the first who played the guitar behind his neck and between his legs, twisting and dancing. Women loved it, and Chuck Berry and Jimi Hendrix obviously have seen Walker playing. A Blues collection without T-Bone is imperfect. He converted B.B. King as well as Lowell Fulson and Albert King to the electric guitar, he even gave one to John Lee Hooker as a gift. More on T-Bone’s version at the chords page.

Back to EC: the 2005 Cream reunion has filled magazines and websites, critics go from “a shadow of the former super group called Cream” to “that’s how a matured super group should play”. Some people missed long jams, others EC’s former Gibson/Marshall combination. Now – they tried it, but “it didn’t work”, in their own words. They were no more 20, less aggressive, musically matured, and that’s what you actually can hear. In some cases I prefer the old version, while other songs were pretty good and a joy to listen. Among these is “Stormy Monday”, which had not been played by Cream before:

“Eric is quite incredible; sometimes I would find myself just standing there watching him, because he hasn’t played like this since back then. I don’t mean he hasn’t played great, but he hasn’t had to play the demanding role in Cream, where he just can’t stop or take a break ever! He’s playing rhythm and lead all at the same time, more or less. Recently, he’s had proper bands with keyboards and other guitarists, so he can sing and play lead, but here he’s back to covering it all. He’s definitely better, too, but again it’s hard to explain how. We added “Stormy Monday”, which Cream never covered, as a vehicle to showcase Eric as he’s become.”
– Jack Bruce, interview 2005 after the reunion concert

Back to the song. It’s a 12 bar Blues in the “West Coast” style, with quick change (IV in the second bar). In opposite to Walker’s original, which was played in G, this version is in the key of C, usually played in the 1st pattern, 8th fret. For the jazzy, smooth West Cost style we need some 9th chords combined with some other special chords, which will be mentioned as tablature when they have to be played, no chord charts this time. This slow Blues leaves much space for tasty fills and solos, don’t try to “overplay” it with too many notes. We start with a warm up and the intro:

I-----------------------------------------8-8-8~~-------------------------------------------------------I
I--11--8-11--------------------8--11b(13)---------11-8--------------------8-----------------------------I
I-----------8h9----------------------------------------10-8----10----8-10------------8-10-10b(11)rb10p8-I
I---------------10----8-10~~~-------------------------------10----10------------8-10--------------------I
I------------------10---root-------------------------------------------------10-------------------------I
I-----------------------note----------------------------------------------------------------------------I
0:00

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-----------------8-11----8-----------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-----10----8-10-------10---10-8h10p8----10----8--------------------------------------------------------I
I--10----10---------------------------10----10---10-8--------------------------------------8------------I
I-----------------------------------------------------10-9-8----------8-/10---8--------/10---10/9/8-----I
I------------------------------------------------------------11-8--11------------11--8------------------I
0:08

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------------8-11-8----8------------I
I---------------------------------------------------------------------------8-10--------10---8h9--------I
I------------------------------------8-10------------------------------8-10----------------------10-----I
I-----------8/10-----8--------8/9/10------10\9\8--------8-------8-8/10------------------------------10--I
I--11-8--11-------11---8---11---------------------11-8----8--11-----------------------------------------I
0:13

                                                                          G#9 G9 C#9 C9
I-----------------------------------------------------8----8---8----------11--10------------------------I
I---------------------------8-11------------------------------------------11--10--9---8-----------------I
I----------------------8-10------10b(11)rb10p8----------------------0-----11--10--8---7-----------------I
I-8-10-10~~------8-10--------------------------10~~~--8-8--7-0-6-6--5-----10---9--9---8-----------------I
I-------------10-------------------------------------------------------11-11---------10-----------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------arp---------------------------I
0:18

So far the first part of the intro. Note the way EC runs up and down the Blues scale as if he is searching for “the” note, occasionally throwing in a major note. At the end we have a chromatic chord shift, normally leading to the beginning of the vocals. Instead of this the intro is continued to build up even more tension:

I------------------------------------------8-10-8--------------------------------------8--------9-8-----I
I-----------8-----------9-8-----------8-11----^---11-8-----8-------------------------8---8-11~~-9-8-----I
I------8-10----8b-------8-7------8-10---------|---------10---8h9-----------------8h9------------9-8-----I
I----8------------10~~--9-8---10--------------|------------------10----8-10~~-------------------8-7-----I
I-10--------------root------------------------|---------------------10----------------------------------I
I---------------------------------------------major note!-----------------------------------------------I
0:35

