Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton

 Eric Clapton – circa 1970

“It’s late in the evening and I’ve got an aching head / So I give her the car keys and she helps me to bed” – ‘Wonderful Tonight’ (Eric Clapton)

“I am and always will be a blues guitarist,” says Eric Clapton early in his career.  The blues is a style of music born from pain.  It is created by American Negroes.  The roots of the blues may be traced back to the work-songs and spirituals sung by slave labourers brought from Africa to America.  It is a way to transform something ugly and hurtful into something that – if not always deserving of the description ‘beautiful’ – is at least more spiritually and aesthetically satisfying.  The blues as a genre is born in the 1930s during the economic hard times commonly referred to as ‘the great depression.’  Negroes displaced from farm work in rural areas drift toward urban centres like Chicago.  They sing story-songs of being flat broke or just broken-hearted.  It is a music born from pain.  Eric Clapton is not a Negro.  Eric Clapton is not American.  Eric Clapton is not even born until around ten to fifteen years after the blues is popularised as a style of music.  Yet Clapton asserts, “I am and always will be a blues guitarist.”  The blues is a music born of pain and, you see, Eric Clapton knows a thing or two about pain.

Eric Patrick Clapton is born on 30 March 1945 in Ripley, Surrey, England.  He is the child of Edward Walter Fryer (21 March 1920-15 May 1985) and Patricia Molly Clapton (7 January 1929-March 1999).  Edward Fryer comes from Quebec, Canada.  He runs away from home when he is 14 and earns a few dollars playing piano and singing in clubs.  With the advent of the Second World War, Fryer becomes a pilot in the Canadian armed forces.  He is stationed in England.  He meets 15 year old Patricia Clapton in a pub in Surrey one night.  Eric is born out of wedlock as a result of their tryst.  Edward Fryer is shipped off to combat prior to Eric’s birth and never knows the child.

After the war, Edward Fryer returns to Canada.  He becomes a lifelong drifter, earning a basic living as a musician, playing saxophone and piano.  Edward Fryer marries several times and has several children.  However it appears that he never knows he is the father of Eric Clapton.  If he is aware of his famous son, Fryer never mentions it to anyone.  Edward Fryer dies of leukaemia on 15 May 1985.

Patricia Clapton is only 16 when her son is born.  She is ill-prepared for motherhood.  Additionally there is the social stigma of her child being born out of wedlock and the baby’s father being nowhere to be seen.  It becomes a convenient fiction for her family to pass Eric off as her younger brother.  Accordingly, Eric is raised to believe his mother is actually his sister and his maternal grandmother, Rose Clapp, is his mother.  Eric grows up in the home of Rose Clapp, her second husband Jack Clapp (Patricia’s step-father) and Patricia’s brother, Adrian.  (Rose Clapp’s first husband was Reginald Cecil Clapton.  Occasionally in later years some mistakenly think the famous guitarist was born Eric Clapp and changed his surname to Clapton.  This is incorrect; he was always Eric Clapton.  The similarity in the surnames of his grandmother’s first and second husbands – Clapton and Clapp – is purely a coincidence.)

When Eric Clapton is only a few years old, his ‘sister’ Patricia Clapton – who is really his mother – marries Frank MacDonald.  Like Eric’s father, Edward Fryer, Frank MacDonald is a Canadian military man.  Patricia moves to Germany where her new spouse is posted.  Eric is left behind with his grandmother.  Frank and Patricia go on to have three children together: Brian MacDonald, Cheryl MacDonald and Heather MacDonald.  Patricia visits her parents once with Eric’s half-brother in tow, but she never asks for Eric to join her new family.  Eric Clapton does not learn of his true parentage until he is 9 years old.

As a boy, Eric Clapton is ‘scrawny [and] belligerent, with small, sad eyes and a downturned mouth.’  He has few friends.  Clapton later describes himself as “a loner” in his childhood.  “I didn’t really fit into sport or all kind of group activities as a kid,” he says.  With his grandparents, Eric attends the Church of England but notes that, “My searching took me away from church and community worship to the internal journey.”

Music becomes the pole-star of Eric Clapton.  “Even when I was 4 or 5, I was responding to music probably in ways other kids were not,” he says.  Clapton gets his first guitar as a birthday present when he is 13.  “The first guitar,” he reminisces, “I talked my grandparents into buying it for me.  I tried and tried but got nowhere with it.”  In frustration, Clapton puts the instrument aside for two years.  The teenager listens to the first generation of rock ‘n’ roll stars like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly.  A note on the sleeve of one of those recordings indicates that ‘rock ‘n’ roll has its roots in the blues.’  Consequently, Eric Clapton searches out recordings by blues artists and becomes a fan of such performers as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters and B.B. King.  Clapton testifies, “Well the first thing that rang in my head was black music.  All black records that were R & B [rhythm and blues] or blues oriented.”  He takes up the guitar again when he is 15 and this time makes progress and sticks with it.

Eric Clapton attends St. Bede’s Secondary Modern School, then Hollyfield School in Surbiton up to 1961.  By the time he is 16, Clapton is getting noticed as a guitarist.  He moves on to Kingston College of Art where he studies stained glass design.  Clapton busks on the streets of Kingston, Richmond and in London’s West End.  In 1962 Eric Clapton and David Brock play as a blues duo in pubs around Surrey.  In 1963 Clapton is ‘chucked out of Art College’ because his focus is more on music than art.

Eric Clapton is not the only British youth who has discovered not just rock ‘n’ roll but the music’s antecedents in the blues and the more dance-oriented rhythm and blues (R & B).  By 1963 The Beatles dominate the pop scene in the U.K.  They and the ‘Merseybeat’ bands that flow from The Beatles’ native Liverpool infuse their pop sound with cover versions of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll songs and U.S. R & B hits.  In London a number of British R & B clubs spring up.  The bands and patrons of these establishments fancy themselves as purists, disdaining pop elements in favour of straight R & B.  Since these are spotty, white Brits rather than African-Americans there are limits to just how ‘authentic’ they can be in copying their favourite obscure records.  Within the R & B scene, those who favour the blues – the forerunner of not only pop and rock ‘n’ roll but even R & B – are an even more rarefied group, the coolest of the cool.  Within this orthodoxy, there is a certain perverse distaste for anything that is even vaguely commercial because the masses cannot possibly appreciate true art; it is the domain of the aesthetic cognoscenti.  Blues musicians are an elite because they suffer for their art.  In the original U.S. formulation, that has a lot to do with the casual racism and societal oppression of African-Americans as an economic underclass.  In Great Britain…well, the growing numbers of teenagers and young adults coming out of the post-war ‘baby boom’ feel ‘oppressed’ by the ‘square’ adults of the conservative U.K.

