Eric Clapton has always been his own man when it comes to his highly individual talent. But he’s always been happy to shine a light on other great musicians. Just as J.J. Cale benefited hugely from having E.C. cover his songs and talk him up in the media, Eric’s cover of Bob Marley & the Wailers’ “I Shot The Sheriff” was a huge factor in taking the Jamaican star from his reggae audience to the world.
The US charts for the week of September 14, 1974 may have shown Clapton’s 461 Ocean Boulevard album ceding the No. 1 berth to Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale. But on the corresponding Hot 100 singles chart, Eric’s cover of “I Shot The Sheriff” was America’s new favorite.
Paul Anka, the long-running hitmaker and songwriter who rather incongruously sang backing vocals on a track on Stevie’s Fulfillingness, had been at No.1 with his ballad “(You’re) Having My Baby.” That song was nudged down a place as Clapton moved up to the summit. Andy Kim climbed 4-3 with “Rock Me Gently,” Donny and Marie Osmond 5-4 with “I’m Leaving It All Up To You” and Barry White was also up a place at No. 5 with “Can’t Get Enough Of Your Love.” A week later, White took a turn at No.1, as did Kim a week on from that.
Clapton’s “Sheriff” cover remains the only US No.1 single of his long career. Marley’s original had only been released a few months before Eric covered it, appearing on the Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’. The Slowhand interpretation, featuring Yvonne Elliman on backing vocals, was a huge single on pop radio both in America and around the world. It also got quite a bit of airplay on soul stations in the US, rising to No.33 on the Billboard R&B chart.
The song continued to reverberate in more than 100 other covers, including those by reggae notables such as Ken Boothe and Byron Lee and the Dragonaires, and British soul outfit Light Of The World. In 1997, rapper Warren G delivered his take on the song on his second album Take A Look Over Your Shoulder, landing a big national and international hit and gold certification.
Buy or stream Eric Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff” on 461 Ocean Boulevard.