Eric Clapton (born 30 March 1945)
|Featured Recordings||San Francisco Bay Blues|
Eric Patrick Clapton, CBE, (born 30 March 1945) is an English guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter. Clapton is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: once as a solo artist, and separately as a member of The Yardbirds and Cream. Clapton has been referred to as one of the most important and influential guitarists of all time. Clapton ranked fourth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and fourth in Gibson’sTop 50 Guitarists of All Time.
In the mid 1960s, Clapton left the Yardbirds to play blues with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. In his one-year stay with Mayall, Clapton gained the nickname “Slowhand”, and graffiti in London declared “Clapton is God.” Immediately after leaving Mayall, Clapton formed, with drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce, the power trio Cream, in which Clapton played sustained blues improvisations and “arty, blues-based psychedelic pop.” For most of the 1970s, Clapton’s output bore the influence of the mellow style of J.J. Cale and the reggae of Bob Marley. His version of Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” helped gain reggae a mass market. Two of his most popular recordings were “Layla”, recorded by Derek and the Dominos, and Robert Johnson‘s “Crossroads”, recorded by Cream. A recipient of seventeen Grammy Awards, in 2004 Clapton was awarded a CBE for services to music. In 1998 Clapton, a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, founded the Crossroads Centre on Antigua, a medical facility for recovering substance abusers.
Life and career
Eric Patrick Clapton was born in Ripley, Surrey, England, the son of 16-year-old Patricia Molly Clapton (b. 7 January 1929) and Edward Walter Fryer (21 March 1920 – 15 May 1985), a 24-year-old soldier from Montreal, Quebec. Fryer shipped off to war prior to Clapton’s birth and then returned to Canada. Clapton grew up with his grandmother, Rose, and her second husband, Jack Clapp, who was stepfather to Patricia Clapton and her brother Adrian, believing they were his parents and that his mother was actually his older sister. The similarity in surnames gave rise to the erroneous belief that Clapton’s real surname is Clapp (Reginald Cecil Clapton was the name of Rose’s first husband, Eric Clapton’s maternal grandfather). Years later, his mother married another Canadian soldier and moved to Germany, leaving young Eric with his grandparents in Surrey.
Clapton received an acoustic Hoyer guitar, made in Germany, for his 13th birthday, but the inexpensive steel-stringed instrument was difficult to play and he briefly lost interest. Two years later Clapton picked it up again and started playing consistently. Clapton was influenced by the blues from an early age, and practiced long hours to learn the chords of blues music by playing along to the records. He preserved his practice sessions using his portable Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder, listening to them over and over until he felt he’d got it right.
After leaving school in 1961, Clapton studied at the Kingston College of Art but was dismissed at the end of the academic year because his focus remained on music rather than art. His guitar playing was so advanced that by the age of 16 people were starting to notice him. Around this time Clapton began busking around Kingston, Richmond, and the West End of London. In 1962, Clapton started performing as a duo with fellow blues enthusiast David Brock in the pubs around Surrey. When he was 17 years old Clapton joined his first band, an early British R&B group, “The Roosters”, whose other guitarist was Tom McGuinness. He stayed with this band from January through August 1963. In October of that year, Clapton did a seven-gig stint with Casey Jones & The Engineers.
The Yardbirds and the Bluesbreakers
It was during this time period that Clapton’s Yardbirds rhythm guitarist, Chris Dreja, recalled that whenever Clapton broke a guitar string during a concert, he would stay on stage and replace it. The English audiences would wait out the delay by doing what is called a “slow handclap”. Clapton told his official biographer, Ray Coleman, that, “My nickname of ‘Slowhand’ came from Giorgio Gomelsky. He coined it as a good pun. He kept saying I was a fast player, so he put together the slow handclap phrase into Slowhand as a play on words”.
In March 1965 the Yardbirds had their first major hit, “For Your Love”, on which Clapton played guitar. The Yardbirds elected to move toward a pop-oriented sound, in part because of the success of “For Your Love”, written by pop songwriter-for-hire Graham Gouldman, who had also written hit songs for teen pop outfit Herman’s Hermits and The Hollies. Still musically devoted to the blues, Clapton was opposed to the move, and left the band. He recommended fellow guitarist Jimmy Page as his replacement, but Page was at that time unwilling to relinquish his lucrative career as a freelance studio musician, so Page in turn recommended Clapton’s successor, Jeff Beck. While Beck and Page played together in the Yardbirds, the trio of Beck, Page, and Clapton were never in the group together. However, the trio did appear on the 12-date benefit tour for Action for Research into Multiple Sclerosis, as well as on the album Guitar Boogie.
