I Feel Free
On this tune, Clapton really shows off his phenomenal finger vibrato.
Since there is no accepted conventional term for specific types of vibratos, lets make two distinctions for describing all future Clapton solos. The first type of vibrato is the straight note vibrato where Clapton uses a very effective arm motion with his left thumb off the neck. The note is shaken without bending the string. So in essence, he is giving the note, in it's plain fretted position, a powerful vibrato without reaching a higher note or an entire halfstep up. The second type of vibrato is Claptons most exciting... the stretch (bended) vibrato. Clapton creates this type of vibrato with a wrist and finger motion. First he bends (pushes up) the string until it reaches the desired note, which is sometimes a whole step away or a massive 1 1/2 or even two steps away, then he employs the wrist/finger vibrato (the main action is created by wrist motion with the finger mainly static). There is a lesser third type that involves the finger pulling the string back, usually only on the last two lowerstrings (E and A).
"I Feel Free" demonstrates both of the main vibratos with maximum impact. The tune starts with Eric's background (rhythm track) striking the famous E7 raised ninth (E7+9) chord which is heard in many other tunes like "Outside Woman Blues", "Spoonful" (ending) and in other keys where he used the raised 9th often during songs and often as Cream's signature ending chord as in the live "Sitting on Top of the World", "Sleepy Time Time", an so on. The chords he uses during the I Feel Free verses are mainly straight major type bar chords with Fifth string root (known as power chords) and the dubbed piano note droning the E note during the bridge. On live versions, during the bridge, Clapton used a droning open E string in place of the piano.
Clapton is using the Les Paul on "Fresh Cream", however on "I Feel Free", Clapton utilizes the precursor to the "woman tone" when he starts the solo: either using the bass toggle position or less likely the mid-toggle setting with volume and tone control adjustments. The solo starts in high register E right off, featuring the stretch vibrato and precise picking. The solo mimics the actual melody line which is unusual for Clapton as he continues on with melodic stretch and straight note vibratos. He was trying a different approach on this solo until he gets toward the end where he uses pentatonic modal positions before he quickly moves up high to the 17th fret for the climax. At this point he quickly flips his toggle switch to the treble position for a screaming (B) note bend held high in the air then finishes it off with the last note being a bluesy first fingerbend on the E string 15th position.
When he hits that high E note toward the end right before the high B note bend, he his picking with extreme pressure and on an angle which was part of Claptons slicing, percussive picking sound he especially exploited with those wonderful Gibson Humbuckers. Claptons picking which utilized both down and upstrokes, could be either sweet or fierce depending on his pick angle and pressure. The "I Feel Free" solo sounds predominantly picked slightly above the treble pick-up toward the middle. At the end of the solo, it' s possible he moves his pick slightly closer to the bridge for maximum impact.
Over all it's one of his finest studio solos.
© Jeffrey Aarons, 1999