Now moving to the next root note one octave higher:

I----13b(15)-11-13----11-13--------------8~~-15-14-13-11b--------------11b--11b(13)hb13-11b(12)---------I
I-13---------------13-------13~~~----/10------------------13-11--13-13--------------------------13-13~--I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I---------------------------root------------------------------------------------------------------------I
0:50

I--------------------------------------------------------------10-9-8-----13b(15)-13-11-13~-11----11----I
I-----11-13-13b(15)rb13b(15)rb13p11----11-13b(15)rb13-11b------10-9-8--13----------------------13-------I
I--12-------------------------------12--------------------12~~-10-9-8-----------------------------------I
I---------------------------------------------------------------9-8-7-----------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
1:06

I--13b(15)rb13p11b--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------13-13~~~--11-10-8----------8----8----------------------------8h11p8----8-------------I
I------------------------------------10--8-10---10---8b--------------------8-10--------10---10-8h10p8---I
I-------------------------------------------------------10-8----10----8-10------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------10----10-----------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
1:15

                           D9  C9
I--------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------/10--8-------------------------------------I
I----10----8--------------/9---7--They call it stormy monday...------I
I-10----10---10-8---------/10--8-------------------------------------I
I------------------8~~~----------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------I
1:21


What’s important? At first the fluid phrasing with small intervals only, adding jazzy bends and major scale notes at the right place. Then a little break by playing some 9th chords, sometimes only parts of the chords (so the D9 could also be named Am, or C6, D7sus2, C13, …). The last chord fingering can be used to play the sliding chords (like T-Bone Walker did, too) during the following vocal, part of the intro licks can also be used.

The next part is the inevitable solo starting at 4:14. Once again there’s no need to learn it note for note, just listen how it’s structured to build up the tension and release it in the end. EC is running a bit out of notes in the end (what he seldom does) and plays some repeating pattern a bit too much, but the passion with which these notes are played offsets this little flaw more than enough.

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I----------------------------------8-----------------------------------10b(11)rb10-8----8-10b(12)rb10---I
I-------------------------------10---10~~~--8----------------------------------------10-----------------I
I--8h10-8h10-8h10-8h10-8h10--10---------------10-8------8-----------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------------------11-8---8-10h11-8-6-----------------------------------I
4:14

I----------------------------------------------------------------------------11-13 b(15)-rb13-11-13-----I
I-------------------------------------------------------------7/8~~-10/11~~--------slow-------------13--I
I--8---------------------------------------------------8h10~~-------------------------------------------I
I----10-10---------------8-----------8-10----8-10/13~~--------------------------------------------------I
I-----------10\8------10--------8/10------10------------------------------------------------------------I
I----------------11-8--------11-------------------------------------------------------------------------I
4:27

I--11-13-13-11----11------11----------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------13----13~~----13-11h13p11----13-----11-------------------------------11--11--11--11\-----I
I----------------------------------------12-----12----12\10----10----8----8-10b(12)---12--12--12--------I
I-----------------------------------------------------------10----10---10-------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
4:33

Continued all this way using the C Blues scale starting at the 8th fret we come to the dramatic bended note at 5:20.

I---------13b(15)-13b(15)--etc.--I
I--13-13-------------------------I
I--root--------------------------I
I--------------------------------I
I--------------------------------I
I--------------------------------I
5:20

It’s a bit overplayed, but the following licks around this note are nice, for example this repeating pattern at 5:40:

I-----11-13b(15)rb13p11-----11-13b(15)rb13p11-etc.--I
I--13-------------------13--------------------------I
I---------------------------------------------------I
I---------------------------------------------------I
I---------------------------------------------------I
I---------------------------------------------------I

a bit later using the same notes:

I-----11-13-11h13p11-----I
I--13----------------13--I
I------------------------I
I------------------------I
I------------------------I
I------------------------I

After this summit he goes back to the V (G7) to prepare for the next vocal part. The song ends with the repeating pattern from the solo (see above) and the final chord, Gm9 (x8878x). After all, a great tribute to T-Bone Walker and a great Blues to improve your playing…

