Eric Patrick Clapton, CBE (born March 30, 1945), nicknamed "Slowhand", is a Grammy Award winning British guitarist, singer and composer, who became one of the most respected and influential musicians of the rock-era, garnering an unprecedented three inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Although Clapton's musical style has varied throughout his career, it has always remained rooted in the blues. Clapton is credited as an innovator in several phases of his career, which have included blues-rock (with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and The Yardbirds) and hard rock (with Cream). Clapton has also achieved great chart success in genres ranging from delta blues (the tribute to Robert Johnson with Me and Mr. Johnson album), psychedelic rock ("Sunshine of Your Love"), pop ("Change the World") and reggae ("I Shot the Sheriff").
Clapton is currently on his 2006 world tour with good friend and longtime tourmate, Robert Cray as his supporting act.
Clapton's Early Days
Eric Clapton was born in Ripley, Surrey, England, UK as the illegitimate son of 16-year-old Patricia Molly Clapton and Edward Walter Fryer, a 24-year-old Canadian soldier. Fryer shipped off to war prior to Clapton's birth and then returned to Canada.
Clapton 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 Clapton was 9 years old he discovered this family secret, and the experience became a defining moment in his life.
Clapton grew up a self-confessed "nasty kid." During his secondary school years he attended the Hollyfield School in Surbiton. His first job was as a postman. Influenced by the blues from an early age, at age 13 Clapton received an acoustic guitar for his birthday, but he found learning the instrument so difficult he nearly gave up. After high school, Clapton studied stained-glass design at Kingston Art School but was later kicked out for lack of progress in his studies. Clapton joined his first band at 17 and stayed with this band - the early British R&B outfit The Roosters - from January through to August 1963. Clapton did a seven-gig stint with Casey Jones and the Engineers, in September 1963.
The Yardbirds & John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers
An example of the famous "Clapton is God" graffiti crazeClapton joined The Yardbirds, a blues-influenced rock and roll band in 1963 and stayed with them until March 1965. Synthesising influences from Chicago blues and leading blues guitarists such as Freddie King and B.B. King, Clapton forged a distinctive style and rapidly became one of the most talked-about guitarists in the British music scene. The band initially played covers of Chess/Checker/Vee-Jay blues numbers and began to attract a large cult following when they took over the Rolling Stones' residency at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond. They toured England with American bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson; a joint LP, recorded in December 1963, was issued belatedly under both their names in 1965. In March 1965, just as Clapton left the band, the Yardbirds had their first major hit, on which Clapton played guitar: "For Your Love."
Still obstinately dedicated to blues music, Clapton took strong exception to the Yardbirds' new pop-oriented direction, partly because "For Your Love" had been written by pop songwriter-for-hire Graham Gouldman, who had also written hits for teen pop outfit Herman's Hermits and harmony pop band The Hollies. Clapton 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 (although Page would also eventually join the band).
Having quit the Yardbirds in March, Clapton joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers in April 1965. His passionate playing in nightclubs -- and on the immensely influential album, Blues Breakers -- established Clapton's name worldwide as blues guitarist. With his 1960 Gibson Les Paul Standard guitar and Marshall amplifier, Clapton's playing by then had inspired a craze of graffiti that deified him with the famous slogan "Clapton is God."
Album cover to Fresh CreamClapton left the Bluesbreakers in mid-1966 (to be replaced by Peter Green) and then formed Cream, one of the earliest examples of a supergroup. Cream was also one of the earliest "power trios", with Jack Bruce (also of Manfred Mann and the Graham Bond Organisation) and Ginger Baker (another member of the GBO). During his time with Cream, Clapton began to develop as a singer and songwriter, as well as guitarist, though Bruce, one of rock's most powerful singers, took most of the lead vocals and wrote the majority of the material with lyricist Pete Brown. Debuting at the Windsor Jazz and Blues Festival, Cream established an enduring legend on the high-volume blues jamming and extended solos of their live shows, while their studio work was more sophisticated and original rock.
In early 1967, Clapton's status as Britain's top guitarist was shaken by the arrival of Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix attended a performance of the newly-formed Cream at the Central London Polytechnic on October 1, 1966, during which Hendrix sat in on a shattering double-timed version of "Killing Floor". Clapton realized that he had a new competitor, whose dazzling showmanship outshined some pretty good guitar skills. Hendrix's early club performances were avidly attended by top UK stars including Clapton, Pete Townshend, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles. Hendrix's arrival had an immediate and major effect on the next phase of Clapton's career, although Clapton continued to be recognized in music polls as the premier guitarist.