Clapton joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in April 1965, only to quit a few months later. In the summer of 1965 he left for Greece with a band called The Glands, which included his old friend Ben Palmer on piano. In November 1965 he rejoined John Mayall. It was during his second Bluesbreakers stint that his passionate playing established Clapton’s name as the best blues guitarist on the club circuit. Although Clapton gained world fame for his playing on the influential album, Blues Breakers, this album was not released until Clapton had left the Bluesbreakers for the last time. Having swapped his Fender Telecaster and Vox AC30 amplifier for a 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar and Marshall amplifier, Clapton’s sound and playing inspired a well-publicised graffito that deified him with the famous slogan “Clapton is God”. The phrase was spray-painted by an admirer on a wall in an Islington Underground station in the autumn of 1967. The graffiti was captured in a now-famous photograph, in which a dog is urinating on the wall. Clapton is reported to have been embarrassed by the slogan, saying in his The South Bank Show profile in 1987, “I never accepted that I was the greatest guitar player in the world. I always wanted to be the greatest guitar player in the world, but that’s an ideal, and I accept it as an ideal”. The phrase began to appear in other areas of Islington throughout the mid 1960s.
In early 1967 Clapton’s status as Britain’s top guitarist was rivalled by the emergence of Jimi Hendrix, an acid rock-infused guitarist who used wailing feedback and effects pedals to create new sounds for the instrument. Hendrix attended a performance of the newly-formed Cream at the Central London Polytechnic on 1 October 1966, during which Hendrix sat in on a double-timed version of “Killing Floor”. Top UK stars including Clapton, Pete Townshend, and members of The Rolling Stones and The Beatles avidly attended Hendrix’s early club performances. Hendrix’s arrival had an immediate and major effect on the next phase of Clapton’s career, although Clapton continued to be recognised in UK music polls as the premier guitarist.
Clapton first visited the United States while touring with Cream. In March 1967, Cream performed a nine-show stand at the RKO Theater in New York. They recorded Disraeli Gears in New York from 11–15 May 1967. Cream’s repertoire varied from hard rock (“I Feel Free”) to lengthy blues-based instrumental jams (“Spoonful”). Disraeli Gears featured Clapton’s searing guitar lines, Bruce’s soaring vocals and prominent, fluid bass playing, and Baker’s powerful, polyrhythmic jazz-influenced drumming. Together, Cream’s talents secured themselves as an influential power trio.
In 28 months, Cream had become a commercial success, selling millions of records and playing throughout the U.S. and Europe. They redefined the instrumentalist’s role in rock and were one of the first blues-rock bands to emphasise musical virtuosity and lengthy jazz-style improvisation sessions. Their U.S. hit singles include “Sunshine of Your Love” (#5, 1968), “White Room” (#6, 1968) and “Crossroads” (#28, 1969) – a live version of Robert Johnson‘s “Cross Road Blues”. Though Cream was hailed as one of the greatest groups of its day, and the adulation of Clapton as a guitar hero reached new heights, the supergroup was short-lived. Drug and alcohol use escalated tension between the three members, and conflicts between Bruce and Baker eventually led to Cream’s demise. A strongly critical Rolling Stone review of a concert of the group’s second headlining U.S. tour was another significant factor in the trio’s demise, and it affected Clapton profoundly.
Cream’s farewell album, Goodbye, featuring live performances recorded at The Forum, Los Angeles, 19 October 1968, was released shortly after Cream disbanded; it also featured the studio single “Badge”, co-written by Clapton and George Harrison. Clapton met Harrison and became friends with him after the Beatles shared a bill with the Clapton-era Yardbirds at the London Palladium. The close friendship between Clapton and Harrison resulted in Clapton’s playing on Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” from the Beatles’ White Album (1968). Harrison also released his solo debut album, Wonderwall Music, in 1968. It became the first of many Harrison solo records to feature Clapton on guitar. Clapton would go largely uncredited for his contributions to Harrison’s albums due to contractual restraints. The pair would often play live together as each other’s guest. A year after Harrison’s death in 2001, Clapton helped organise a tribute concert, for which he was musical director.
Cream briefly reunited in 1993 to perform at the ceremony inducting them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; a full reunion took place in May 2005, with Clapton, Bruce, and Baker playing four sold-out concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall, and three shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden that October. Recordings from the London shows, Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005, were released on CD, LP, and DVD in September/December 2005.