Cream Farewell Concert Video – The Clapton Interview

“It wasn’t a good gig… Cream was better than that… We knew it was all over. We knew we were just finishing it off, getting it over with.”
– Jack Bruce, interview

“Their motto is simple: Forget the message. Forget the lyrics. And just play.”
– Patrick Allen, narrator


Cream’s two last Farewell concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 11/26/1968 were taped for a documentary and later released on VHS and DVD. You’ll find it on YouTube, too – search for “Eric Clapton Guitar Skills”. It could have been the definitive Cream report, but it’s one of the worst music videos ever released. Not only that it wasn’t their best performance and the sound quality is really bad, director Tony Palmer desperately tried to give it a psychedelic touch and failed completely. Songs were cut, the camera man seems to be on drugs (maybe he was?), stupid video effects were applied and many interesting things were shown too short, including the musicians itself playing. As if this wasn’t enough the pseudo-scientific “British Oxford style” voice of Patrick Allen (yes, the one from the “Protect and Survive” series of the British government about emergency planning for a nuclear war) tries to sound as serious as possible, in opposite to Eric’s Cockney speech.

Highlights are the three interviews with each group member. Clapton seems to be amused and a bit puzzled because of the stupid questions, but he shows some of his trademark lick and riffs on his Gibson SG along with some nice remarks about his playing.

I always wanted to transcribe this interview, but with my old worn-out VHS video this was impossible. A request from Jim S. (who also did some nice proofreading, some phrases from EC are mumbled in a way I didn’t understand correctly – thanks!) led me back to this old project. Meanwhile the concert is available on DVD, so it’s possible to extract the audio part or to watch it in a loop, which makes it easier to transcribe. OK, here we go – it’s written from audio, so may be the actual fret positions are different, my fingers are much shorter than Clapton’s. Thanks to Malc for some corrections – English is not my native language and sometimes it’s hard to understand what EC said.

Narrator:
The electronic guitar is also dismissed as nothing but a jangling noise machine, incapable of subtlety or delicacy. Lead guitarist Eric Clapton, has built his reputation as a blues player on just these qualities: subtlety and delicacy. He explains, for example, how his guitar has four primary controls. Controls for volume and controls for tone quality:

(Electronic guitar – wow!)

Clapton:
Those two are the volume, this one is for that pickup and that one is for that pickup. And this is the tone for that pickup and this is the tone for that pickup. And just by – you know – turning them all off or turning them all on you can get a completely different sound, you can just get…

I-----------------------------I
I--/8--/8---------------------I
I--/9--/9--7-5-7---5b---------I
I-/10-/10--------7----7~~~----I
I-----------------------------I
I-----------------------------I

Clapton:
..and you can get it very very thin, like this:

I---------------8b----8b-------------------------------I
I-------8h10~~-----10----10----------------------------I
I-7h9~~-----------------------9\7-5-7---5h6~~~---------I
I-------------------------------------7--------7~~~----I
I---------------------------------------major--root----I
I-------------------------------------------note-------I

…is what we play, when you’ve done that. Makes a difference, you know, ’cause you can play…

Interviewer:
What do you mean by that?

Clapton:
You know, just the amount of the pressure you put on with the flatpick you know cause you hit the strings very hard or hit ’em very soft you know or just touch them at any volume…

I-----------------------------------------------5--------------------------------I
I------------8h10--8h10-8-------5-------------5---8p5----------------------------I
I------7-9~~--------------9\7-5---5---5h7b(9)---------7p5---5-7-5---5-7-5b(7)----I
I-7-10------------------------------7-----------------------------5--------------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

…see? Now I can play that a the same volume, but softer:

I-------5----------9-10-10p9-10/12~~---10h12p10--------------------------I
I-----5---10-10~~~------------------------------13b(14)-10-12----12~~----I
I-5-7---------------------------------------------------------11---------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------I

Interviewer:
A sound that’s characteristic of electric guitars is the wah-wah effect you make with the pedal.

Clapton:
I have to kick this to start it (EC really kicks the pedal)

Interviewer:
Could you play some of it, explain how it’s done?