Eric Clapton is 16 – going on 17 – when he joins The Roosters (January 1963-August 1963), a British rhythm and blues group.  The line-up is: Terry Brennan (vocals), Eric Clapton (guitar), Tom McGuinness (guitar), Ben Palmer (piano) and Robin Mason (drums).  They do not have a bass player.  Apparently, both Paul Jones and Brian Jones (no relation) also play with The Roosters.  Paul Jones and Tom McGuinness later work with British pop group Manfred Mann (where Jones sings and plays harmonica while McGuinness plays bass rather than guitar).  Guitarist Brian Jones is part of The Rolling Stones, another act that comes up through the British rhythm and blues scene, but goes on to more widespread success as a rock band.

For two weeks in October 1963, Eric Clapton ‘briefly compromises his mission’ of playing blues by joining Casey Jones And The Engineers.  Tom McGuinness from The Roosters is also part of this act.  Brian Cassar had previously fronted Cass & The Cassanovas, a Merseybeat group.  He now takes the role of ‘Casey Jones’ in this ‘commercial cover band’ who all wear matching uniforms and Confederate caps.  The line-up is: Brian Cassar (vocals), Eric Clapton (guitar), Tom MGuinness (guitar), Dave McCumisky (bass) and Ray Stock (drums).  Clapton justifies this experience because he is ‘hard up for funds’, but after touring with Casey Jones And The Engineers and playing seven gigs with them, he decides he has had enough and moves on.

In 1963 Eric Clapton dates British model Krissy Findlay.  She later marries Ron Wood, a guitarist best known for his work with The Rolling Stones.

The next step in Eric Clapton’s musical career is replacing Anthony ‘Top’ Topham as guitarist in British rhythm and blues act The Yardbirds.  It is with The Yardbirds that Eric Clapton first enters the recording studio.

Over the course of his career, the music Eric Clapton records is most commonly characterised as blues-rock.  Clapton’s dedication to the blues as an art form is already well established.  However, because of his age, nationality and ethnic background, Clapton can never really be a bluesman in the classic sense.  He is more of a rock musician with a love for the blues.  Even this is a needlessly limiting description.  In an almost chameleon-like manner, over the years Clapton’s recorded output encompasses material from a variety of additional sub genres including reggae, country and adult contemporary rock.

Eric Clapton is described as ‘Britain’s premier guitar hero’ and ‘the focal point of the cult that formed around the electric guitar.’  He is one of the most famous guitarists in rock history.  Yet, just as his style of music resists easy categorisation, so too is it difficult to describe Clapton’s playing and why it is so important.  The basic touchstone is, naturally, the blues.  A common tendency among blues guitarists is to ‘bend’ a note, distorting and blurring it.  Rather than playing ‘cleanly’, the tone wavers.  In the blues, this emulates a cry, a wail of pain.  Clapton comes from a generation of guitarists who achieve distortion not only through their fingertips or such mechanical aides as a ‘slide’ (a metal tube over a finger on the fretboard), but also through extreme volume.  Clapton predates heavy metal but his work (and that of his peers) arguably makes heavy metal possible.  Yet that is one genre he never really tackles.  By the time heavy metal flowers, Clapton drifts off to other areas.  Latter Clapton material is usually marked by a deft and light touch, usually sticking to the higher notes – except for the odd foray into more basic blues.

The songs recorded by Eric Clapton come from three different sources.  Some songs are cover versions of tracks first recorded by other artists; some songs are written for Clapton (and company) by other authors; and some are written (or co-written) by Eric Clapton.  “I wish I could write easily,” says Clapton.  “I’m one of those guys who is visited by the muse when things are dire.”  Here, all of Eric Clapton’s most famous songs – and some other significant ones as well – have their authors or original recordings cited.

Eric Clapton is a member of The Yardbirds from October 1963 to March 1965.  The Yardbirds is ‘a five-man band that plays electrified Chicago blues,’ though they are a British act.  The group’s name is inspired by the nickname of jazz saxophone player Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker.  When The Rolling Stones become too successful for their residency at the Crawdaddy Club, it is The Yardbirds who replace them at that venue.  During Eric Clapton’s time with the group, the members of The Yardbirds are: Keith Relf (vocals, harmonica), Eric Clapton (lead guitar), Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar), Paul Samwell-Smith (bass) and Jim McCarty (drums).

While Eric Clapton is in their line-up, The Yardbirds release three singles and four albums.  The singles are: ‘I Wish You Would’ backed with ‘A Certain Girl’ (May 1964); ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’ (UK no. 44) b/w ‘I Ain’t Got You’ (October 1964); and ‘For Your Love’ (UK no. 3, US no. 6) (March 1965).  The albums are: ‘Five Live Yardbirds’ (1964) (released 31 December); ‘For Your Love’ (1965) (US no. 96) (released 15 June); ‘Having A Rave-Up With The Yardbirds’ (1965) (US no. 53) (released 15 November); and ‘Sonny Boy Williamson And The Yardbirds’ (1965).  The last-named of these discs is actually the first album they record.  It captures a gig at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey, on 8 December 1963 when The Yardbirds act as the backing group for visiting U.S. bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson.  However it is not released until 1965.  As the name suggests, ‘Five Live Yardbirds’ is also a live recording.  ‘For Your Love’ and ‘Having A Rave-Up With The Yardbirds’ (both U.S. only albums) have minimal involvement from Clapton as may be deduced from their release dates being after his departure from the group.  (The latter ‘Rave-Up’ disc has live recordings on side two made before Eric’s exit.)

The Yardbirds’ sound is described as having guitars ‘amplified to the threshold of pain and pegged to storm-trooper percussion.’  ‘I Wish You Would’ and ‘I Ain’t Got You’ were both originally recorded in 1955 by Billy Boy Arnold.  ‘Smokestack Lightning’ (from ‘Five Live Yardbirds’ and ‘Having a Rave-Up With The Yardbirds’) was first committed to vinyl by bluesman Howlin’ Wolf in 1956.

