Eric Clapton's Iconic Cover of Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff' Turns 50

Eric Clapton recorded a cover of Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff" in 1974, which became his only US number one single. Clapton initially had reservations about releasing the cover, but Marley gave his blessing, paving the way for other artists to explore reggae music.

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Nitish Verma
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Eric Clapton's Iconic Cover of Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff' Turns 50

Eric Clapton's Iconic Cover of Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff' Turns 50

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Eric Clapton's legendary cover of Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff', a song that not only introduced many rock fans to reggae music but also became Clapton's only number one single in the United States. Released in 1974 on his album '461 Ocean Boulevard,' Clapton's rendition of the song was a significant departure from his blues-infused sound with Cream and Derek and the Dominoes.

At the time, Clapton was transitioning to a more pop-oriented style and had recently switched from playing a Gibson to a Stratocaster, resulting in a gentler sound. He was also heavily influenced by Bob Marley's music, which was gaining popularity outside of reggae circles. Despite his admiration for Marley, Clapton initially had reservations about releasing the cover, fearing it might detract from the original version. In an interview with Classic Rock Stories, Clapton recalled, "I didn't think it should go on the album, let alone be a single. I didn't think it was fair to Bob Marley, and I thought we'd done it with too much of a white feel or something. Shows what I know."

However, Clapton's band members and management convinced him to include the song on the album and release it as a single. Clapton's version maintained the reggae rhythm of the original but converted it into a rock song with prominent organ and guitar. The cover also featured Yvonne Elliman on backing vocals.

After the song's release, Clapton received a phone call from Bob Marley himself, who gave his blessing for the cover. This eased Clapton's concerns and validated his decision to record the song. Clapton later spoke with Marley about the song, recalling, "I tried to ask him what the song was about, but I couldn't understand much of his response. I felt relieved that he liked what we had done."

Clapton's 'I Shot the Sheriff' became a massive success, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States and number 33 on the Billboard R&B chart. The original song by Bob Marley & the Wailers was released just months prior on their 1973 album 'Burnin'.' Clapton's cover not only paid tribute to Marley's genius but also paved the way for other artists to explore reggae music and introduce it to a broader audience.

Half a century later, Eric Clapton's cover of 'I Shot the Sheriff' remains an iconic moment in music history, bridging the gap between rock and reggae and cementing the legacies of both Clapton and Marley. The song's enduring popularity serves as a testament to the power of musical collaboration and the ability of great artists to transcend genres and inspire generations of listeners.