I----------5--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------5---8-5------------------------8/10-8----------------------------------------------------------I
I--5b(7)---------7b-7-5---7-5-----/9~~---------9\7-5-7---5-7b(9)-7-5-7-5-7-5-7-5------------------------I
I-----------------------7-----7------------------------7-------------------------7~~~-------------------I
I--with wah-wah-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

Clapton:
As I rock the pedal you can hear it through the amplifier as I rock the pedal

(???)

It takes bass off and puts treble on, see like that (presses the pedal)

So in actual fact your … the volume isn’t going down very much but the tone is going wah wah…

Interviewer:
Another characteristic of your particular playing is a kind of whining noise usually described as woman tone…

Clapton:
Yeah! Let me turn this thing off (another hard kick)…

Interviewer:
Can you tell us what that is?

Clapton:
The woman tone is produced by using … either the bass pickup … or … or the … the lead pickup and with all the bass off … in fact if you use both pickups you should take all the bass off on the tone control … that is to put … to turn it down to … to … to one or 0 you know I’m not su.. on the tone c… on the tone control… and then turn the volume full up, you know, and it sounds … it’s supposed to sound like this:

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-----13-15-(17)rb15----13b-----------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--14----------------14-----------12----12-14~~~---12----12h14-12----------------------------------14~~-I
I---------------------------12h14----14---------------14----------14\12----12---------------14/16-------I
I-----------------------------------------------------------------------15----12-15b-12~~~--------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

The kind of Blues I play i.. is a, I started playin’ was … was one of accompaniment you know, of lead accompaniment, so that is quite difficult, you know, the … the thing … basic things that you’d have to learn about that style itself which is the finger vibrato that you have to use which is like that:

I---------I
I---------I
I-7b(9)~~-I
I---------I
I---------I
I---------I

…which is very importa…

Interviewer:
Could you just do that again?

Clapton:
Yeah

(OK, slower for that dumb guy)

I--------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------I
I--7b(9)~~~---7-5-7b(8)-7-5b~~~~~------I
I-------------------------semitone-----I
I--middle-----------------upward-with--I
I--finger-----------------index finger-I

(his guitar is a bit out of tune)

You see, that it … that itself is is is ahm very difficult, can take you a long, long time to play and get that perfected.

Interviewer:
When you’re improvising, do you use stock phrases as the raw material, and if so can you show us some?

Clapton:
Ahm, yeah, there are phrases that I always play, that are stock phrases that I work from you know which are just like:

I---------5----------------------------5------------------------------------------------------I
I-------5---8p5---5----------------------8p5---5-----------------------8h10-------------------I
I-7b(9)---------7---5h7---7---5h7b(9)--------7---5h7p5h7-7----5-7/9~~-------9\7-5h7p5---5h6h7-I
I-----------------------7---7------------------------------7--------------------------7-------I
I---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I---------(the famous Crossroads lick!)-------------------------------------------------------I

All these runs are put together from old phrases that I first started on, like:

I---------5--------------------I
I-------5---8-5----------------I
I-7b(9)---------7b-5-7-5-------I
I------------------------7~~---I
I------------------------------I
I------------------------------I

And now they’re just hm all kind of messed up with other things which I learned like that, you know, which is:

I-------8-------------------------5-------------------------------------I
I--8/10-----------------------------8-5----5----------------------------I
I---------9\7-5-7-5---7---5h7b(9)--------7---5-7-5---7---5h6------------I
I-------------------7---7--------------------------7---7-----7----------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------7-5-4b---I
I-----------------------------------------------------------------------I

If a guy likes playing football, then that’s what he will use to get … to get all of his kind of … aah … basic … kind of angry bits out of him, you know, that you build up through th… any day. You know you can dislike someone, or toot the horn at the car behind you, and you get angry and have no release for it, you know. Well that happens to everybody but … but you know like … I’ve got the advantage to be able to sort of play that out … on the guitar by being sort of ahm … fairly aggressive in the way I play not the way I use it. That can that can be done, too you know people like the Who…

Interviewer:
Can you show us?

Clapton:
Pete Townsend – what do you mean you want me to break the guitar up?