Perhaps the most significant Yardbirds recording in relation to the saga of Eric Clapton is ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’.  When The Yardbirds’ singer Keith Relf is hospitalised with a collapsed lung, it is Eric Clapton who steps up to provide lead vocals for The Yardbirds’ second single, marking his debut on disc as a singer.  As guitarist, Clapton’s economic solo on this track chases a fat spark of electricity with verve.  Keith Relf is soon back on deck and Clapton’s ambitions, if any, as a vocalist are put on hold.  The original ‘Good Morning School Girl’ [without the ‘Little’] is a 1937 song by blues artist Sonny Boy Williamson.  Eric Clapton recalls that The Yardbirds were “working about every single night of the week.  Trouble was finding new material for a disc.  We remembered this ‘Good Morning Little School Girl’ from a rather obscure rhythm and blues artiste [a 1961 recording by the duo of Don And Bob] – a friend of ours had it on a long-player [i.e. an album], so we rushed in and recorded it.”

The Yardbirds meet Britain’s most popular group The Beatles when both bands share a bill for a performance at the London Palladium.  Eric Clapton remains friends with all four of The Beatles, but he is probably closest to the Beatles’ guitarist George Harrison.

It is during his time with The Yardbirds that Eric Clapton gains the nickname ‘Slowhand.’  The name is coined ‘because of audiences giving him a slow hand clap when he would replace guitar strings on stage.’  The tag is popularised by The Yardbirds’ manager and record producer, Giorgio Gomelsky.  Clapton says that, “he [Gomelsky] coined it as a good pun.  He kept saying I was a fast player, so he put together the slow hand clap phrase into Slowhand as a play on words.”

Why does Eric Clapton leave The Yardbirds?  The band’s third single, ‘For Your Love’, is written by Graham Gouldman (later a member of U.K. pop group 10cc).  This is a more pop-oriented tune than The Yardbirds’ previous output.  While vocalist Keith Relf and bassist Paul Samwell-Smith are keen to record ‘For Your Love’, ‘Clapton hates it so much that he only plays on the bluesy middle eight’ section of the song.  When The Yardbirds persist in going in a more pop direction, Clapton quits the band.

In retrospect, Eric Clapton says The Yardbirds “sounded pretty lame.  We just sounded young and white…We were falling short of the mark in some way.  This was not something I felt just about The Yardbirds, but about other [British rhythm and blues] bands that I admired, like Manfred Mann, The Moody Blues, and The Animals, all of whom were far better live than they were on recordings.”

The Yardbirds don’t exactly suffer in Eric Clapton’s absence.  He is replaced by Jeff Beck, another great guitarist.  In 1966 Beck in turn makes way for a third famed guitar-player, Jimmy Page.  When The Yardbirds finally disband in July 1968, Page creates Led Zeppelin – arguably the definitive heavy metal band – to meet The Yardbirds’ remaining touring commitments.

After leaving The Yardbirds in March 1965, the need to earn a wage sees Eric Clapton working as a day labourer on construction sites for several weeks.

From 1965 to 1968 Eric Clapton dates French model Charlotte Martin.

Eric Clapton is a member of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers from April 1965 to July 1966.  A vocalist, keyboardist and guitarist, John Mayall acts as a virtual mentor to many young talents in England.  The line-up of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in April 1965 is: John Mayall (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals), John McVie (bass) and Hughie Flint (drums).  John McVie is later a long-time member of Fleetwood Mac, a British blues act that crosses the Atlantic, adds some American members and becomes a more commercial rock group.  As the name implies, The Bluesbreakers are much more dedicated to pure blues music and less interested in commercial success than The Yardbirds.  This is a more conducive environment for the purist Clapton.  Make no mistake though, John Mayall is aware of both the ability and popularity of his latest charge.  As proof, consider the title of the only album Clapton records with this act: ‘Bluesbreakers With Eric Clapton’ (1966) (UK no. 6).  Released on 22 July, this disc contains one song co-written by Mayall and Clapton (‘Double-Crossing Time’), but most of the material is cover versions of blues classics.  The contents include Bukka White’s 1940 ‘Parchman Farm’ (though Mose Allison’s 1957 reworking of that piece is perhaps better known) and Ray Charles’ 1959 rhythm and blues hit ‘What’d I Say’.  For Clapton fans, the album’s highlight is probably the group’s version of Robert Johnson’s ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’, first recorded in 1937.  Although John Mayall handles lead vocals for the rest of the album, Clapton sings ‘Ramblin’ On My Mind’.  Mayall’s tickled piano is pitted against Clapton’s tightly twanged guitar in a very bluesy arrangement.

Bassist Jack Bruce fills in for John McVie in The Bluesbreakers from August 1965 to November 1965.

During his time with The Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton also participates in a couple of side-projects.

In 1965 Eric Clapton records a batch of instrumentals with session guitarist Jimmy Page (later of The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin).  The five Clapton & Page tracks are not released until 1968 when they are scattered across the Immediate Records’ multi-artist sets ‘Blues Anytime Vol. 1’ (1968), ‘Blues Anytime Vol. 2’ (1968) and ‘Blues Anytime Vol. 3’ (1968).  A list of the titles of these Clapton & Page instrumentals follows with the relevant volume number in parentheses after each title: ‘Tribute To Elmore’ (1) [as in blues guitarist Elmore James], ‘Draggin’ My Tail’ (2), ‘Freight Loader’ (2), ‘Choker’ (2) and ‘Miles Road’ (3).

In March 1966 Eric Clapton records with a short-lived gathering of some of his peers under the name of Powerhouse (sometimes rendered as Eric Clapton And Powerhouse).  The line-up of this act is: Steve Winwood (vocals), Eric Clapton (guitar), Paul Jones (harmonica), Ben Palmer (piano), Jack Bruce (bass) and Pete York (drums).  Steve Winwood and Pete York come from The Spencer Davis Group, Paul Jones from Manfred Mann, Ben Palmer had been in Clapton’s first band The Roosters, and Jack Bruce did a stint with The Bluesbreakers.  Powerhouse record three songs: ‘I Want To Know’, ‘Steppin’ Out’ and a version of Robert Johnson’s 1937 song ‘Crossroads’.  It should be noted that Steve Winwood sings ‘Crossroads’ and the instrumental break on Powerhouse’s version is filled by Paul Jones playing harmonica; Clapton plays strictly rhythm guitar.  The three Powerhouse tracks show up on the various artists set ‘What’s Shakin’’ (1966), released in June.

It is evidently during his time with The Bluesbreakers that Eric Clapton’s guitar prowess results in crowds shouting, “Give God a solo!”  The phrase ‘Clapton is God’ is daubed on walls – though the classic photo of that graffiti on the Islington Underground Railway Station is not taken until autumn 1967.  By one account, ‘Clapton was embarrassed.’  Yet, years later, when Eric Clapton is quizzed on the subject of being referred to as ‘God’, he responds, “I thought it was quite justified to be honest with you,” and laughs.  He adds, “I suppose I felt I deserved it for the amount of seriousness that I’d put into it.”

