It is deified as the perfect evocation of a blues-rock guitar solo by practically everyone--the notable exception being the cat who actually played it.
"I've always had `Crossroads' held up as, like, one of the great landmarks of guitar playing," said Eric Clapton in an April '98 interview with Britain's Mojo. "But most of that solo is on the wrong beat. Instead of playing on the two and four, I'm playing on the one and three and thinking, `that's the offbeat.' No wonder people think it's so good--because it's wrong!"
Groove-challenged or not, Clapton's solo on "Crossroads"--recorded live at San Francisco's Winterland for Cream's classic 1968 album, Wheels of Fire--is truly inspirational. Clapton's ferociously passionate licks, bends, and runs have humbled pro guitarists and music fans alike, and "Crossroads" has become a staple of every blues bar band worth its beer intake.
The gear equation for this landmark solo is explicit: Clapton used a '61 Gibson SG-shaped Les Paul (his prized sunburst Les Paul was stolen during the rehearsals for Cream's debut concert), light-gauge Fender Rock and Roll strings, and a 100-watt Marshall stack (two stacks were typically set up onstage, but one was a spare). More mysterious, however, is what possessed Clapton to transform Robert Johnson's licks--as well as the riffs and lines of other blues greats--into a stunning and highly personal language.
You can explore ways to morph classic blues lines into fresh licks in our "Hand Me Down Blues" lesson (p. 54). Then, use this "Crossroads" transcription as a starting point for your own stylistic epiphany. In other words, don't merely rip off these riffs--get inspired! If you can translate Clapton's playing into something all your own, you're on the road to becoming a genuine blues god. Good luck!