Blind Faith & Delaney and Bonnie and Friends
Clapton subsequently toured as a sideman for an act that had opened for Blind Faith, Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. He also played two dates as a member of The Plastic Ono Band that fall, including a recorded performance at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in September 1969 released as the album Live Peace in Toronto 1969. On 15 December 1969 Clapton performed with John Lennon, George Harrison, and others as the Plastic Ono Band at a fundraiser for UNICEF in London.
Delaney Bramlett encouraged Clapton in his singing and writing. During the summer of 1969, Clapton and Bramlett contributed to the Music From Free Creek “supersession” project. Clapton, appearing as “King Cool” for contractual reasons, played with Dr. John on three songs, joined by Bramlett on two tracks.
Using the Bramletts’ backing group and an all-star cast of session players (including Leon Russell and Stephen Stills), Clapton recorded his first solo album during two brief tour hiatuses, fittingly named Eric Clapton. Delaney Bramlett co-wrote six of the songs with Clapton, and Bonnie Bramlett co-wrote “Let It Rain”. The album yielded the unexpected U.S. #18 hit, J.J. Cale‘s “After Midnight”. Clapton went with Delaney and Bonnie from the stage to the studio with the Dominos to record George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass in spring 1970. During this busy period, Clapton also recorded with other artists including Dr. John, Leon Russell, Plastic Ono Band, Billy Preston, and Ringo Starr.
Derek and the Dominos
Clapton’s close friendship with George Harrison brought him into contact with Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, with whom he became deeply infatuated. When she spurned his advances, Clapton’s unrequited affections prompted most of the material for the Dominos’ album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). Heavily blues-influenced, the album features the twin lead guitars of Duane Allman and Clapton, with Allman’s slide guitar as a key ingredient of the sound. Working at Criteria Studios in Miami with Atlantic Records producer Tom Dowd, who had worked with Clapton on Cream’s Disraeli Gears, the band recorded a double album.
The album features the hit love song “Layla”, inspired by the classical poet of Persian literature, Nizami Ganjavi’s The Story of Layla and Majnun, a copy of which Ian Dallas had given to Clapton. The book moved Clapton profoundly, as it was the tale of a young man who fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful, unavailable woman and who went crazy because he could not marry her. The two parts of “Layla” were recorded in separate sessions: the opening guitar section was recorded first, and for the second section, laid down several months later, drummer Jim Gordon composed and played the piano part.
The Layla LP was actually recorded by a five-piece version of the group, thanks to the unforeseen inclusion of guitarist Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers Band. A few days into the Layla sessions, Dowd—who was also producing the Allmans—invited Clapton to an Allman Brothers outdoor concert in Miami. The two guitarists met first on stage, then played all night in the studio, and became friends. Duane first added his slide guitar to “Tell the Truth” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”. In four days, the five-piece Dominos recorded “Key to the Highway”, “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” (a blues standard popularised by Freddie King and others), and “Why Does Love Got to be So Sad”. In September, Duane briefly left the sessions for gigs with his own band, and the four-piece Dominos recorded “I Looked Away”, “Bell Bottom Blues”, and “Keep on Growing”. Duane returned to record “I am Yours”, “Anyday”, and “It’s Too Late”. On September 9, they recorded Hendrix’s “Little Wing” and the title track. The following day, the final track, “It’s Too Late”, was recorded.
A second record was in the works when a clashing of egos took place and Clapton walked, thus disbanding the group. Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident on 29 October 1971. Although Radle would remain Clapton’s bass player until the summer of 1979 (Radle died in May 1980 from the effects of alcohol and narcotics), it would be 2003 before Clapton and Whitlock appeared together again (Clapton guested on Whitlock’s appearance on the Later with Jools Holland show). Another tragic footnote to the Dominos story was the fate of drummer Jim Gordon, who was an undiagnosed schizophrenic and years later murdered his mother during a psychotic episode. Gordon was confined to 16-years-to-life imprisonment, later being moved to a mental institution, where he remains today.
Clapton’s career successes in the 1970s were in stark contrast to his personal life, which was troubled by romantic longings and drug and alcohol addiction. While suffering his (temporarily) unrequited and intense attraction to Pattie Boyd, he withdrew from recording and touring to isolation in his Surrey, England, residence. There he nursed his heroin addiction, which resulted in a career hiatus interrupted only by the Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971 (where he passed out on stage, was revived, and continued his performance). In January 1973, The Who’s Pete Townshend organised a comeback concert for Clapton at London’s Rainbow Theatre, aptly titled the “Rainbow Concert”, to help Clapton kick his addiction. Clapton would return the favour by playing ‘The Preacher’ in Ken Russell’s film version of The Who’s Tommy in 1975; his appearance in the film (performing “Eyesight to the Blind”) is notable as he is clearly wearing a fake beard in some shots, the result of deciding to shave off his real beard after the initial takes in an attempt to force the director to remove his earlier scene from the movie and leave the set.