Eric Clapton’s ambitions lead him to exit from John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers to form a new group.

Eric Clapton is a member of Cream from July 1966 to November 1968.  The members of Cream are: Jack Bruce (vocals, bass), Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals) and Ginger Baker (drums).  Clapton worked with Bruce for a few months in John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers (August 1965 to November 1965) – as well as Powerhouse – and Ginger Baker occasionally sat in with The Bluesbreakers.  Actually, Bruce and Baker are better known for their stint in The Graham Bond Organisation (January 1963-August 1965).  Clapton’s vision is that Cream will be a blues trio, “like Buddy Guy with a rhythm section.”  Cream release four albums: ‘Fresh Cream’ (1966) (UK no. 6, US no. 39, AUS no. 10), ‘Disraeli Gears’ (1967) (UK no. 5, US no. 4, AUS no. 1), ‘Wheels Of Fire’ (1968) (UK no. 3, US no. 1, AUS no. 1) and ‘Goodbye’ (1969) (UK no. 1, US no. 2, AUS no. 6).  The group also scores with eight singles: 1966’s ‘Wrapping Paper’ (UK no. 34) and ‘I Feel Free’ (UK no. 11, US no. 53, AUS no. 116); 1967’s ‘Strange Brew’ (UK no. 17, US no. 23); 1968’s ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ (UK no. 25, US no. 18, AUS no. 5), ‘Anyone For Tennis’ (UK no. 40, US no. 64, AUS no. 64) and ‘White Room’ (UK no. 28, US no. 1, AUS no. 6); and 1969’s ‘Crossroads’ (US no. 45, AUS no. 28) and ‘Badge’ (UK no. 18, US no. 43, AUS no. 60).  Most of the songwriting in Cream is handled by Jack Bruce and lyricist Pete Brown.  Similarly, Jack Bruce is the dominant vocalist.  Cream also records a number of cover versions, mainly of old blues songs.  Eric Clapton does have some songwriting credits with Cream and performs some lead vocals.  Let’s examine the three Cream hits most relevant to the story of Eric Clapton.

‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ is released as a single in November 1967 and comes from the album ‘Disraeli Gears’ (1967).  The song is co-written by Jack Bruce, Pete Brown and Eric Clapton.  Bruce and Clapton share the lead vocal, swapping lines back and forth and singing together on the chorus.  A sparkling piece of psychedelia, ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ is a creeping guitar riff that explodes into a hollered chorus.  It ‘instinctively draws on the finest assets of the trio’ and is ‘a landmark in the emergence of the heavy rock riff.’  ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ nearly doesn’t make it to record because ‘the band has trouble nailing it…Recording engineer Tom Dowd suggests that [drummer Ginger] Baker try a Native American tribal beat, an adjustment that locks the song into place.’  Eric Clapton explains that the inspiration for ‘Sunshine Of Your Love’ is actually Jimi Hendrix.  An African-American guitarist, Hendrix achieves a career breakthrough while living in the U.K. before returning to his homeland.  Hendrix is Clapton’s nearest rival in the guitar hero stakes – and some would rank him above Clapton.  “He [Hendrix] played this gig that was blinding [on 29 January 1967 at the Saville Theatre in London],” recalls Clapton.  “I don’t think Jack [Bruce] had really taken him in before…and when he did see it that night, after the gig he went home and came up with the riff.  It was strictly a dedication to Jimi.  And then we wrote a song on top of it.”

‘Crossroads’ is released as a single in August 1968 and comes from the album ‘Wheels Of Fire’ (1968).  It is a cover version of a 1937 song by bluesman Robert Johnson.  Eric Clapton is lead vocalist on Cream’s version.  ‘Wheels Of Fire’ is a double album with one half recorded in the studio and one half recorded live.  ‘Crossroads’ is recorded live on 10 March 1968 at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, California, U.S.A.  ‘Clapton and Cream extensively rework the song’ from Johnson’s original.  In fact it contains elements of a second Robert Johnson song from 1937, ‘Traveling Riverside Blues’ (i.e. the “Going down to Rosedale” section).  Clapton first recorded ‘Crossroads’ with Powerhouse in 1966 – though Steve Winwood was the vocalist on that ‘slower, less urban’ version – but it subsequently became part of Cream’s repertoire.  Eric Clapton explains how ‘Crossroads’ catches his attention: “It [was] a question of finding something that had a riff, a form that could be interpreted, simply, in a band format.  In ‘Crossroads’ there was a very definite riff.  He [Robert Johnson] was playing it full-chorded with the slide as well.  I just took it on a single string or two strings and embellished it.  Out of all the songs it was the easiest one for me to see as a rock ‘n’ roll vehicle.”  ‘Crossroads’ is Eric Clapton’s finest moment as a guitar player.  He tackles the song with a volcanic frenzy that threatens to collapse into chaos.  ‘Crossroads’ is said to contain ‘one of the most blazing guitar solos ever recorded.’  Cream’s version of the song is ‘supernatural in its virtuosity.’  For those who have tried to decipher the mutterings at the end of this recording, bassist Jack Bruce directs the applauding audience to, “Eric Clapton, please.”  At the same moment, Clapton says, “Thank you.”  Realising he has spoken over Bruce, Clapton adds, “Kerfuffle” – a British expression indicating an error, a mess.

‘Badge’ is released as a single in February 1969 and comes from the album ‘Goodbye’ (1969).  The song is co-written by Eric Clapton and The Beatles’ George Harrison.  Clapton provides the lead vocal and Harrison plays rhythm guitar under the alias of L’Angelo Mysterioso (for contractual reasons).  Eric Clapton first met The Beatles when Clapton was still with The Yardbirds.  Clapton played the withering guitar breaks (uncredited) on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, a George Harrison song from ‘The Beatles’ (a.k.a. ‘The White Album’) released on 22 November 1968.  On 12 December 1968, Clapton backed another member of The Beatles, John Lennon, on a rare performance apart from the rest of The Beatles on The Rolling Stones’ ‘Rock & Roll Circus’.  The other players in that performance were Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richard on bass and Jimi Hendrix’s sideman Mitch Mitchell on drums.  ‘The Rock & Roll Circus’ was intended for television broadcast but The Rolling Stones decided to shelve the project.  Over the years, some of the footage leaks out, but the whole thing is not released until 1996.  ‘Badge’ is an interesting by-product of the friendship between Eric Clapton and George Harrison.  Its tight pop authority seems to stem from Harrison while the more expansive mid-section appears to be mainly Clapton’s work.  The song’s title, ‘Badge’, is nowhere in the lyrics.  It comes from George Harrison’s notation on the written music of ‘bridge’ – indicating the song’s bridge section – which Clapton misreads as ‘Badge’ and assumes that is his friend’s intended name for the piece.

