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"I Shot the Sheriff"
Eric Clapton
RSO 409
September 1974
Billboard: #1    Lyrics Icon Videos Icon

Eric Claptonhough his fans were scrawling "Clapton Is God" across London walls as early as 1965, it took nearly a decade for the chart to echo the sentiment. Eric Patrick Clapp did it, not with the blues guitar that had defied him, but with a laid-back version of Jamaican Bob Marley's reggae confession, "I Shot the Sheriff." The hit single sprouted from 461 Ocean Boulevard, an album that welcomed Clapton back from a successful two-year battle with heroin, cured through acupuncture. Named for the address of his white, tile-roofed Miami home while recording at Criteria Studios, the LP heralded a country-influenced, restrained direction that would typify Clapton's future solo works.

'461 Ocean Boulevard' - Eric Clapton
First charting on August 3, 1974, "I Shot the Sheriff" was prolific rock/blues guitarist Eric Clapton's first No. 1 hit, and the second of 13 Top 40 hits he would chart between 1970 and 1985. It was taken from his album 461 Ocean Boulevard, which first charted on July 20, 1974, was the No. 1 album for four weeks, and remained on the Billboard Hot 200 chart for 25 weeks. It was certified gold on Aug. 8, 1974. In 2013, Polydor Records released Give Me Strength: The '74/'75 Studio Recordings, a 5-CD/1 Blu-ray box set that captures a full year's worth of his Miami Criteria Studio recordings, from April 1974 to June 1975.
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But it was the blues that first gripped the bricklayer's son, who was born March 30, 1945, in Ripley, England. Of his childhood, he recalled for the BBC's Paul Gambaccini, "I was the one that used to get stones thrown at me because I was so thin and couldn't do physical training very well." Raised by his grandparents, he forswore studying stained glass window design in particular and courses at Kingston Art College in general to listen to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records. At the Ealing Club in London, he'd occasionally substitute for lead singer Mick Jagger in Blues, Incorporated, when he wasn't hustling meals as a street musician. The Yardbirds needed a replacement for Tony Topham in 1963 and drafted Clapton as their lead guitarist. Disillusioned with what he perceived as their abandonment of hardcore blues for popdom ("For Your Love" went top 10 in Britain and America), Clapton left his post to Jeff Beck and hauled building materials around a construction site with his grandfather before signing on with John Mayall's Bluesbreakers.

Though that job lasted just 14 months, with three months off for a Greek vacation, it established Clapton as Britain's top guitarist, created a hit album and inspired the graffiti. "Very funny. Very strange. Nothing else was happening in England except me," was Eric's typical low key reaction.

After accomplishing all he could with the blues, Clapton found himself attracted to rock, and jammed occasionally with a bassist from Alexis Korner's Blues, Incorporated named Jack Bruce and the Graham Bond Organization's drummer, Ginger Baker. In July, 1966, they elected to put together a "blues trio, like Buddy Guy with a rhythm section," its guitarist told Rolling Stone. They called this first of the supergroups Cream, and in its two-year incarnation they released four albums and placed two singles in the Billboard Top 10: "Sunshine of My Love" (number five in August, 1968) and "White Room" (number six in November, 1968).

Blind Faith, with Steve Winwood, Rick Grech and Ginger Baker, was Clapton's next aggregation. Their debut concert in Hyde Park drew almost 100,000 fans. Without a hit single, their first and only LP topped the album charts in Britain and America. During their sole United States tour, Clapton began playing along with the opening band, Delaney and Bonnie (Bramlett) and Friends, resulting in a Top 40 album in the U.S., On Tour with Eric Clapton.

With three of Delaney and Bonnie's "Friends," he formed Derek and the Dominos. "Layla," their number 10 hit from August, 1972, off the 1970 Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs double-LP album, is an acknowledged rock classic and airplay staple of Album Oriented Rock radio stations. The song was named for Patti Boyd Harrison, formerly married to George, whom Clapton wed in 1979.

- Fred Bronson, The Billboard Book of Number One Hits, Billboard, 1988.

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