In 1981 Clapton was invited by producer Martin Lewis to appear at the Amnesty International benefit The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball. Clapton accepted the invitation and teamed up with Jeff Beck to perform a series of duets—reportedly their first-ever billed stage collaboration. Three of the performances were released on the album of the show, and one of the songs was featured in the film. The performances heralded a return to form and prominence for Clapton in the new decade. Many factors had influenced Clapton’s comeback, including his “deepening commitment to Christianity”, to which he had converted prior to his heroin addiction.
After an embarrassing fishing incident, Clapton finally called his manager and admitted he was an alcoholic. In January 1982 Roger and Clapton flew to Minneapolis – St. Paul; Clapton would be checked in at Hazelden Treatment Center, located in Center City, Minnesota. On the flight over, Clapton indulged in a large number of drinks, for fear he would never be able to drink again. Clapton is quoted as saying from his autobiography, “In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore if I was dead. It was the only thing I thought was worth living for, and the idea that people were about to try and remove me from alcohol was so terrible that I drank and drank and drank, and they had to practically carry me into the clinic.”
After being discharged, it was recommended by doctors of Hazelden that Clapton not partake in any activities that would act as triggers for his alcoholism or stress, until he was fully situated back at Hurtwood. A few months after his discharge, Clapton began working on his next album, against the Hazelden doctors’ orders. Working with Tom Dowd, Clapton produced what he thought as his “most forced” album to date, Money and Cigarettes.
In 1984 he performed on Pink Floyd member Roger Waters’ solo album, The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, and went on tour with Waters following the release of the album. Since then Waters and Clapton have had a close relationship. In 2005 they performed together for the Tsunami Relief Fund. In 2006 they performed at the Highclere Castle, in aid of the Countryside Alliance, playing two set pieces of “Wish You Were Here” and “Comfortably Numb”. Clapton, now a seasoned charity performer, played at the Live Aid concert on 13 July 1985. When offered a slot close to peak viewing hours, he was apparently flattered. As Clapton recovered from his addictions, his album output continued in the 1980s, including two produced with Phil Collins, 1985’s Behind the Sun, which produced the hits “Forever Man” and “She’s Waiting”, and 1986’s August.
The 1990s brought a series of 32 concerts to the Royal Albert Hall, such as the 24 Nights series of concerts that took place around January through February 1990, and February through March 1991. On 27 August 1990, fellow blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was touring with Clapton, and three members of their road crew were killed in a helicopter crash between concerts. Then, on 20 March 1991, Clapton’s four-year-old son, Conor, died on impact after a fall from the 53rd-story window of his mother’s friend’s New York City apartment. He landed on the roof of an adjacent four-story building. Clapton’s grief was expressed in the song “Tears in Heaven”, which was co-written by Will Jennings. At the 35th Grammy Awards, Clapton received six Grammy Awards for the single “Tears in Heaven” and his Unplugged album. The album reached number one on the Billboard 200, and has since been certified Diamond by the RIAA for selling over 10 million copies in the United States.
In October 1992 Clapton was among the dozens of artists performing at Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration. Recorded at Madison Square Garden in New York City, the live two-disk CD/DVD captured a show full of celebrities performing classic Dylan songs, before ending with a few performances from Dylan himself. Despite the presence of 10 other guitarists on stage, including George Harrison, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn, Steve Cropper, Tom Petty, and Dylan, Clapton played the lead on a nearly 7-minute version of Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” as part of the finale.
In 1998 Clapton, then 53, met 22-year-old administrative assistant Melia McEnery in Columbus, Ohio, at a party given for him after a performance. He quietly dated her for a year, and went public with the relationship in 1999. They married on 1 January 2002 at St Mary Magdalene church in Clapton’s birthplace, Ripley. As of 2005 they have three daughters, Julie Rose , Ella May , and Sophie Belle .
Clapton cites Freddie King, B. B. King, Albert King, Buddy Guy, and Hubert Sumlin as guitar playing influences. Robert Johnson has influenced Clapton the most profoundly. In 2004 Clapton released CDs and DVDs entitled Sessions for Robert Johnson, featuring Clapton covering Robert Johnson songs using electric and acoustic guitars live and in rehearsal.