From 1968 to 1973 Eric Clapton dates socialite Alice Ormsby-Gore, the daughter of a British ambassador.  Eric and Alice become engaged on 7 September 1969, but they never marry as the relationship falls apart.

Cream comes to an end with a farewell concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 26 November 1968.  The group’s final album, ‘Goodbye’, is released after their official dissolution.  In Eric Clapton’s words, what “was meant to be a blues trio” became “a jazz-rock group.”  ‘Drugs and alcohol escalated tension’ between the three members of Cream.  Clapton is tired ‘of the animosity within Cream, and tired of the long solos that are now obligatory rather than organic in a Cream performance.’  He finds solace in the debut album by The Band, the former backing group of folk rock star Bob Dylan.  They play music that fuses ‘rock, country, gospel and rhythm and blues.’  During Cream’s farewell tour, Clapton can’t wait to get back to the dressing room to listen to this sound.  “What I appreciated about The Band was that they were concerned with songs and singing…The guitar was put back into perspective as being accompaniment.  That suited me well.  Because I had gotten so tired of the virtuosity,” Eric later says.

Eric Clapton is a member of Blind Faith from February 1969 to January 1970.  ‘Confused about his future,’ Clapton is persuaded ‘in a moment of weakness’ to join what is, arguably, the first ‘supergroup.’  A supergroup is a band assembled from musicians who have achieved notoriety from their work with other bands, rather than a group of struggling friends who achieve fame together.  Some would contend that Cream (or even Powerhouse) is the first supergroup, but the reputations of the members of the appropriately named Blind Faith are probably more high profile.  The line-up of Blind Faith is: Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitar), Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals), Rick Grech (bass) and Ginger Baker (drums).  Steve Winwood worked with Clapton in 1966 in the short-lived Powerhouse, but is more famous for his time with The Spencer Davis Group (August 1963-April 1967) and Traffic (from April 1967).  Clapton and Baker come directly from Cream.  Rick Grech comes from U.K. rock group Family (1966-1969, though the group continues beyond those dates with other bassists).  The formation of Blind Faith is announced on 8 February 1969.  The group makes its live debut on 7 June 1969 at an open-air festival in London’s Hyde Park before an audience of one hundred thousand people.  The band’s only album, ‘Blind Faith’ (1969) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 2), is released in August.  The controversial photo on the album cover is a topless picture of 11 year old Mariora Goschen.  The photo was taken by Eric Clapton’s former roommate Bob Seidemann.  The disc contains only six songs.  The best known of these is a cover version of ‘Well All Right’, a song originally recorded by first generation rock ‘n’ roll star Buddy Holly in 1958.  Steve Winwood is the lead vocalist and Eric Clapton’s serpentine guitar figure on the track is beguiling.  Clapton writes only one song for Blind Faith, a piece called ‘Presence Of The Lord’.  On the face of it, ‘Presence Of The Lord’ – sung by Winwood – appears to be a rock gospel number offering heavy-footed religious comfort – though it pick up the tempo briefly in the mid-song wah-wah guitar section.  However, ‘Presence Of The Lord’ is allegedly ‘about find Hurtwood Edge, his [i.e. Clapton’s] estate in Chelsea.’  After the release of ‘Blind Faith’, the quartet undertakes an American tour described as ‘traumatic’ due to ‘major rows’ between the members of the group.  Blind Faith proves too combustible and breaks up within months of their formation.

One of the acts that opens shows for Blind Faith on their U.S. tour is blue-eyed soul duo Delaney And Bonnie.  This is the husband-and-wife team of Delaney Bramlett and his spouse Bonnie Bramlett (nee Lynn, but born Bonnie O’Farrell).  Delaney Bramlett is credited with turning Eric Clapton on to Christianity.  Two days after that, two devout Christians enter Eric Clapton’s backstage dressing room and ask if they can pray with him.  The guitarist once lauded with the phrase ‘Clapton is God’ consents and is surprised that ‘he suddenly feels better than he has in years.’  Clapton decides to show his new acquaintances a poster he has of Jimi Hendrix, Clapton’s guitar-slinging rival.  When he unfurls the poster, he is surprised to see another poster inside, a portrait of Jesus Christ.  Taking it as a sign, Clapton embraces and confirms his faith.

Eric Clapton takes time out from Blind Faith’s U.S. tour to back John Lennon (of The Beatles) in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival Concert on 13 September 1969 at Varsity Stadium, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Lennon’s backing group is called The Plastic Ono Band.  On this occasion, the line-up is: Eric Clapton (guitar), Klaus Voorman (bass) and Alan White (drums).  On 20 October 1969 John Lennon issues the single ‘Cold Turkey’ (UK no. 12, US no. 30, AUS no. 25).  Eric Clapton’s corrosive guitar lines on ‘Cold Turkey’ underscore the harrowing reality of the song’s theme of heroin withdrawal.  ‘Live Peace In Toronto’ (1969) (US no. 10), a concert recording of Lennon’s performance on 8 September, is released on 12 December.

Over the years, Eric Clapton plays many different brands of guitar.  Up to this point, he was probably best known for favouring a Gibson.  However, in 1969 Clapton begins using a Fender Stratocaster and this becomes the model most identified with the famed guitarist.  Clapton calls his trusty instrument ‘Blackie’ due to the main colour of the guitar’s body.

Delaney And Bonnie offer Eric Clapton a place on their U.K. tour.  Their backing group, Friends, play a homespun brand of music that appeals to Clapton in much the same way as The Band.  On stage with Delaney And Bonnie And Friends, Eric Clapton prefers to stick to the shadows as much as possible so as not to detract from his hosts and so he can better commune with the musicians.  Of course, he is far too recognisable for that tactic to be entirely successful.  Clapton’s friend George Harrison (from The Beatles) puts in some guest appearances too.  Delaney And Bonnie issue the live album ‘On Tour With Eric Clapton’ (1970) (UK no. 39, US no. 29) in March.  The material on this set was recorded on 7 December 1969 at Fairfield Halls, Croydon, England.  One song from this set, ‘Comin’ Home’, is co-written by Eric Clapton and Delaney and Bonnie but, otherwise, Clapton’s role is as low-key as possible.  Eric Clapton also tours the United States with Delaney And Bonnie from January 1970 to March 1970.

