Maybe the most overrated guitarist in history As Eric Clapton turns 70, it's fitting to acknowledge his achievements as a consistently high-selling guitar hero NEW YORK DAILY NEWS Sunday, March 29, 2015, 2:00 AM ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images As a guitarist, Eric Clapton got the ironic nickname "Slowhand"; he's known for the sharp, ringing tone of his attack. Eric Clapton turns 70 on Monday, a notable achievement for anybody. But this birthday boy can claim a far more impressive triumph at this point in his life. After a 50-year career, Clapton stands as the most consistently huge-selling guitar hero of all time. No other classic rock axman has maintained such a sustained hold on the charts, having scored Top Ten albums, if not Top Five, for half a century, right up through last year’s tribute album, “The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale,” that rose to No. 2. Michael Ochs Archives The power trio Cream included, from left, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce. Peers like Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page can’t claim anywhere near that record of commercial consistency. Neither can Pete Townshend or Keith Richards. While all remain brand names, able to fill arenas at whim, none has released new music that keeps bringing back the masses. Of course, Clapton’s hold on the hearts and the charts has come at a price. During many periods, he has chased trends, rather than forged them, or slid by on sentimentality, when he could have probed or challenged us. Eric Clapton Plans 70th Birthday With Two Madison Square Garden Gigs Inform Clapton’s albums from 1978’s “Backless” through 1983’s “Money and Cigarettes” slouched through slack riffs and snoozed through disengaged vocals. In the late ’80s, he seemed to mistake himself for Phil Collins, while his work over the last decade has found him subsuming his own character to imitate the style of his idols, B.B. King (through his terse, stinging leads) or J.J. Cale (co-opting his sleepy Tulsa funk). True fans have had to hold out for mere glimmers of Clapton’s genius. Luckily, even on his most dire albums, and routine concerts, they’ve found a place. We should take time to celebrate his unassailable peak. Between 1964 and ’74, nearly every Clapton solo and song not only electrified us, they moved the culture forward. While such reprieves have made the troubling arcs of Clapton’s career easier to take, as a present for his 70th B-day, we should take time to celebrate his unassailable peak. Between 1964 and ’74, nearly every Clapton solo and song not only electrified us, they moved the culture forward. The guitarist started to set the agenda of rock with 1964’s “Five Live Yardbirds.” His leads with that seminal Brit blues band, the Yardbirds, presaged the more elaborate electric work that would later come charging through in acts from the Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac or Kim Simmons’ Savoy Brown. Gary Gershoff Derek Trucks (l.) of the Allman Brothers Band trades licks with Eric Clapton at the Beacon Theater in New York. Flinching from the Yardbirds’ growing pop aspirations, Clapton escaped to John Mayall’s band, which he essentially took over with 1966’s seminal “Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton.” The disc freed Clapton to hone his soon-to-be-inimitable tone and sharpen his attack. By the time the album appeared, the comet-like Clapton had left to form the game-changing band Cream with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, resulting in the 1966 debut, “Fresh Cream.” While their next album, “Disraeli Gears,” made them pop stars, live shows by the world’s first power trio (captured on albums like “Wheels of Fire”) nailed their soul. In concert, Cream blew out blues riffs with the abstraction of free jazz. In the process, they tipped off the psychedelic jam-band scene that later bloomed in San Francisco. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images Eric Clapton performing in the '70s. After less than three years with Cream, Clapton fled again, this time to the ill-conceived Blind Faith. While he attempted to make something new with Traffic’s Steve Winwood, what they ended up with sounded too much like Cream II. Yet, even their rushed, and padded, sole album housed a classic song from Clapton, “Presence of The Lord,” with a seminal wah-wah solo. Though Clapton was just a sideman on the “On Tour” album (cut with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends in 1970), that thrilling project pushed Clapton into a fresh, distinctly American soul sound. It’s a style he would perfect on his greatest solo work, 1970’s self-titled debut, aided by sterling contributions from Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell and more. GAB Archive/Redferns Blind Faith was one of the original supergroups, and included both Clapton and Steve Winwood. In that same, impossibly dense year, Clapton birthed Derek & The Dominos, with Southern guitarist Duane Allman. It was one year before Allman broke big with his own band. The Dominos’ only studio album, “Layla,” features some of the most thrilling solos ever recorded, most notably on “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” Having achieved such an orgasmic peak, it was inevitable that everything thereafter would feel like a come-down. Clapton did find an adult, and poignant, new voice in the mid-’90s, with his “Tears in Heaven”/“Unplugged” juggernaut (inspired by the tragic death of his young son, Conor). CA/Redferns From left, Keith Relf, Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith, Jim McCarty and Eric Clapton of the Yardbirds. If such grown-up concerns, and performances, couldn’t hope to reach the level of innovation and inspiration of Clapton’s first decade, something indelible has endured. Much of it can be found in the guitarist’s rare sense of melody, as well as in his unique tone. Even on the weakest nights, he has been able to channel a clarity as individual as the greatest singers’ timbre. GAB Archive/Redferns Clapton electrified John Mayall's Bluesbreakers: From left, John Mayall, Eric Clapton, John McVie, Hughie Flint. At 70, Clapton’s sound remains instantly recognizable — a golden, shimmering sting that can cut you to the core.