Cream's repertoire varied from pop soul ("I Feel Free") to lengthy blues-based instrumental jams ("Spoonful") and featured Clapton's searing guitar lines, Bruce's soaring vocals and prominent, fluid bass playing, and Baker's powerful, polyrhythmic jazz-influenced drumming.
In a mere three years Cream had immense commercial success, selling 15 million records and playing to standing-room only crowds throughout the U.S. and Europe. They redefined the instrumentalist's role in rock and were one the first bands to emphasize musical virtuosity, skill and flash. Their U.S. hit singles include "Sunshine Of Your Love" (#5, 1968), "White Room" (#6, 1968) and "Crossroads" (#28, 1969) - a live cover version of Robert Johnson's "Cross Road Blues".
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 short-lived. The legendary in-fighting 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 U.S. tour, which affected Clapton profoundly. By this time he had also fallen deeply under the spell of the music of The Band after they had released the album Music From Big Pink and began to believe that rock music was heading in a new direction. He was so infatuated with them that he even asked to join them, but was turned down.
The valedictory Goodbye album featured live performances recorded live at The Forum, Los Angeles, October 19, 1968, and it was released shortly after Cream disbanded in 1968, and also featured the studio single "Badge", co-written by Clapton and George Harrison, whom he had met and become friends with after the Beatles had shared a bill with the Clapton-era Yardbirds at the London Palladium. (The chorus of "Badge" served as the basis for Harrison's later Beatles composition, "Here Comes the Sun", which Harrison reportedly composed in Clapton's back garden.) The close friendship between Clapton and Harrison also resulted in Clapton playing on Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the Beatles' White Album - according to some, a tactic intended to make the other Beatles take Harrison's song more seriously, but whatever the truth, by all accounts the presence of an outsider, especially of Clapton's calibre, had the effect of bringing harmony to the irritable band (in January 1969, during the making of what would become the Let It Be album, Harrison walked out after an argument and in his absence - fearing Harrison had gone for good and concerned that the album could not be completed - John Lennon proposed that Harrison be replaced by Clapton.) In the same year of release as the White Album, Harrison released his solo debut Wonderwall Music which became the first of many Harrison solo records to feature Clapton on guitar, who would go largely uncredited due to contractual restraints. The pair would often play live together as each other's guests, right up until Harrison's death in 2001 and the following tribute concert in his name, for which Clapton was one of the main performers and organizers.
Since their 1968 breakup, Cream briefly reunited in 1993 to perform at the ceremony inducting them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A full-scale reunion of the legendary trio took place in May 2005, with Clapton, Bruce and Baker playing 4 sold-out concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall (the scene of their 1968 farewell shows) and 3 more at New York's Madison Square Garden that October. Recordings from the London shows were released on CD and DVD in September 2005.
Blind Faith & Delaney and Bonnie and Friends
A desultory spell in a second supergroup, the shortlived Blind Faith (1969), which was composed of Cream drummer Baker, Steve Winwood of Traffic and Ric Grech of Family, resulted in one LP and one arena-circuit tour. The supergroup debuted before 100,000 fans in London's Hyde Park on June 7, 1969, and began a sold-out American tour in July before its one and only album had been released. The LP Blind Faith (album) was recorded in such haste that side two consisted of just two songs, one of them a 15 minute jam entitled "Do What You Like". Nevertheless, Blind Faith did include two classics: Winwood's "Can't Find My Way Home" and Clapton's "Presence of the Lord". The album's jacket image of a prepubescent girl was deemed controversial in the U.S. and was replaced by a photograph of the band. Blind Faith dissolved after only a year together, and while Winwood went on to a highly successful solo career, by now Clapton was tired of both the spotlight and the hype that had surrounded Cream and Blind Faith, and wanted to make music that more closely resembled that of The Band.
Clapton decided to step into the background for a time, touring as a sideman with the American group Delaney and Bonnie and Friends. He moved to New York in late 1969 and worked with the band through early 1970. He became close friends with Delaney Bramlett, who encouraged him in his singing and writing which would show determined growth in his next effort.
