Eric Clapton Biography

Eric Patrick Clapp, 30 March 1945, Ripley, Surrey, England. The world’s premier living rock guitarist will be forever grateful to his grandparents, for they gave him his first guitar. The young Eric was raised by his grandparents Rose and Jack Clapp when his natural mother could not face bringing up an illegitimate child at the age of 16. He received a £14 acoustic guitar for his fourteenth birthday, then proceeded to copy the great blues guitarists note for note. His first band was the Roosters, a local R&B group that included Tom McGuinness, a future member of Manfred Mann, and latterly part of the Blues Band. Clapton stayed for eight months until he and McGuinness left to join Casey Jones And The Engineers. This brief sojourn ended in 1963 when Clapton was sought out by the Yardbirds, an aspiring R&B band, who needed a replacement for their guitarist Tony Topham. The reputation swiftly established by the Yardbirds was largely centred on Clapton, who had already had his nickname of ‘Slowhand’ taken up by the partisan crowd at Richmond’s Crawdaddy club. Clapton stayed for 18 months until musical differences interfered. The Yardbirds were taking a more pop-orientated direction and he just wanted to play the blues. He departed shortly after the recording of the hit single, ‘For Your Love’.

The perfect vehicle for his musical frustrations was John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, one of Britain’s top blues bands. It was with Mayall that Clapton would earn his second nickname: ‘God’! Rarely had there been a similar meteoric rise to such an exalted position. Clapton only made one album with Mayall but that 1966 release Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton is now a classic; on its famous cover Clapton is sitting reading a copy of The Beano comic. Between Mayall and his next band, Clapton made numerous session appearances and recorded an interesting session with a conglomeration called the Powerhouse. They recorded three tracks - ‘Crossroads’, ‘I Want To Know’ and ‘Steppin’ Out’ - the line-up comprising Paul Jones, Steve Winwood, Jack Bruce, Pete York and Clapton.

Clapton was elevated to superstar status with the formation of Cream in 1966, and together with ex-Graham Bond Organisation members Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, he created one of the most influential rock bands of our time. Additionally, due to his close friendship with George Harrison, he was asked to play the beautiful lead solo on Harrison’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ on The Beatles (‘The White Album’). Cream lasted just over two years, and shortly after their demise Clapton was back with Baker, this time in Blind Faith. The line-up was completed by Steve Winwood and Ric Grech. This ‘supergroup’ was unable to stay together for more than one self-titled album, although their financially lucrative American tour made the impending break-up easier to bear. During the tour Clapton befriended Delaney And Bonnie, decided that he wanted to be their guitarist, and then joined them before the sweat had dried following his last Blind Faith gig in January 1970. He played on one album, the excellent Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour With Eric Clapton, but three months later absconded and finished up recording his disappointing solo debut, Eric Clapton. Most of Delaney & Bonnie’s band sessioned on Clapton’s solo album and three members (Jim Gordon, Bobby Whitlock and Carl Radle) ended up flying over to the UK to join Clapton again. The band then metamorphosed into Derek And The Dominos. This memorable unit, together with Duane Allman, recorded one of his most famous compositions, the perennial ‘Layla’. This clandestine love song was directed at George Harrison’s wife Pattie, with whom Clapton had become besotted. Harrison, unaware of this, invited him to play at his historic The Concert For Bangla Desh in August 1971.

Clapton by now was struggling to overcome a heroin habit that had grown out of control, since being introduced to the drug during the recording of Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs. During the worst moments of his addiction he began to pawn some of his precious guitars and spent up to £1, 500 a week to feed his habit. Pete Townshend of the Who was appalled to discover that Clapton was selling his guitars and proceeded to try to rescue him and his girlfriend Alice Ormsby-Gore. Townshend organized the famous Eric Clapton At The Rainbow concert as part of his rehabilitation crusade, along with Steve Winwood, Ric Grech, Ron Wood and Jim Capaldi. His appearance broke two years of silence, and wearing the same suit he had worn at the Bangla Desh concert, he played a majestic and emotional set. Although still addicted, this represented a turning point in his life, and following pleas from his girlfriend’s father, Lord Harlech, he entered the Harley Street clinic of Dr Meg Patterson for treatment.

