Eric Clapton: “I Shot The Sheriff” (1974)

Clapton’s version follows Bob’s vocal lead but adds much sweeter backing vocals. Oh, and it also charted much better.

Kronomyth 3.1: Marley’s ghost.

Eric Clapton’s cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” shot to number one with a bullet. It wasn’t even Clapton’s idea to cover the song originally, but he does a remarkable job with it. Recorded with his mostly Tulsan backing band (George Terry was originally from Florida, Yvonne Elliman from Hawaii), the song has a distinctively compressed sound that almost defies categorization, since it’s neither reggae nor rock and almost anticipates disco.

The single version is about a minute shorter than the original elpee version (the ending, for instance, simply fades out on the single). The B side, “Give Me Strength,” is identical to the original album version though, it would seem, a little too identical to a song written some thirty-odd years earlier (see DYK below). Featuring Clapton on dobro, the song sounds more like Bob Dylan and the Band than anything from No Reason To Cry. Possibly because of potential copyright issues, “Give Me Strength” was replaced on later issues of 461 Ocean Boulevard and eventually appended at the end of the CD versions as the last track.

Original 7-inch single version

A1. I Shot The Sheriff (Bob Marley) (3:30)
B1. Give Me Strength (Eric Clapton) (2:51)

RSO Oldies 7-inch single reissue
A1. I Shot The Sheriff (Bob Marley) (3:30)
B1. Willie And The Hand Jive (Johnny Otis) (3:10)

7-inch single reissue (RS 8002, 8770 287)
A1. I Shot The Sheriff (Bob Marley) (3:30)
B1. Let It Grow (Eric Clapton) (4:57)

1982 7-inch single reissue
A1. I Shot The Sheriff
B1. Cocaine

1982 12-inch single reissue
1. I Shot The Sheriff
2. Cocaine
3. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door

1982 7-inch single reissue (Timepieces 871 832-7)
A1. I Shot The Sheriff (Bob Marley) (4:22)
B1. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan) (4:20)

1986 7-inch single reissue
A1. I Shot The Sheriff
B1. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan) (4:23)

1987 7-inch single reissue
A1. Layla
B1. I Shot The Sheriff

1990 CD single reissue
1. I Shot The Sheriff
2. Give Me Strength
3. Swing Low Sweet Chariot

Did You Know?

  • Guitarist George Terry introduced Clapton to this song when he played a copy of Bob Marley’s Burnin’ for him.
  • “Give Me Strength” is actually a gospel song written by Louise King Matthews in 1939, as reported by the Chicago Daily News in 1976. Clapton apparently didn’t know the author or the origin of the song, crediting it to himself.
  • Drummer Al Jackson, Jr. (of Booker T. and the M.G.’s), who appears on “Give Me Strength,” was shot by his wife in July 1975, survived and was shot to death by the boyfriend of his wife’s best friend several months later.
  • Yvonne Elliman was introduced to Clapton by her husband, RSO president Bill Oakes.

The Plastic

Released on 7-inch in July 1974 in the UK, Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal and Turkey (RSO, 2090 132), the US and Canada (RSO, SO 409), Japan (RSO, DW-1081) and Yugoslavia (RTB, S 53788); reached #9 on the UK charts (charted on July 27, 1974 for 9 weeks) and #1 on the US charts (charted on July 13, 1974 for 14 weeks, RIAA certified gold record). Regional versions feature picture sleeve varations. Also released as a promotional 7-inch in 1974 in the US (RSO, SO-409) with mono version of “I Shot The Sheriff” on the flip side.

  1. Released on 7-inch in the US (RSO Oldies, SO 425) and Greece (RSO, 2090 147) with “Willie And The Hand Jive” on the flip side.
  2. Re-released on 7-inch in the US (RSO, RS 8002) and France (Polydor, 8770 287) with “Let It Grow” on the B side.
  3. Re-released on 7-inch and three-track 12-inch in May 1982 in the UK (RSO, RSO/RSOX-88) and in 1982 in the US (Polydor, 871 832-7) with “Cocaine” and “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door;” reached #62 on the UK charts (charted on June 5, 1982 for 2 weeks).
  4. Re-released on 7-inch in March 1986 in the UK (Old Gold, OG 9586) with “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” on the flip side.
  5. Re-released on 7-inch in 1987 in Japan (RSO, 5DW 0035) with “Layla” on the flip side with picture sleeve as part of RSO’s Best Coupling Series.
  6. Re-released on three-track CD single in 1990 in Germany (Polydor, 889 173-2) with “Swing Low Sweet Chariot.”

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