Clapton kept the underlying reggae beat from Marley's original, but made it more of a rock song, with prominent organ and guitar. In America, reggae was big around this time - in 1972, "I Can See Clearly Now
" by Johnny Nash became the first song of that genre to hit #1 in the States. For listeners craving just a touch of reggae with their rock, Clapton's "I Shot The Sheriff" hit the sweet spot.
Clapton was not the last white artist to top the chart with a reggae song: Blondie did it in 1981 with "The Tide Is High
," originally recorded by the Jamaican group The Paragons.