Clapton co-authored with others the book Discovering Robert Johnson, in which Clapton said Johnson was
“…the most important blues musician who ever lived. He was true, absolutely, to his own vision, and as deep as I have gotten into the music over the last 30 years, I have never found anything more deeply soulful than Robert Johnson. His music remains the most powerful cry that I think you can find in the human voice, really. … it seemed to echo something I had always felt.”
Clapton has been referred to as one of the most important and influential guitarists of all time. Clapton is the only three-time inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: once as a solo artist, and separately as a member of The Yardbirds and Cream. He ranked fourth in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time” and fourth in Gibson’s Top 50 Guitarists of All Time.
Guitarists influenced by Clapton include Richie Sambora, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gary Moore, Duane Allman, Derek Trucks, Eddie Van Halen, Brian May, Orianthi, Brad Paisley, Jonny Buckland, Joe Don Rooney, Alex Lifeson, Jonny Lang, John Mayer, Joe Satriani, Joe Bonamassa, Davy Knowles, and George Harrison.
Controversy over remarks on immigration
On 5 August 1976 Clapton provoked an uproar and lingering controversy when he spoke out against increasing immigration during a concert in Birmingham. Visibly intoxicated, Clapton voiced his support of controversial political candidate Enoch Powell, and announced on stage that Britain was in danger of becoming a “black colony”. Clapton was quoted as saying, “I think Enoch’s right … we should send them all back. Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!” The latter phrase was at the time a British National Front slogan. Clapton continued:
“I used to be into dope, now I’m into racism. It’s much heavier, man. Fucking wogs, man. Fucking Saudis taking over London. Bastard wogs. Britain is becoming overcrowded and Enoch will stop it and send them all back. The black wogs and coons and Arabs and fucking Jamaicans and fucking (indecipherable) don’t belong here, we don’t want them here. This is England, this is a white country, we don’t want any black wogs and coons living here. We need to make clear to them they are not welcome. England is for white people, man. We are a white country. I don’t want fucking wogs living next to me with their standards. This is Great Britain, a white country, what is happening to us, for fuck’s sake? We need to vote for Enoch Powell, he’s a great man, speaking truth. Vote for Enoch, he’s our man, he’s on our side, he’ll look after us. I want all of you here to vote for Enoch, support him, he’s on our side. Enoch for Prime Minister! Throw the wogs out! Keep Britain white!”
This incident, along with some explicitly pro-fascism remarks made around the same time by David Bowie as well as uses of Nazi-related imagery by Sid Vicious and Siouxsie Sioux, were the main catalysts for the creation of Rock Against Racism, which occurred on 30 April 1978.
In response to the comments, rock photographer Red Saunders and others published an open letter in NME, Melody Maker, Sounds, and the Socialist Worker. It read “Come on Eric… Own up. Half your music is black. You’re rock music’s biggest colonist”. It concluded, “P.S. Who shot the Sheriff, Eric? It sure as hell wasn’t you!”
In an interview from October 1976 with Sounds magazine, Clapton remarked, “I thought it was quite funny actually. I don’t know much about politics. I don’t even know if it would be good or bad for him to get in. I don’t even know who the Prime Minister is now. I just don’t know what came over me that night. It must have been something that happened in the day but it came out in this garbled thing… I thought the whole thing was like Monty Python. There’s this rock group playing on-stage and the singer starts talking about politics. It’s so stupid. Those people who paid their money sittin’ listening to this madman dribbling on and the band meanwhile getting fidgety thinking ‘oh dear’.”
In a 2004 interview with Uncut, Clapton referred to Powell as “outrageously brave”, and stated that his “feeling about this has not changed”, because the UK is still “… inviting people in as cheap labour and then putting them in ghettos.” In 2004 Clapton told an interviewer for Scotland on Sunday, “There’s no way I could be a racist. It would make no sense”. In his 2007 autobiography, Clapton called himself “deliberately oblivious to it all” and wrote, “I had never really understood or been directly affected by racial conflict … when I listened to music, I was disinterested in where the players came from or what colour their skin was. Interesting, then, that 10 years later, I would be labelled a racist … Since then, I have learnt to keep my opinions to myself. Of course, it might also have had something to do with the fact that Pattie had just been leered at by a member of the Saudi royal family.” In a December 2007 interview with Melvin Bragg on The South Bank Show, Clapton reiterated his support for Enoch Powell and again denied that Powell’s views were “racist”.
Awards and honours
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