eric clapton bluesbreakers

John Mayall – Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton

On this day 48 years ago, this album set the blues and guitar worlds aflame and established Eric Clapton’s name worldwide as the most passionate of musical interpreters at age 21. If you haven’t yet heard “Beano”then you ain’t heard nuthin’ yet!

To the casual observer it may appear to be just a loose collection of 12 bar blues numbers, but The Beano Album’s massive influence far exceeds the sum of its parts. Firstly, no white guitarist (British or American) had ever played electric blues with the authority and authenticity that Clapton brought to this album (not many black players had, either).

By insisting on playing his guitar parts at stage volume in the studio, Eric pushed 60s recording technology to its very limits, sending the VU meters into the red and the white-coated Decca technicians into meltdown. Luckily he had a hip young producer and engineer on hand in the shape of Mike Vernon and Gus Dudgeon who backed him all the way – as, it must said, did his boss John Mayall.

Before long, every group in the land would record like this and Clapton’s sweet, overdriven sound quickly became the holy grail for guitarists the world over. That guitar sound would soon kick-start the entire British blues boom of the late 60s which in turn developed into heavy rock and subsequently heavy metal. No Beano Album, no Led Zeppelin, no Black Sabbath or even no Metallica, perhaps? Should that sound fanciful, let’s remember that Edward Van Halen name-drops The Beano Album at every opportunity and actually recorded a tribute to Clapton titled Bluesbreaker on his Star Fleet Project collaboration with Brian May.

The album had some influential fans early on, too. When Chas Chandler was trying to persuade Jimi Hendrix to come to London in late 1966, the deal-breaker was the promise of an introduction to Eric Clapton. The then-unknown Hendrix genuinely wanted to meet the man who had made one of his favourite records, The Beano Album.

Some accuse the 60s white blues bands of exploiting black musicians, but I’d disagree with that. The impact of a bunch of young, good-looking white kids in Carnaby Street clothes playing fierce authentic blues guitar the like of which had never been seen or heard before did more to introduce the music to a mass audience than anything that had gone before. This in turn would benefit an entire generation of black musicians. B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Albert King and a host of others suddenly found themselves escaping the Chitlin’ Circuit and playing lucrative gigs in front of wildly appreciative white rock audiences at venues such as the Fillmore East and West thanks to this new-found awareness. Black musicians also gained exposure when their songs were covered (and, yes, sometimes stolen) by the new wave of rock bands. Above all, The Beano Album played a massive part in selling American music back to the Americans, which in turn directly changed the course of rock music in general.

The Beano Album not only had a profound impact on the music itself, but it also prompted major changes to the equipment and technology that made it possible. Along with the Fender Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul is without doubt one of the most famous and recognisable guitar models in history. It seems incredible now, but in the late 50s Les Paul sales had slumped and it actually went out of production at the end of the decade. The model was then unavailable for the next eight years. Clapton’s use of a 1960 Les Paul on The Beano Album (and onstage with Mayall and Cream) popularised the instrument again and suddenly every guitarist worthy of the name had to have a Les Paul in order to get that elusive Beano Album sound. Second-hand prices soared and this lead directly to the guitar’s reintroduction in 1968.

Similarly, Clapton’s use of Marshall amplifiers, first with Mayall, then Cream, would also have far-reaching implications for the tiny British company about to become a world famous brand name.

Finally, the Beano album is also noted for directly inspiring the name of the band Thin Lizzy. The band’s original guitarist Eric Bell, who was a fan of John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, bought a copy of The Dandy comic depicted on the cover and suggested the name ‘Tin Lizzie’ for the forming band – taken off a robot character from the comic!