‘Eric Clapton’ (1970) (UK no. 14, US no. 13, AUS no. 7) is the debut solo album by the famed guitarist.  The disc is released by Polydor in August.  Delaney Bramlett (from Delaney And Bonnie) acts as producer on this album and many of the musicians Clapton worked with in Delaney And Bonnie And Friends appear on this album.  For the first time, Eric Clapton is the featured vocalist on a whole album.  Also a comparatively high number of the songs on this album are written or co-written by Clapton.  One of the exceptions is Eric Clapton’s first solo hit single, ‘After Midnight’ (US no. 18, AUS no. 51).  It was originally released as a single in 1966 by the song’s author, J.J. Cale.  It is producer Delaney Bramlett who introduces Clapton to Cale’s work.  In a way, Cale’s style of gruff vocals matched to laid-back guitar boogie serves as a template for many of Eric Clapton’s subsequent solo recordings.  Clapton gives ‘After Midnight’ an energetic work-out.  ‘Let It Rain’ (US no. 48, AUS no. 99) is co-written by Eric Clapton and Delaney And Bonnie.  Its ringing guitars give way to a gospel-like chorus.  Another notable track from this set is ‘Blues Power’, which Clapton co-writes with Leon Russell, a famed U.S. piano session-musician and friend of Delaney And Bonnie.  ‘From this time onwards, Clapton seems to be trying to live down his axe hero past.’

In 1970 Eric Clapton has an affair with Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend George Harrison.  As a young British model, she met Harrison during the making of The Beatles’ first feature film, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964).  Filming began in March 1964 and the movie was released on 6 July 1964.  George and Pattie married on 21 January 1966.  Pattie joined the Delaney And Bonnie tour in December 1969.  Subsequently, Pattie and Eric got involved, but she elects to return to George.  ‘Clapton is crushed.  He deserts religion and begins shooting heroin.’

Eric Clapton is a member of Derek And The Dominos from May 1970 to April 1971.  The line-up of the group is: Eric Clapton (vocals, guitar), Bobby Whitlock (keyboards, vocals), Carl Radle (bass) and Jim Gordon (drums).  Clapton’s three compatriots are all veterans of Delaney And Bonnie And Friends.  Initially, the band has a fifth member, British guitarist Dave Mason (who played in the group called Traffic alongside Steve Winwood).  Mason is with the band when they make their live debut in the U.K. on 14 June 1970.  Originally, the group is to be called Del And The Dynamos.  Tony Ashton, the keyboardist in the trio Ashton, Gardner And Dyke, used ‘Del’ as a nickname for Clapton.  Legend has it that an announcer garbled the name when introducing them on stage so Del And The Dynamos became Derek And The Dominos.  In fact, Clapton purposely chose the name of Derek And The Dominos ‘because he did not want his name and celebrity to get in the way of maintaining a “band” image.’  Derek And The Dominos cut a single, ‘Tell The Truth’, under the supervision of famed producer Phil Spector.  Dave Mason plays on ‘Tell The Truth’, but it is his last work with the group.  The ill-fated single is released in September 1970 only to be hastily withdrawn.  A rerecorded version of ‘Tell The Truth’ shows up on the group’s first (and only studio) album.

The recording sessions for the Derek And The Dominos album take place from 28 August 1970 to 2 October 1970.  During that period, on 18 September 1970 Jimi Hendrix dies.  Eric Clapton, already struggling with the weight of his own reputation as a guitarist, takes the death of his major competitor hard.  “I went out in the garden and cried all day because he’d left me behind.  Not because he’d gone, but because he hadn’t taken me with him,” says Eric Clapton.

