Eric Clapton had earned a reputation as “God” in the mid-‘60s for his virtousic guitar work in R&B-inspired British bands like the Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Then an unknown American named Jimi Hendrix hit London in 1966 and changed the game entirely. Hendrix’s unparalleled playing and explosive style forged a new genre and redefined what it meant to be a guitarist — and sent the British boys back to the woodshed. Clapton’s status as London’s top axe-man had been challenged, but their rivalry was mostly a friendly one. Clapton was in awe of Hendrix’s talent and the pair bonded over music and mutual admiration. Hendrix’s tragic passing in 1970 left Clapton devastated. In the 50 years since, the reputations of both men have diverged. Hendrix has been sanctified in death and his immense talent seemingly magnified. Clapton, on the other hand, has been dinged for a series of questionable musical and personal decisions later in life. The question in this episode is not “Who’s the better guitarist?” but rather, “Is it better to burn out or fade away?”
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