A rejuvenated Clapton began to record again and released the buoyant 461 Ocean Boulevard in August 1974. The future pattern was set on this album; gone were the long guitar solos, replaced instead by relaxed vocals over shorter, more compact songs. The record was an incredible success, a number 1 hit in the USA and number 3 in the UK. The singles drawn from it were also hits, notably his US number 1 with Bob Marley’s ‘I Shot The Sheriff’. Also included was the autobiographical message to himself, ‘Give Me Strength’, and the beautifully mantric ‘Let It Flow’. Clapton ended 1974 on a high note; not only had he returned from the grave, but he had finally succeeded in winning the heart of Pattie Harrison. During 1975 he maintained his drug-free existence, although he became dependent on alcohol. He appeared as the Preacher in Ken Russell’s film of Pete Townshend’s rock opera Tommy, and had further hits with There’s One In Every Crowd and the live E.C. Was Here. Both albums maintained his reputation, and following their release Clapton continued to grow in stature. During 1977 and 1978 he released two more major albums, Slowhand and Backless. Further singles success came with the gentle ‘Lay Down Sally’ (co-written with Marcella Detroit, later of Shakespears Sister) and ‘Promises’, while other notable tracks were ‘Wonderful Tonight’, J.J. Cale’s ‘Cocaine’, and John Martyn’s ‘May You Never’. Clapton had completely shrugged off his guitar hero persona and had now become an assured vocalist and songwriter, who, by chance, played guitar. A whole new audience, many of whom had never heard of the Yardbirds or Cream, saw Clapton as a wholesome, healthy individual with few vices, and no cobwebs in his attic. Clapton found additional time to play at the Band’s historic The Last Waltz concert.

The 80s were kinder to Clapton, with every album selling in vast quantities and being critically well received. Another Ticket and Money And Cigarettes, which featured Ry Cooder, were particularly successful at the beginning of the decade. Behind The Sun benefited from the firm production hand of Clapton’s close friend Phil Collins. Collins played drums on his next album, August, which showed no sign of tiredness or lack of ideas. This particularly strong album contained the excellent hit ‘Behind The Mask’, an exciting duet with Tina Turner on ‘Tearing Us Apart’, and the Richard Manuel tribute ‘Holy Mother’. Throughout the record Clapton’s voice was in particularly fine form. Journeyman in 1989 went one better; not only were his voice and songs creditable but ‘Slowhand’ had rediscovered the guitar. The album contains some of his finest playing and, not surprisingly, it was a major success.

In the 90s Clapton’s career went from strength to strength, although the tragic death of his son Connor in 1991 halted his career for some months. In December of the same year he toured Japan with George Harrison, giving Harrison the moral support that he had received more than a decade earlier. Unplugged in 1992 became one of Clapton’s most successful albums (US sales alone were 10 million copies by 1996). On this he demonstrated his blues roots, playing acoustically in relaxed circumstances with his band (including Andy Fairweather-Low), and oozing supreme confidence. The poignant ‘Tears In Heaven’, about the death of his son, was a major hit worldwide. Released in 1994, From The Cradle was a worthy collection, bringing Clapton full circle in producing an electric blues album. Those guitar buffs who mourned his departure from Mayall and despaired when Cream called it a day could rejoice once again: ‘God’ had returned.

Clapton has enjoyed a high profile in recent years with his touring, television documentaries, numerous biographies, and an annual season of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall. His 24 nights there in 1991 represented a record - such is his popularity that he could fill the Albert Hall every night for a year. As a final bonus for his many fans he played three kinds of concerts, dividing the season with a series of blues nights, orchestral nights and regular nights. In 1998, Clapton parted company with his long-time manager Roger Forrester and aimed to spend more time working with Crossroads, the drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre he founded in Antigua. The auction sale of over 100 of his personal guitars raised money for this establishment.

Clapton’s last studio album of the 90s, Pilgrim, was a long time coming, giving rise to doubts about what he would do next and in which direction, blues or AOR. He fooled everyone by releasing a great soul-influenced album, sounding more like Curtis Mayfield than anybody else. Having already earned the title as the greatest white blues guitarist of our time, on this release Clapton seemed to be working on his voice and his songwriting. Returning to his first love affair, the blues, his wonderful collaboration with B.B. King, 2000’s Riding With The King, was an artistic and commercial success. The following year’s Reptile built upon the soulful direction taken on Pilgrim. While guitar aficionados might have been disappointed, those monitoring Clapton’s ‘new improved voice’ were impressed, notably with the slick cover version of James Taylor’s ‘Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight’. In marked contrast, 2004’s Me And Mr Johnson featured Clapton interpreting 14 songs by one of his musical idols, bluesman Robert Johnson. The following year’s Back Home was a celebration of contentment and family life. It strongly indicated that a former troubled soul is finally at peace with his world.

Clapton has contributed to numerous artists’ albums over many years, including Marc Benno, Gary Brooker, Joe Cocker, Roger Daltrey, Jesse ‘Ed’ Davis, Dr. John, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, Rick Danko, Champion Jack Dupree, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Freddie King, Alexis Korner, Ronnie Laine, Jackie Lomax, Christine McVie, the Mothers Of Invention, the Plastic Ono Band, Otis Spann, Vivian Stanshall, Stephen Stills, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Doris Troy, Roger Waters, John Martyn, Phil Collins, Duane Allman, and many, many more. Clapton was rewarded for his services to music when he was awarded a CBE in the 2004 New Year’s Honours list.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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