Interviewer:
Well, no, not, quite an example of aggression in your music…

Clapton:
(Mumble) Yeah right… (cranks up volume and distortion)

I-----------------------------------------------12------------------------------------------------------I
I---------12-12---------12-12-12----------12-12----15-12----12------------------------------------------I
I-12b(14)-------12b(14)-----------12b(14)----------------14----12h14p12b--------------12----14----------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------14-12-14~~-----14----14-------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

I---------------12---------------------------------------------------------------------0-0----------15--I
I------------12----15-12-------15-15-15-15-15------------------------------------------0-0--------------I
I-12h14b(16)-------------14/16-16-16-16-16-16--\14-12----14-12------------12----12h13--4-4--12b(14)-----I
I-----------------------------------------------------14-------14-12-14~~----14-------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------0-0--------------I

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--15-12------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I--------14b(16)rb14-12-14p12----14----------12----14-12----12b(14)-14-12b(14)--12----12-14-12b---------I
I-----------------------------14----14-12-14----14-------14------------------------14-----------14-12---I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

I--------------12---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I----15b(17)~~----15-12-------------------------------------------/15-/15-/15-/15-/15-/15---------------I
I-----------------------14b(15)rb14-12-14p12----14-12-------------/16-/16-/16-/16-/16-/16--14b(16)rb14--I
I-12-----------------------------------------14-------14-12-14-12---------------------------------------I
I-----------------------------------------------------------------or bend up-strings...-----------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-----------------------/15-/15-/15---------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-12----14-12-----------/16-/16-/16-14b(16)rb14-12----14-12-----------12----14-12----12b(14)------------I
I----14-------14-12-14-----------------------------14-------14-12-14-----14-------14---------14-12------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I

I------------------------I
I------------------------I
I------------------------I
I------------------------I
I-\12-10----12-10--------I
I--------12-------12\----I

Now you know all about EC’s playing secrets from the man himself…

Cream – Outside Woman Blues


From Disraeli Gears – a Blues in E. Gibson/Marshall combo, tone control zero, volume control 100% (woman tone), E minor Blues pentatonic scale, base chord is E7#9 (E7 plus major 9th, NOT E9!). The 7#9 chord is also known as the Hendrix chord (from Purple Haze, G7#9).
Outside Woman Blues was written and recorded in November 1929 in a small studio in Grafton, Wisconsin by Blind Joe Reynolds and released as two 78rpm records by Paramount Records. Eric Clapton heard it on a blues compilation album (Origin Jazz Library OJL-8). Curiously, on their version, Cream gave the writing credit to Arthur Reynolds (Wikipedia).

Chord:

E7#9

       E7#9
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I-------8-------------------8--------------------------------------------------------I
I-------7-------------------7---repeat...--------------------12-14-15-14-12----12~---I
I-------6-------------------6-----------------------------14----------------14----14-I
I-------7------7-----5------7--------------------------------------------------------I
I--0-0-----7h9---5h7---0-0-----------------------------------------------------------I
0:00       (or higher strings)         If you ... mind 0:13

I------------12-------------------------------------------------------12-------------I
I---------12----15p12----------------------------------------------15----------------I
I-14b(16)-------------14b(16)-14-12-14----------12b(13)---14b(16)--------(16)rb14----I
I--------------------------------------14-14-14--------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
  Solo  1:28

I----------------------------------------------------------------12------------------I
I--------12--------------------------------------------15b(17)~~----15---------------I
I--12-14----14-12-14-12-----12-14-15-14-12----12-----------------------14b(16)-14----I
I------------------------14----------------14----14----------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
                         1:33

I-------------------------------------------12-----15b(17)-15b(17)-15-12-------------I
I----------------------------------------12-----12-----------------------12----------I
I-12-14-12-----------14----12----14b(16)------------------------------------14b(16)--I
I----------14-14-14-----14----14-----------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
                                                                            1:41

I------------------------------------------------17b(19)-17b(19)-19-17-19----17b(19)-I
I---------------------------------------------17--------------------------17---------I
I--14-12-14-12~~-----12-14-15-14-12----12--------------------------------------------I
I-----------------14----------------14----14-----------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
                                              1:44

I-17-19-17----15b(17)----------------------------------------------------------------I
I----------17---------15b(17)--------15p12----12-------------------------------------I
I-----------------------------16\14~~~-----14----14b(16)-16-12b(13)hb(13)------------I
I-------------------------------------------------------------------------14~~~------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
I------------------------------------------------------------------------------------I
                                     1:48