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Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton CBE (born Eric Patrick Clapp on March 30, 1945 in The Green, Ripley, Surrey), is a British guitarist and composer, nicknamed slowhand. According to Rolling Stone's rankings, he is rivaled among living guitarists only by B.B. King.

Born as an illegitimate son of the 16 year old Patricia Molly Clapp and Edward Walter Fryer, a 24 year old Canadian pilot, Clapton's father returned to his wife in Canada before he was born. Eric grew up with his grandparents believing they were his parents, and that his mother was his older sister. Years later his mother married another Canadian soldier, moved to Canada and left Eric with his grandparents. When Eric was 9 years old he found out, and the experience became a defining moment in his life.


Music career and personal life

Clapton's Rise

On his 13th birthday he received a guitar which he taught himself to play, and at the age of 17 he joined his first band, the Roosters. Growing up listening to blues recording by the likes of Robert Johnson, Clapton first made his name as a member of The Yardbirds, a pop-influenced rock and roll band whose biggest hit "For Your Love" came whilst Eric was a member.

Clapton, who was at that time obstinately dedicated to his blues roots, took strong exception to the Yardbirds' new 'pop' direction, refused to play on the single and quit the band as soon as it had been recorded; he was replaced by Jeff Beck.

After a spell working in a laboring job and several months of intensive practice, he joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. His emotional playing on their first album (which features Eric reading a copy of the Beano on the cover) established his name as a blues player, and inspired a short-lived craze of graffiti deifying him ("Clapton is God", it read).

He left the Bluesbreakers in mid 1966 (to be replaced by Peter Green) and then formed Cream, one of the earliest examples of the supergroup, and also one of the earliest 'power trios', with Jack Bruce (also of Bluesbreakers and Manfred Mann) and Ginger Baker (of the Graham Bond Organisation). During his time with Cream he began to develop as a singer as well as guitarist, though Bruce, one of rock's most powerful singers, took most of the lead vocals.

By late 1966 Clapton's status as Britain's top guitarist was shaken by the arrival of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix attended a performance by Clapton's newly formed Cream at the Central London Polytechnic, October 1, 1966, during which Hendrix sat in on a shattering double-timed version of Killing Floor. Clapton immediately realised that he had a new and almost unbeatable competitor, whose dazzling showmanship was matched by his staggering ability as a guitarist. Hendrix's early club performances were avidly attended by top UK stars including Clapton, Pete Townshend and The Beatles. Hendrix's arrival had an immediate and major effect on the next phase of Clapton's career.

Cream's repertoire varied from pop soul ("I Feel Free") to lengthy blues-based instrumental jams ("Spoonful") and featured Clapton's searing psychedelic guitar lines, Bruce's soaring vocals and prominent, fluid bass playing, and Baker's powerful, jazz-influenced drumming. The group achieved major commercial success during its brief existence with the song "Sunshine Of Your Love", from the Disraeli Gears album, and "White Room" from Wheels of Fire. The lurid psychedelic covers of both these albums were created by Australian artist Martin Sharp, who lived in the same building Clapton at the time in the Chelsea artists colony The Pheasantry . At their first meeting in a London club, Clapton mentioned that he had some music that needed lyrics, so Sharp wrote out a poem he had composed on a napkin and gave it to Clapton, who recorded it as Tales Of Brave Ulysses.

Although Cream was hailed as one of the greatest groups of its day, and the adulation of Clapton as guitar hero reached new heights, the band was destined to be shortlived. The legendary in-fighting — especially between Bruce and Baker — and growing tensions between all three members eventually led to Cream's demise. Another significant factor was a strongly critical Rolling Stone review of a concert of the group's second headlining US tour, which affected Clapton profoundly.

The valedictory Goodbye album featured live performances from Cream's farewell performance at the Royal Albert Hall; it was released shortly after Cream disbanded in 1968, and also featured the studio single "Badge", co-written by Clapton and Beatle George Harrison. "Badge" served as the basis for Harrison's later Beatles composition, "Here Comes the Sun".

The close friendship between Clapton and Harrison resulted in Clapton playing on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the Beatles' White Album — a tactic by Harrison to make the other band members take his song seriously. But the friendship was later sorely tested when Harrison's wife, Pattie Boyd-Harrison, left him for Clapton. Clapton's relationship with Pattie — who had turned him down at first — was his inspiration for the classic song, "Layla". When Clapton got married to Pattie, he wrote an other famous song, "Wonderful Tonight ".

