Today marks British guitar legend Eric Clapton’s 75th birthday. To celebrate the man once labelled God turning three quarters of a century old, let’s reminisce on Eric and Jimi’s history together.
A tale of two coasts, it was in October, 1966 that the two icons met for the first time and it was a meeting to remember. Chas Chandler, Jimi Hendrix’s manager at the time, brought the then-unknown 23-year-old ‘Jimmy James’ to the UK. There, only a week after his arrival, Hendrix made history by jamming at Regent Street Polytechnic in Central London with Cream and their already-renowned guitarist Eric Clapton. What has now gone down into the annals of rock history is that Jimi plugged into the amp and blew the audience and the band away with his rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s Killin’ Floor, a track that even Clapton had been struggling to play.
Eric Clapton remembers this moment in his autobiography: “Everyone was gobsmacked. I remember thinking that here was a force to be reckoned with. It scared me because he was clearly going to be a huge star, and just as we were finding our own speed, here was the real thing”. Legend has it that Hendrix’s version of the song was so incredible that backstage the stunned Clapton lit a cigarette and said to Chas Chandler “You didn’t tell me he was that f—ing good.”
Journalist Keith Altham also recalled Jimi telling him right before going onstage with Cream, “I want to see if he is as good as he thinks I am”, which shows Hendrix and Clapton’s competitive admiration of one another. Indeed, Hendrix went on to perform Cream’s Sunshine of your Love only a few months after its release in 1967. To return the favour, Eric Clapton covered Jimi’s Little Wing, sadly released not long after Jimi’s untimely death. It still serves as a beautiful tribute to a great friend and fellow songwriting genius.