Using the Bramletts' backing group and an all-star cast of session players including Leon Russell and Stephen Stills whose solo albums Clapton played on, he released his first solo album in 1970 fittingly named Eric Clapton, which included the Bramlett composition "Bottle Of Red Wine" and one of Clapton's best songs from this period, "Let It Rain". It also yielded an unexpected U.S. #18 hit, the J.J. Cale cover "After Midnight".
Clapton's "between-bands" period from 1969 to 1970 also saw him appear on a large number of other artists' records, ranging from George Harrison's All Things Must Pass (for contractual reasons, Clapton's contributions went uncredited for decades) to The Plastic Ono Band's Sometime in New York City and Dr John's Sun Moon and Herbs.
Derek and the Dominos
Taking over Delaney & Bonnie's rhythm section — Bobby Whitlock (keyboards, vocals), Carl Radle (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums) — Clapton 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, derived from an announcer's mispronunciation of the group's provisional name - "Eric & The Dynamos" - at their first concert appearance.
Clapton's close friendship with George Harrison had brought him into contact with Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd-Harrison, with whom he fell deeply in love. When she turned him down, Clapton's unrequited affections prompted most of the material for the Dominos' album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, most notably the hit single "Layla", inspired by the Persian classical poet Nizami Ganjavi's "The Story of Layla and Majnun", a copy of which a friend had given him; Clapton found a strong similarity between the situation of Layla and Majnun and the one between him and Boyd-Harrison.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs is considered Clapton’s masterpieceWorking at Criteria Studios in Miami with legendary Atlantic Records producer Tom Dowd, the band recorded a brilliant double-album which is now widely regarded as Clapton's masterpiece. 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 elegiac 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 — who previously knew each other only by reputation — met backstage after the show, and then both bands retired 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, and Allman was immediately 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 his powerful, soul-influenced voice.
Tragedy dogged the group throughout its brief career. During the sessions, Clapton was devastated by news of the death of Jimi Hendrix; eight days previously the band had cut a blistering version of "Little Wing" as a tribute to him which was added to the album. One year later, on the eve of the group's first American tour, Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident. Adding to Clapton's woes, the Layla album received only lukewarm reviews on release; he later commented that the album's initial poor reception had angered and disillusioned him, as he had (perhaps naively) expected it to be assessed on its merits rather than his involvement.
The shattered group undertook a US tour. Despite Clapton's later admission that the tour took place amidst a veritable blizzard of drugs and alcohol, it resulted in the surprisingly strong live double album In Concert. But Derek and the Dominos disintegrated messily in London just as they commenced recording for their second LP. Although Radle would be Clapton's main bass player until the summer of 1979 (Radle died in May 1979 due to alcohol and narcotics), the split between Clapton and Whitlock was apparently a bitter one, and it took until 2003 before they worked together again (Clapton guested on Whitlock's appearence on the Later with Jools Holland show, playing and singing Bell Bottom Blues, available on a "Later with Jools" DVD). 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 14 years to life imprisonment. He was moved to a mental institution after several years, where he remains today.
Full Throttle Solo Career
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 (where he passed out on stage, was revived, and continued the show). In 1973, the "Rainbow Concert" was organized 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 deciding to shave off his real beard after the initial takes.
Now partnered with Boyd-Harrison (they would not actually marry until 1979) and free of heroin (although starting to drink heavily), 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 Shakespear's Sister). With this band Clapton recorded 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974), an album with the emphasis on songs rather than musicianship; the 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. The band toured the world and subsequently released the 1975 live LP, E.C. Was Here.
The 1975 album There's One In Every Crowd continued the trend of 461. 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. (Clapton's own original cover artwork, a (self-)portrait of a miserable-looking character with a pint glass, was also replaced by a photograph of Clapton's dog Jeep, apparently with its muzzle on a coffin.)
Clapton 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; highlights of the era include No Reason to Cry, whose collaborators included Bob Dylan and Robbie Robertson, and Slowhand, which featured "Wonderful Tonight", another song inspired by Pattie Boyd-Harrison, and a second J.J. Cale cover, "Cocaine", which has since become a rock staple.
In 1976, Clapton was the centre of controversy and accusations of racism, when he spoke out against increasing immigration during a concert in Birmingham. He commented that England had "...become overcrowded...that England sells itself as the "land of milk and honey" only to turn around and stick it's invited immigrants into low paying labour jobs, living in substandard conditions..." and implored the crowd to vote for Enoch Powell. These comments (along with equally ill-advised remarks by David Bowie) led to the creation of the Rock Against Racism movement in the UK.