A second spell in another supergroup, the less successful Blind Faith (1969) with Baker, Steve Winwood of Traffic and Rick Grech of Family, resulted in a patchy LP and an aborted US tour. By now Clapton was tired of the spotlight, and the hype that had surrounded Cream and Blind Faith, and he had been strongly affected by the music of The Band — which he had in fact asked to join after the split of Cream. Clapton then decided to step into the background for a time, and he toured as a sideman with the American group Delaney and Bonnie and Friends . He became close friends with Delaney Bramlett , who encouraged him in his singing and writing.

Using the Bramletts' backing group and an all-star cast of session players including Leon Russell, Clapton then released his restrained 1970 self-titled solo album, which included the Bramlett composition "Bottle Of Red Wine" and one of Clapton's best songs from this period, "Let It Rain".

Taking over Delaney & Bonnie's rhythm section — Bobby Whitlock (keyboards, vocals), Carl Radle (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums) — he formed a new band which was similarly intended to counteract the 'star' cult that had grown up around him and show Clapton as an equal member of a fully-fledged group. This was made evident in the choice of name — "Derek and the Dominos" — which came from a backstage joke at their first concert appearance.

Working at Criterion Studios in Miami with producer Tom Dowd, the band recorded a brilliant double-album which is now widely regarded as Clapton's masterpiece — Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. Most of the material, including the title track (which soon became an FM radio staple) were inspired by Clapton's unrequited love for Patti Harrison. The two-part "Layla" was recorded in separate sessions; the opening guitar section was recorded first, and for the second section, drummer Jim Gordon composed and played the elegaic piano part.

The Layla LP was actually recorded by a five-piece version of the group, thanks to the unplanned addition of slide guitar virtuoso Duane Allman. A few days into the sessions, producer Tom Dowd invited Clapton to an Allman Brothers concert in Miami (he was also producing the Allmans). The two guitarists — who previously knew each other only by reputation — met backstage after the show, then both bands repaired to the studio to jam (an impromptu session which, happily, was captured on tape). Clapton and Allman 'fell in love' with each other's playing and became instant friends, so Allman was invited to become the fifth member of The Dominos. (These studio jams were eventually released as part of the 3-CD 20th-anniversary edition of the Layla album.)

When Allman and Clapton met, The Dominos had already recorded three tracks ("I Looked Away", "Bell Bottom Blues" and "Keep On Growing"); Allman debuted on the fourth cut, "Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out", and contributed some of his most sublime slide-guitar playing to the remainder of the LP. The album was heavily blues-influenced and featured a winning combination of the twin guitars of Allman and Clapton, with Allman's incendiary slide-guitar a key ingredient of the sound. It showcased some of Clapton's strongest material to date, as well as arguably some of his best guitar playing, with Whitlock also contributing several superb numbers, and a powerful soul-influenced voice.

But tragedy dogged the group throughout its brief career. During the sessions, Clapton was devastated by news of the death of Jimi Hendrix; the band cut a blistering version of Little Wing as a tribute to him which was added to the album. One year later, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. Adding to Clapton's woes, the Layla album received only lukewarm reviews on release.

The shattered group undertook a US tour. Despite Clapton's later admission that the tour took place amidst a veritable blizzard of drugs including alcohol, it resulted in the surprisingly strong live double album In Concert. But the group disintegrated messily in London just as they commenced recording for their second LP. Although Radle worked with Clapton for several more years, the split between Clapton and Whitlock was apparently a bitter one, and they never worked together again. Another tragic footnote to the Dominos story was the fate of drummer Jim Gordon, who was an undiagnosed schizophrenic — some years later, during a psychotic episode, he murdered his mother with a hammer and was confined to a mental institution, where he remains today.

Despite his success, Clapton's personal life was in a mess by 1972. In addition to his (temporarily) unrequited and intense romantic longing for Pattie Boyd-Harrison, he withdrew from recording and touring and became addicted to heroin, resulting in a career hiatus interrupted only by the Concert for Bangladesh and the "Rainbow Concert" in 1973 (see 1973 in music), organised by The Who's Pete Townshend to help Clapton kick the drug.

Clapton returned 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 for the fact that he is clearly wearing a fake beard in some shots — the result of him unthinkingly shaving off his beard between takes!

Relatively clean again, Clapton put together a strong new touring band that included Radle, Miami guitarist George Terry , drummer Jamie Oldaker and vocalists Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy (later better known as Marcella Detroit of 1980s pop duo Shakespeare's Sister). They toured the world and subsequently released the superb 1975 live LP, 'E.C. Was Here.

