Cream was rock’s prototype power trio, and The Sunshine of Your Love was the prototype power trio song. Reflecting the blend of electric blues and hard rock – which precipitated the harder blues-rock and heavy metal of the 70s and beyond – it is arguably Cream’s best known piece and unarguably one of the greatest riff tunes of all time. Built on a line conceived by bassist Jack Bruce for Jimi Hendrix, Sunshine is a stand-out track from the classic Disraeli Gears album of 1967, and an auspicious outing for a then relatively unknown guitarist, Eric Clapton. It has since become a mainstay of both Clapton and Bruce’s live shows, a jamming favorite, and a must-know piece in the annals of blues-rock lore.
The main riff of Sunshine is permanently etched in rock history. The unforgettable 10-note figure is constructed from the D blues scale (D-F-G-Ab-A-C), and is found in a couple of different forms throughout the song. In the intro, it is played as a single-note line doubling the bass part. Riff A, the more prominent version of the figure, includes parallel movable barre chords on the first two beats and adds a double-stop in the second measure (on beat 2-and). The movable barre chords are played in partial form – only the low four notes are heard – yet it is wise to finger them as complete chords and use the index finger to mute out the unwanted B and high E strings during the figure [Fig. 1]. Notice the famous Clapton vibrato in both versions of the riff. Other variations of the main riff are found as Fill 1 and behind the guitar solo. The riff melody is moved to G when the harmony changes to the IV chord in the verse.
The song structure of Sunshine has clear blues roots. Throughout the verses, the tune operates as a large blues form with a longer time span, dictated by the riff. Think of this section as the first two-thirds of the basic blues progression, which would be eight bars (of a full 12-bar progression), and just double the time. This makes sixteen instead of eight bars; however, the basic harmonic moves (the relationship of the I and IV chords) and the proportions are the same, only larger [Fig. 2]. The chorus begins on the V chord, A, and at first seems to continue the blues form where the verse left off. The next change in the blues form would be to A or the V chord. The chorus progression, Rhy. Fig. 1, rapidly dispels any overt blues connection and instead uses a repeating A-C-G pattern more associated with straight-ahead rock tunes. Note the unusual C/G barre chord voicing used in the choruses [Fig. 3]. It is played by barring with both the index and ring fingers, and using the bent knuckle technique across the 4th through 2nd strings. This chord takes a little more practice to set up and switch smoothly, but is well worth the effort. It is the precursor of the heavier power chords, with the 5th in the bass, as used in Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary” and Danzig’s “Mother.”
Clapton’s solo in Sunshine is the epitome of blues-rock. He mixes traditional electric blues licks a la B.B. King and Albert King with his own high-energy British rock approach, and delivers the statement with an unmistakable SG and Marshall tone. The improvisations are played over the entire form, verse, and chorus. The solo is a study in scale combining, bending, and phrasing. Clapton’s scale-combining approach is legendary and has become a sonic trademark. Here, he relies on combinations of D minor pentatonic (D-F-G-A-C) and D major pentatonic (D-E-F#-A-B). Eric uses the operative tones of both scales to masterfully slip in and out of major versus minor sounds, or to mix both together in the same line, during his improvising. String bending is another Clapton forte and this solo contains every variety from narrow half-step bends to very wide two-step bends, pre-bent notes, held bends, and double-stop bends. The very wide bends (measure 8) require extra control, hand strength, and greater concern for intonation. Use reinforced fingering (two or three fingers to push the string) to execute this bend, and compare the destination pitch (the note you’re bending to), A, with the unbent note A on the 2nd string, 10th fret, to check the bend’s intonation. Similarly, the double-stop bends in measures 4 and 6 demand reinforced fingering, as well as use of the bent-knuckle barring technique to fret both strings. To get a handle on the phrasing, listen to the entire solo and try to sing along, just rhythmically scatting the phrases. Then transfer them to the guitar. I think Eric Johnson put it best when he said Clapton’s sound and approach was close to a human voice. That’s what you hear throughout this solo, nothing less than Clapton singing through the guitar.
It’s a part of Cream The Sunshine Of Your Love guitar tab and sheet.
Through the link below you can download a full transcription of
The Sunshine Of Your Love with backing track
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