Despite his controversial stance, Clapton has not made any notable effort to distance himself from the remarks and has denied there was any contradiction between his political views and his career based on an essentially black musical form. He does not retract the sentiment for his comments, and has recently repeated them in an interview for UNCUT magazine in 2004.
Eric Clapton's Antigua Residence, as seen from Shirley HeightsThe 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.
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, and in 2005 they performed together for the Tsunami Relief Fund and on May 20, 2006 performed with Waters at the Highclere Castle playing two set pieces of 'Wish You Were Here' and 'Comfortably Numb'.
As Clapton came back 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.
August, a polished release suffused with Collins's trademark drum/horn sound, became Clapton's biggest seller in the UK to date and matched his highest chart position, number 3. The album's first track, the hit "It's In The Way That You Use It", was also featured in the Tom Cruise-Paul Newman movie The Color of Money The horn-peppered "Run" echoed Collins' "Sussudio" and rest of the the producer's Genesis/solo output, while "Tearing Us Apart" (with Tina Turner) and the bitter "Miss You" echoed Clapton at his angry best.
The period kicked off Clapton's extensive two-year period of touring with Collins and their August collaborates, bassist Nathan East and keyboard player/songwriter Greg Phillinganes. Despite his own earlier battles with the bottle, Clapton also remade "After Midnight" as a single and a promotional track for the Michelob beer brand produced by Anheuser-Busch, which had also marketed earlier songs by Collins and Steve Winwood.
Clapton won more plaudits and a British Academy Television Award for his collaboration with Michael Kamen on the score for the critically-acclaimed 1985 BBC television thriller serial Edge of Darkness.
In 1989, Clapton's commercial and artistic resurgence finally came full circle with Journeyman, which featured songs in a wide range of styles from blues to jazz, soul and pop and collaborators including George Harrison and Robert Cray.
In 1985 Clapton, while still married to Pattie Boyd-Harrison, had started a relationship with Yvonne Khan Kelly; they had a daughter, Ruth, in the same year. Clapton did not publicly acknowledge his daughter's existence for several years (she eventually made a spoken-word appearance on his 1998 album Pilgrim and in 2001 was pictured in the Reptile album artwork). Clapton and Boyd-Harrison divorced in 1989 following his affair with Italian model Lory Del Santo, who gave birth to his son Conor in August 1986 (the month of his birth prompting the title of the album released that year).
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 at 11:00AM, Conor, who was four and a half, died when he fell from a 53rd-story window while jumping on his bed in his parents' New York City apartment, landing on the roof of an adjacent four-story building. 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.
Clapton's MTV Unplugged album included a former member of the Allman Brothers Band: keyboardist Chuck Leavell.
While Unplugged featured Clapton playing acoustic guitar, his 1994 album From The Cradle contains new versions of old blues standards highlighted by fine guitar playing.
Clapton 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" (featured in the soundtrack of the movie Phenomenon) won a Grammy award for song of the year in 1997, the same year he recorded Retail Therapy, an album of electronic music with Simon Climie under the pseudonym TDF.
In 1999 Clapton, then 54, met 25-year-old graphic artist Melia McEnery in Los Angeles while working on an album with B.B. King. They married in 2002 at St Mary Magdalen church in Clapton's birthplace, Ripley, and as of 2005 have three daughters, Julia Rose (2001), Ella May (2003), and Sophie (2005).
In November 2002 Clapton masterminded The Concert for George, a tribute to George Harrison at the Royal Albert Hall, featuring Sir Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty, amongst others.
The rights to Clapton's official memoirs, to be written by Christopher Simon Sykes and to be published in 2007, were reportedly sold at the 2005 Frankfurt Book Fair for USD $4 million.
Clapton initiated the revival of Cream, playing at London's Royal Albert Hall in May and New York's Madison Square Garden in October 2005.
In 2006 it was announced that Derek Trucks would join Clapton's band for his 2006 and 2007 tour. Trucks is the third member of the Allman Brothers Band to support Clapton.
On May 20th, 2006 he performed with a set band consisting of Queen band member Brian May and ex- Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, at the Highclere Castle. (Courtesy of Wikipedia)
Eric Clapton (1945- ) invented contemporary rock guitar by fusing electric Chicago blues with rock and roll. To learn more about this living rock legend, visit the web sites below, several of which include extensive Tab collections.