Clapton released 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974), an album with the emphasis on songs rather than musicianship. His cover-version of "I Shot The Sheriff" was a major hit and was important in bringing reggae and the music of Bob Marley to a wider audience. He also championed the work of singer-songwriter-guitarist J.J.Cale.

The 1975 album There's One In Every Crowd continued this trend. (Its original intended title The World's Greatest Guitar Player (There's One In Every Crowd) was altered, as it was felt the ironic intention would be missed.) He continued to release albums sporadically and toured regularly, but much of his output from this period was deliberately low-key and failed to find the wide acceptance of his earlier work.

Bad Luck Clapton

In 1976, Clapton was the centre of controversy, and accusations of racism, when he spoke out against increasing immigration, during a concert in Birmingham. Clapton said that England had "become overcrowded", and implored the crowd to vote for Enoch Powell to stop Britain becoming "a black colony." The comments would directly motivate the foundation of Rock Against Racism. Despite the damage to his career and reputation caused, Clapton has always steadfastly refused to distance himself from the remarks and denied there was any contradiction between his political views and his career based on an essentially black musical form. At about this time, his name appeared on albums distributed in Japan as Eric Crapton[1], though this is probably a case of Engrish rather than innuendo.

The late 1970s saw Clapton struggle to come to terms with the changes in popular music, and a relapse into alcoholism, that eventually saw him hospitalised and then spending a period of convalescence in Antigua, where he would later support the creation of a drugs and alcohol rehabilitation centre, The Crossroads Centre.

His albums continued in the 1980s, with only 1989's Journeyman achieving much critical acclaim, featuring a strong return to his blues roots. Clapton did, however, win much acclaim and a BAFTA Award for his collaboration with Michael Kamen on the score for the 1985 BBC television drama serial Edge of Darkness.

In 1985 Clapton met Yvonne Khan Kelly , with whom he started a relationship. They had a daughter, Ruth, in the same year. Clapton divorced Pattie Boyd in 1988.

The early 1990s saw tragedy enter Clapton's life again on two occasions. On August 27, 1990 guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was touring with Clapton, and two members of their road crew were killed in a helicopter crash between concerts. Then, on March 20 1991, Clapton's four-year-old son Conor (with Italian model Lori Del Santo ) died following an accidental fall from an apartment window. A fraction of Clapton's grief was heard on the song "Tears In Heaven" (on the soundtrack to the 1991 movie Rush ), co-written with Will Jennings, which, like the MTV Unplugged album that followed it, won a Grammy award. It resulted in the break-up of his marriage.

Slow Hand re-emerging

Like Unplugged, his 1994 album From The Cradle, featured a number of versions of old blues standards, and highlighted his economical acoustic guitar style. In 1997 he recorded Retail Therapy, an album of electronic music under the pseudonym TDF, and he finished the twentieth century with critically-acclaimed collaborations with Carlos Santana and B. B. King. Clapton's 1996 recording of the Wayne Kirkpatrick/ Gordon Kennedy /Tommy Sims tune "Change the World" won a Grammy award for song of the year in 1997.

In 1999 Clapton, then 56, met 25 year old graphic artist Melia McEnery in Los Angeles while working on an album with B.B. King. They married in 2002 and have three daughters, Julia Rose (2001), Ella May (2003), and a third born in 2005.

As notable as Clapton himself is his use of a variety of guitars. Early in his career, he used a late 1950's Gibson Les Paul, and he was partially responsible for Gibson's reintroduction of the original Les Paul body style.

Later, Clapton began using Fender Stratocasters. Most famous of all Clapton's guitars was "Blackie ", a concoction of favorite parts from several other 'Strats' and which he used until the 1990s when it literally wore out.

During 1988 Clapton was honored by guitar manufacturer Fender by the introduction of a signature model Stratocaster along with fellow Strat player Yngwie J. Malmsteen. These were the first two artist models in the famous Stratocaster range and since then the artist series range has grown including models from some of Clapton's contemporaries like Jeff Beck and some of his influences, Buddy Guy. The late Stevie Ray Vaughan also has an artist series model.

In 1999 Clapton auctioned off some of his guitar collection to raise money for his Crossroads centre he founded in Antigua in 1997. The Crossroads centre is a treatment base for addicitive disorders like drugs and alcohol. The total revenue raised by the auction at Christie's was $7,438,624.


Singles discography

See Eric Clapton singles discography.


Further reading

  • Ray Coleman, Clapton! (Warner Books, 1985)
  • Fred Weiler, Eric Clapton (Smithmark, 1992)
  • Eric Clapton: Crossroads liner notes

External links

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