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The Man With The Platinum Touch.

His resume is one of the most impressive in rock. He brought the world Green Day and gave the word “Dookie” new meaning. His records have sold nearly 200 million copies and Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, My Chemical Romance, Kid Rock, Avril Lavigne, Fleetwood Mac, The Goo Goo Dolls, David Cook, Paramore, Hot Hot Heat, [...]

The Master of Space and Time

Thomas Lang has electrified and inspired musicians around the world with his progressive hand/foot techniques and ability to play independent linear patterns across the kit. Arguably one of the most active touring and recording artist of his generation, Lang has performed on over 250 Albums, working with notable artists such as Robbie Williams, The Clash, [...]

The Axesmith: Acoustic Guitar String Change

I’ve been changing guitar strings for decades. Smugly, I had always placed the degree of difficulty somewhere between tying my shoes and pumping gas. That all changed when I met Joey Brasler, now one of our top guitar merchants. He took a sad look at a Baby Taylor I brought into work, rolled his eyes, [...]

“Holy Wars” with Dave Mustaine of Megadeth

Dave Mustaine joined us for Guitar Center Sessions recently in Los Angeles along with 2,000 screaming Megadeth fans and musicians. Only 300 lucky souls made it in to share an intimate evening of insight and dialogue with this metal master. Below Dave takes us through Megadeth’s “Holy Wars”, stopping along the way to share [...]

Eric Clapton

Needless to say, when Eric dropped by the Manhattan Guitar Center to chat with us it was an event to remember, but the day was made all the more remarkable by the reunion of Eric and an old friend that he had not seen for many years—his legendary black Fender Stratocaster nicknamed Blackie. Even though Clapton has owned literally thousands of guitars over the years, he couldn't help but become sentimental when he plucked a few notes on his old faithful companion once again.

"I get seriously attached to an instrument," says Clapton. "A guitar like Blackie comes along maybe once in a lifetime. I played it for 12 years non-stop on the road, and it's still got it. The action is perfect even though the neck is quite worn down and narrow. All you've got to do is pick it up and it sort of plays itself. I developed a lot of trust and security with that instrument."

Clapton originally bought several Stratocasters that would provide the various parts that made up Blackie in the early Seventies from the Sho-Bud guitar shop in Nashville, Tennessee, which was owned by steel guitar legend Buddy Emmons. He originally bought the guitars as gifts for friends like Steve Winwood, Pete Townshend and George Harrison, as well as for himself, but his friends weren't overly bowled over by the thoughtful gesture.

"The Les Paul had completely knocked the Strat out of the public eye back then," he recalls. "Everyone was playing Les Pauls and 335s and other guitars like that. I gave the three cleanest ones to my friends, and then I took the best components from the remaining four guitars and put them into one. That's what became Blackie."

Eric first played Blackie on stage at the Rainbow Concert in London on January 13, 1973. For the next 12 years it remained his main guitar until he retired it from action after his 1985 world tour. He brought the guitar out for a handful of special occasions after that, including his 1991 Royal Albert Hall shows. In 2004 he decided to sell his beloved companion at a Christie's auction to raise funds for the Crossroads Centre, a treatment and rehabilitation clinic for chemically dependent and compulsively addicted persons located in Antigua that Clapton founded.

Guitar Center paid a world-record price for Blackie at that auction, contributing nearly a million dollars to Clapton's cause. The guitar, which is part of Guitar Center's Legends Collection, is shared with the public on frequent display tours, and it was temporarily loaned to the Fender Custom Shop for the production of a very limited number of Blackie replicas that duplicated every minute detail of this celebrated instrument. Guitar Center also purchased the 1964 Gibson ES-335 that Clapton played with Cream to help raise additional funds for the Crossroads Centre.

While Eric's reunion with Blackie was an unexpected surprise, the real reason why he's met with us is to talk about the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival, presented by T-Mobile, another event he's developed to raise funds for the Crossroads Centre.

"When I started the Crossroads Centre there was a period at the outset where it looked like it would fold," explains Clapton. "I put a lot of money into it, but it had all gone wrong and other investors backed out and left me holding the bag. I was being advised from almost every angle to cut my losses and run. The only thought I had was that we have to finish this even if it means we only get one person on the road to recovery.

"That principle remains the same today," he continues. "Believe it or not, that approach seems to have been the best foundation we could have provided for the Centre. If we had gone in with a grander result in mind that we were going to help hundreds of people, I don't know how successful we would have been. I only think of helping each individual one at a time. People ask why I don't open another Centre, and I tell them that I like to keep it small and simple. It's the most important thing I've ever been involved with. As much as music and my experience with music has been a significant part of my life, this was a much deeper experience. It really is a matter of life and death, and to be involved with that gives my life meaning."

