Open E Acoustic Blues

“At first the music almost repelled me, it was so intense, and this man (Robert Johnson) made no attempt to sugarcoat what he was trying to say, or play. It was hard-core, more than anything I had ever heard. After a few listenings I realized that, on some level, I had found the master, and that following this man’s example would be my life’s work.”
― Eric Clapton

Finding the master

Eric Clapton is truly my favorite guitarist of all time. From when I was 13 years old, I have been enamored with the movement of his left hand. The fluidity, tone, and vibrato. Having watched dozens of his live performances over the past 23 years, it is amazing that he never seems to play a wrong note.

Over the past 50 years, the guitar has had it’s fair share of experimentalists — from Jimi Hendrix to The Edge. The counterweight has always been Eric Clapton. His style is the way guitar should be played at its most basic level: soulful and in the pocket.

When I started playing guitar (at the age of 14) in 1991, revolutionary music was happening in all directions: Nirvana’s Nevermind was released. Metallica had just released their Black Album (which was huge among guitarists). U2 had reinvented pop music with Achtung Baby.

In the midst of all the new music of 1991, I received the VHS of Eric Clapton’s 24 Nights for Christmas — which I then proceeded to watch 500 times. I still believe that performance at Royal Albert Hall is the pinnacle of Eric Clapton’s guitar playing.

I quickly tuned out of all of the music happening at that time, and committed to learning all of Clapton’s material. Having Eric Clapton as my central focus in my formative years is still affecting the way I play guitar even now.

VH1 had a documentary show which eventually became, Behind the Music. The Eric Clapton edition had this excellent footage of a young (Cream-era) Clapton explaining his lead style to an inquisitive journalist. I was never able to tape it as a kid and (of course) I found it years later on YouTube. 

[If you want to learn blues lead playing, get a really good guitar teacher to figure out all of the licks in that video. The blues lick at 3:18 — which they’re referring to as a stock phrase — is played in the key of A blues. I used that same lick for the beginning of my video above, in the key of E blues.]

With regard to my nylon-string playing on Intellimusica — my casual right hand, and right knee positioning is not traditional and is very Clapton-esque. I think the first “classical” song I learned was Tears in Heaven when I was 14 or 15.

Because I emulated every nuance of his movement, my right hand is typically slung over the bridge area of the guitar. I sometimes favor an upward swiping motion with my middle finger, and a downward strum with my thumb. It’s a finger-style that’s effective for playing blues but was never intended to translate to classical guitar. [You can get a good idea of the technique in my video above — or you can watch Clapton do it here.]

Eric Clapton only finger-picks with his thumb and first two fingers. I figured, if that’s good enough for him, it’s certainly good enough for me. I only learned to finger pick with my 3rd finger about two years ago — so I could properly play Gustavo Santaolalla riffs. 

(Note: Open E Blues is my premium material.)

How to play Eric Clapton: Acoustic Blues in E

1991’s 24 Nights was only reinforced by Eric Clapton’s legendary MTV Unplugged performance in 1992. Ever since then, Clapton has been biasing towards his Martin acoustics and finger-style blues guitar. [If you want your mind blown, watch Eric Clapton discuss then play this Robert Johnson song.]

For Open E Blues, I wanted to create a personal ode to Eric Clapton’s guitar playing. I began with a solid blues lick based in an open E blues scale. Every note of that phrase was accumulated from watching Clapton warm-up right before his performances. Some of my favorite moments are watching a master just “noodle” around on the guitar.

The actual introduction of Open E Blues is pulled from the intro of Before You Accuse Me. From there it’s a 12 bar blues progression with tight, “in the pocket” licks intertwined.

For all that’s happening, the guitar tab is only two pages long. You’ll find seemingly random dividing lines with in the tab. I drew those lines to “break down” the song and make it easier for you to practice. You’ll want to take it one block at a time – if that makes sense.

Enjoy, the tab is available below:

Open E Blues is played in standard tuning.

Eric Clapton: Blues in Open E

Written by:

Matthew's dad, Jennifer's husband, bass player - New Invisible Joy, YouTuber, film composer - Broken Noons, creator of modern content for guitar.