By John Benson
During the late ’60s and early ’70s, Eric Clapton often was viewed as a guitar god.
However, the only three-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum inductee (The Yardbirds, Cream and solo) often laughed at the notion, instead pointing out a famous picture from the era that showed a metal fence spray-painted “Clapton is god” with a dog, well, peeing on it. Clapton felt the canine’s response to such a notion was apropos.
Still, for those generations younger than the baby boomers, the idea of Clapton being a guitar god may seem a stretch. Though his guitar playing — from The Yardbirds and Cream in the ’60s to Derek and the Dominos in the ’70s and a solo career ever since — may be memorable, it tends to be viewed as passe these days. What these folks don’t understand is that what may seem cliched is cliched because of him.
That’s the reason why Glass Harp drummer John Sferra jumped at the chance to join Clapton tribute act Evolution, which includes industry veterans guitarist-singer Chris Wintrip (Joe Walsh, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Roger McGuinn, Harry Chapin and The Raspberries), keyboardist-singer Kevin DiSimone (Barry Manilow, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Willie Nelson and Stevie Wonder), bassist-singer James “Big Walk” Walker Jr. (The Drifters) and guitarist-singer Klayton Krumm.
“My friend Chris from Canton called me up to play with them,” Sferra said. “I thought it was a good idea. Clapton’s music is just beautiful stuff, and it sells itself. I went down and jammed with them. The guys in the band are just incredible, and are all journeyman musicians.”
Not only is Evolution scheduled to make its Youngstown debut Saturday at the B&O Station, but it also marks Sferra’s first gig with the Slowhand act. The drummer said the idea of playing in a cover band is nothing new. Not only did Glass Harp start out playing Beatles tunes, but over the past decades, he’s often joined in with tribute acts.
Still, he admits playing the percussion role of Ginger Baker (Cream and Blind Faith) and Jim Gordon (Derek and the Dominoes) wasn’t without its challenges.
“I love Baker’s style,” Sferra said. “Baker was a real innovator in the way he played. In those days, most of the stuff was pop music, and drums weren’t featured, so Cream really opened up a lot of territory for me, seeing that the drums could be a featured instrument and interact with the other instruments.
“And Jim Gordon was a studio musician. He played on some Beatles songs, George Harrison songs, also, and played with Traffic. But his thing was mainly a feel-groove type thing, and it was really good for a lot of these recordings.”
Sferra, who said Glass Harp will be playing May 26 at The Ville Festival at Clays Park Resort in North Lawrence, stressed Evolution will be playing lots of Clapton hits, but the band’s interpretation leaves plenty of room for jamming.
He said, “I feel really comfortable playing these songs because I’ve been playing them really all my life.”
Regarding that funny dog-peeing photograph, does Sferra think that Clapton is god?
“I’d say Jimi Hendrix was god, and [Glass Harp’s] Phil Keaggy is a guitar god,” Sferra said. “There are so many influential and innovative players, and they don’t have to be the fastest. It’s about how they use it and express themselves with guitar. So there are a lot of guitar gods in my book.”