The 2010 event is Eric's third Crossroads Guitar Festival, and all profits from the event, which will be held June 26 at Toyota Park in Chicago, will benefit the Centre. With an all-star lineup that includes the Allman Brothers Band, B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Steve Winwood, Vince Gill and ZZ Top as well as acclaimed guitar heroes like Albert Lee, Bert Jansch, James Burton, Joe Bonamassa and many, many others, the all-day concert promises to be the guitar event of the year. Guitar Center is hosting the Guitar Center Village at the festival, which will feature interactive exhibits, special guitar clinics and displays of the latest guitars, amps and effects from a variety of manufacturers.

"It's my party," says Eric. "There were so many logistical problems at the first one that my production people and managers didn't want to do one again. I had to bide my time before doing a second one, but after we did that they were a lot more accessible to the idea and they warmed up to it. I've had a slightly different view on what I wanted to do each time. This time I wanted to bring in people who aren't necessarily known as being guitar virtuosos and who just play guitar as a vehicle for what they do, like Keb' Mo and Taj Mahal who are actually performers or singers who work with guitars. I thought that would be a nice thing to do."

Since the event is being held in Chicago, the home of the blues, the Crossroads Guitar Festival will feature a wide variety of blues guitarists both young and old. Clapton has always maintained a close relationship with the blues (he famously quit the Yardbirds in the Sixties to pursue his blues muse), and the event is his way of paying tribute to many of the players who influenced him over the years. Unfortunately, one of Eric's favorite blues guitarists and one of his biggest inspirations won't be able to join the lineup. Johnny Guitar Watson, the Texas blues/funk guitarist who also was a big influence on Jimi Hendrix and who inspired Eric to play a Strat, passed away in 1996.

"Johnny had a song called ‘Gangster of Love' that was on an album of the same name," says Eric. "The cover of that album showed him holding this sunburst Strat with a blonde maple neck. I had never come across a Strat with a maple neck before. All the Strats I had seen in England were like the ones the Shadows played and they all had rosewood necks. Buddy Holly also played a sunburst Strat with a maple neck, and that became my Holy Grail. When I found all those Strats in Nashville I couldn't believe that they had sunk so low in public opinion. I felt like I'd stepped into a gold mine."

In many ways, Clapton did indeed step into a gold mine. His extensive use of the Stratocaster in the Seventies helped make that guitar popular again much in the same way that he helped make the Gibson Les Paul Standard popular in the Sixties when he played that guitar through a Marshall with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. Fender graciously repaid Eric's contribution to the Strat's success by making him the first artist honored by his own signature model Stratocaster, which Fender introduced in 1988. That model continues to be a best seller for Fender today.

"I have a great relationship with Fender," says Clapton. "They make guitars to my spec, and those are my working guitars. The beauty of what they're doing—the precision of their work—is that I can get a brand new Strat that feels like a vintage guitar. The Strat is my most trusted friend. I have a pale blue signature Strat that I love. I'd love to be able to switch back and forth easily between that and a Les Paul or a 335, but I get really overcome by the complication of two volume knobs! When you're in the heat of the moment on stage, one volume knob is it for me.

"Every guitar is like an individual instrument," he adds. "It's the same regardless of whether the guitar is a Gibson Les Paul, a Fender Strat or a Martin acoustic. Each individual instrument seems to have this character and in-built virtuosity of its own. If you're lucky enough to pick one up and play it and own it, it can take you another ten miles down the road. Once it stops taking you down the road it's time to move on to the next one. My career has been divided up with those instruments. I had a fantastic Les Paul when I played with John Mayall, but it was stolen and I was never able to replace that. I have a fantastic dot neck Gibson ES-335 with a sunburst finish that I bought from Guitar Center in 2007. I can get pretty obsessive, so I try to play my guitars in moderation and I spend a bit of time with each instrument."

Talking with Eric it quickly becomes evident that the man's love affair with the guitar has never diminished. In many ways he's as enthusiastic and in awe of the instrument as the thousands of kids who make the journey to Guitar Center to buy their first guitars every year. Clapton has endured a roller coaster ride of ups and downs through his lifetime and has earned every right to be called a bluesman, but he's never turned his back on the one friend that has always been there for him through thick and thin.

"It was a fantastic experience to play Blackie one more time," he says. "Something is just magical about that guitar. Maybe it's all the tender loving care I've given it over the years. That's probably why I like buying second-hand guitars and old vintage guitars. This may sound superstitious, but you never know who owned a guitar before. That person may have been a master and he may have put something in there. The way the guitar was played and handled seems to stay with the guitar and you inherit that if you're lucky or aware enough to acknowledge it."

For more information about Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festival


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