Derek And The Dominos release ‘Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs’ (1970) (US no. 16, AUS no. 33) on 9 November.  The disc is issued by Polydor in the U.K. and Atco in the U.S.  The album is co-produced by Tom Dowd and Derek And The Dominos.  This album is Eric Clapton’s best work.  The album cover is a reproduction of ‘La Fille au Bouquet’, a painting by Emile Theodore Frandsen de Schomburg.  Clapton saw the painting in August 1970 at the home of Giorgio Gomelsky, The Yardbirds’ former manager and record producer.  Clapton was struck by the likeness of the stylised woman in the painting to Pattie Boyd.  This is important because the whole theme of the album is Clapton’s obsession with the wife of his friend George Harrison.  Another of Clapton’s friends, Ian Dallas, is in the process of converting to the Islamic faith.  It is Dallas who tells Clapton about ‘The Story of Layla and Majnun’, a tale dating back to the fifth century A.D. but later adapted by Nizami Ganjani, a poet from Persia (the land now known as Iran).  In the tale, a young man falls in love with Layla but her father forbids their marriage.  The young man goes crazy with desire.  In Nizami’s twelfth century version, a moon princess is married off by her father to a man she doesn’t love, resulting in Majnun’s madness.  The album is dedicated to ‘the wife of my best friend.’  ‘Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs’ is a double album containing fourteen tracks.  Five of these tunes are cover versions: Jimmy Cox’s 1929 blues ‘Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out’; a mammoth (9:40) version of ‘Key To The Highway’, first recorded by Charlie Segar in 1940 but the 1941 version by Big Bill Broonzy is perhaps better known; Freddie King’s 1961 song ‘Have You Ever Loved A Woman’; Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 song ‘Little Wing’ (as a tribute to the late guitarist); and ‘It’s Too Late’, a rhythm and blues piece from 1956 by Chuck Willis.  Most – but not all – of the original tracks on this album are co-written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, The Dominos’ keyboards player.  On this album there is an unofficial fifth member of Derek And The Dominos.  Producer Tom Dowd was also overseeing the recording sessions for ‘Idlewild South’ (1970) by U.S. southern rock band The Allman Brothers.  Duanne Allman dropped by to watch the recording sessions for ‘Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs’.  Clapton insisted, “Bring your guitar!  You got to play!”  In this manner, Duanne Allman becomes the group’s unofficial fifth member, effectively taking the place of Dave Mason from the original configuration.  Much of the album’s quality can be attributed to the guitar interplay between Eric Clapton and Duanne Allman, each challenging and inspiring one another.  Clapton describes Allman as the “musical brother I’d never had but wished I did.”  Duanne Allman plays lead or slide guitar on eleven of the album’s fourteen tracks (the three exceptions on which he does not appear are ‘I Looked Away’, ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and ‘Keep On Growing’).  The highlight of the album – and the best individual song of Eric Clapton’s career – is the title track, ‘Layla’ (US no. 51).  Originally written as a ballad, ‘Layla’ became a rock song ‘when [Duanne] Allman reportedly composed the song’s signature riff.’  If that’s true, Allman receives no credit.  The focus of the song is, of course, the narrator’s love for ‘Layla’: “Let’s make the best of the situation / Before I finally go insane / Please don’t say we’ll never find a way / Or tell me all my love’s in vain.”  Clapton then screams the name “Layla” in desperation.  Galvanising though the theme and lyrics may be, it is the guitarwork that really sells it.  The opening notes are one of the best riffs in rock history and strike the listener like a thunderbolt.  It then turns into a ferocious dogfight between Clapton and Duanne Allman, striking sparks on every pass.  Eric Clapton later muses, “’Layla’ is a difficult one, because it’s a difficult song to perform live…I’m very proud of it.  I love to hear it.  It’s almost not like me.  It’s like I’m listening to someone that I really like.  Derek And The Dominos was a band I really liked – and it’s almost like I wasn’t in that band.”  The full (7:05) version of ‘Layla’ is actually a song of two parts.  While Eric Clapton is the author of the first part, the extended piano coda is credited to The Dominos’ drummer, Jim Gordon.  However, according to The Dominos’ keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, Gordon actually ripped it off from the drummer’s ex-girlfriend, singer Rita Coolidge.  In any case, the oceanic serenity of the second part of ‘Layla’ throws the preceding fireworks into relief.  ‘Layla’ closes the last side of this double album.  (The song is rereleased a number of times.  The chart placings for those rereleases are as follows: 1972 (UK no. 7, US no. 10), 1982 (UK no. 4) and in 2007 (UK no. 113).)  Aside from ‘Layla’, the only other original song on ‘Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs’ not co-written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock is ‘I Am Yours’ on which Clapton shares credit with the Persian poet Nizami (i.e. Nizami Ganjavi).  Although the album as a whole is about Pattie Boyd, ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ (US no. 91) is said to be directly inspired by her.  It is a slow, soulful ache.  (It is reissued shortly after as a single, this time backed with ‘Little Wing’.  This edition of ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ (US no. 78) does better on the charts.)  Also present is the rerecorded version of the first single by Derek And The Dominos, ‘Tell The Truth’.  ‘Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs’ is ‘often regarded as Eric Clapton’s greatest musical achievement,’ but this is done in hindsight through historical perspective.  At the time, the album ‘falls on stony critical ground’ and ‘even more barren commercial pastures.’

Eric Clapton is one of the artists who appear on the Concerts for Bangla Desh organised by his friend George Harrison.  There are two charity performances – one at 2:30 p.m. and one at 8:00 p.m. – on 1 August 1971 at Madison Square Garden in New York.  Clapton passes out on stage, is revived, and finishes the show.  His conduct is attributed to the guitarist nursing an addiction to heroin.

If there is any thought given to adding Duanne Allman to the line-up of Derek And The Dominos, it is erased by Allman’s death in a motorcycle accident on 29 October 1971.  Derek And The Dominos undertake a U.S. tour in 1972.  It ‘takes place amidst a veritable blizzard of drugs and alcohol.’  ‘In Concert’ (1973) (UK no. 36, US no. 20, AUS no. 37) is a live double album by Derek And The Dominos released in January.  However it is not drawn from their 1972 U.S. tour; the performances come from promotional shows at the Fillmore East on 23-24 October 1970 (i.e. just before the release of ‘Layla’).  The songs on this disc include ‘Presence Of The Lord’, first recorded by Blind Faith, and songs like ‘Let It Rain’ and ‘Blues Power’ from the pre-Dominos solo album ‘Eric Clapton’.  Derek And The Dominos tape a second studio album but the band falls apart in the process.  Some songs from those sessions appear in later years on Clapton compilations and bootleg releases but the full album remains unreleased.

A trio of compilation albums are released: ‘The History Of Eric Clapton’ (1972) (UK no. 20, US no. 6) in March, ‘Eric Clapton At His Best’ (1972) (US no. 87) in September, and ‘Clapton’ (1973) (US no. 6).

Eric Clapton sinks into a ‘deep depression.’  His heart-rending love for Pattie Boyd, the deaths of Jimi Hendrix and Duanne Allman and the lack of public acceptance for ‘Layla’ and Derek And The Dominos all weigh on the guitarist.  Clapton hides away in his Surrey home, struggling with his heroin addiction.  It is Pete Townshend of British rock group The Who that finally drags Clapton back to life.  He arranges (and plays in) a comeback concert – with famous friends like Steve Winwood, Rick Grech, Ronnie Wood and Traffic’s Jim Capaldi – at London’s Rainbow Theatre on 13 January 1973.  This show is preserved on disc as ‘Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert’ (1973) (UK no. 19, US no. 18, AUS no. 51), released by RSO on 10 September.  “I felt very nervous, very sick, the whole bit,” admits Clapton, adding that the audience brought him through.  “They don’t know how much it helped me.”

There is still some distance to go in Eric Clapton’s journey back to making music.  In the winter of 1973-1974 he overcomes his heroin addiction after treatment by an electro-acupuncture therapist in London.  This is followed by a period in which Clapton works as a labourer on a friend’s farm in Wales.  Then, one day, Eric Clapton decides he is fit again.  He catches a train to London and tells his manager Robert Stigwood (of RSO Records – RSO = Robert Stigwood Organisation) that he is ready to record again.  Eric Clapton’s solo career is about to begin in earnest.

As a solo artist, Eric Clapton employs a number of different backing musicians over the years.  Here is a list of some of Clapton’s better known backing musicians: guitars – George Terry (1974-1978), Albert Lee (1978-1983, 1990, 2002); keyboards – Dick Sims (1974-1979), Chris Stainton (1979-1985, 1994, 1997-1998, 2002-2010, 2013, 2016), Gary Brooker (1979-1981, 2002), Greg Phillinganes (1985-1986, 1989, 1991); bass – Carl Radle (1970-1979), Dave Markee (1979-1982), Nathan East (1986, 1991-1992, 2002, 2015); drums – Jamie Oldaker (1974-1979, 1985), Henry Spinetti (1979, 1981, 1986, 1990, 2002, 2011, 2013), Steve Ferrone (1989, 1991-1992), Steve Gadd (1998, 2000-2002, 2004-2005, 2013); percussion – Sergio Pastora (1974, 1976), Ray Cooper (1981, 1990-1992, 2002); and backing vocals – Yvonne Elliman (1974-1977), Marcy Levy (a.k.a. Marcella Detroit) (1974-1978), Katie Kissoon (1986, 1989, 1991, 2002), Tessa Niles (1986, 1988-1992, 1999, 2002).

‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ (1974) (UK no. 3, US no. 1, AUS no. 2) is a new beginning.  Although this is Eric Clapton’s second solo album, it almost seems like his first, his true debut.  Released in July, it begins a series of Clapton solo albums for RSO Records.  The album is produced by Tom Dowd.  The album is named after the address in Golden Beach near Miami, Florida, in the U.S.A. where Clapton resides during the recording of this album.  (The owners of the property changed the street address after the release of the album to avoid over-zealous fans.  In later years, the house was rebuilt and the address restored to commemorate its importance in rock history.)  ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ is considered a ‘return to form’ for Eric Clapton, coming after three years of battling a heroin addiction.  The album encompasses rock, adult contemporary rock, blues and reggae.  The most famous song from this set is ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ (UK no. 9, US no. 1, AUS no. 11).  It becomes the only no. 1 single of Eric Clapton’s career, topping the U.S. singles chart on 14 September 1974.  ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ was originally recorded in 1973 by the song’s author, Bob Marley.  The Jamaican recording artist is the most popular act in the field of reggae, a loping Caribbean-inflected style of music.  Eric Clapton is initially reluctant to record a reggae song, but Miami guitarist George Terry and the rest of Clapton’s backing band convince him to do the track.  Purists may question the results, but Clapton’s version brings reggae to a wider audience.  Really, it is little different for a white Englishman like Clapton to be recording music identified with black Jamaicans (reggae) than it is for him to be recording music identified with black Americans (blues) – which Clapton has been doing for years.  ‘Willie And The Hand Jive’ (US no. 26) is a cover version of a song recorded by rhythm and blues artist Johnny Otis in 1958.  Clapton’s version slows down the tempo of the original to something close to a reggae rhythm.  The album’s other pseudo-reggae song is the original ‘Get Ready’.  This is co-written by Eric Clapton and backing vocalist Yvonne Elliman and is allegedly about her.  ‘Motherless Children’ is a traditional blues arranged by Eric Clapton and bassist Carl Radle.  Clapton’s guitarwork is particularly tasty on this propulsive track.  Perhaps, given his own odd parental circumstances, the lyrical theme also appealed to Clapton.  Two more blues standards are given a work-out on this album, Robert Johnson’s ‘Steady Rollin’ Man’ from 1937 and Elmore James’ ‘I Can’t Hold Out’ from 1960.  Tracks like ‘Give Me Strength’ and ‘Let It Grow’ – both composed by Eric Clapton – seem quite personal.  In the latter, the guitarist finds himself “Standing at the crossroads / Trying to read the signs,” before gently making the realisation that, “Love is lovely / Let it grow.”  The hushed, devotional tone is no accident because Clapton has returned to religion, confirming in an interview, “I still pray.”  ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ has ‘more compact songs and fewer guitar solos’ than Clapton fans may have expected.  For those disinclined to credit Derek And The Dominos’ ‘Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs’ as the best of Eric Clapton’s ‘solo’ albums (since it may be considered the work of a group), then ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ is submitted as an alternative nominee.

In 1974 Eric Clapton is romantically linked with Californian model Catherine James, but he soon has a different focus.

The marriage of George Harrison and Pattie Boyd comes to an end in 1974, though they don’t officially divorce until 1977.  In 1974 Pattie Boyd begins living with Eric Clapton.  The guitarist is finally united with the woman he adores and who inspired his best work.  Having kicked his heroin habit, it would seem that all is well for Clapton.  However the truth is that he begins to ‘gradually drink heavily,’ slipping towards alcohol dependency.  “Bad choices were my speciality,” Clapton later says ruefully.

Eric Clapton’s musical output subsequently can, at times, be frustrating for his own reluctance to maximise his talent.  He goes about ‘making effortless hit singles, a kind of laid-back but still vaguely bluesy romantic pop.’  His is a ‘fairly low-profile career, making relaxed down-home albums.’  ‘The persona Clapton establishes over the next decade [from ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’] is less that of a guitar hero than an arena rock star with a weakness for ballads.’

‘There’s One In Every Crowd’ (1975) (UK no. 15, US no. 21) is released in March.  This album is produced by Tom Dowd.  The album was originally going to be titled ‘The World’s Greatest Guitar Player (There’s One In Every Crowd)’ but, due to fears that the irony would be misunderstood, the shorter title was adopted.  This album offers a reading of the gospel standard ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ (UK no. 19) as testimony to Clapton’s faith.  ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ is an American Negro spiritual first recorded in 1909 by The Fisk Jubilee Singers.  A live album, ‘E.C. Was Here’ (1975) (UK no. 14, US no. 20, AUS no. 29), is issued in August.  Recorded in August 1975 and released later that year as a one-off single by Eric Clapton is ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ (UK no. 38).  This is a reggae-influenced interpretation of the 1973 song by folk rock icon Bob Dylan.  Clapton’s version later turns up on a number of compilations of the guitarist’s hits.

On 5 August 1976, during a concert in Birmingham in the U.K., Eric Clapton speaks out against increasing immigration to the U.K. saying there is a danger of it becoming a ‘black colony.’  It’s an extraordinary outburst from a musician who owes so much to black recording artists.  In October 1976 Clapton admits that ‘his rambling remarks that night were not appropriate.’

‘No Reason To Cry’ (1976) (UK no. 8, US no. 15) is released on 27 August.  This album is produced by Rob Fraboni.  The disc’s best known song is the warm country-rock track ‘Hello Old Friend’ (US no. 24, AUS no. 54).  Eric Clapton is the writer of this song.

On 25 November 1976, Eric Clapton participates in ‘The Last Waltz’, the final bow for The Band, the U.S. group Clapton has admired for years.  In the show, Eric Clapton performs a version of ‘Further On Up The Road’, a 1957 song by Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland.  ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978) (US no. 16), the concert recording featuring The Band and a number of famous guests, is not released until 7 April 1978.

‘Slowhand’ (1977) (UK no. 23, US no. 2) takes its title from Eric Clapton’s long-time nickname dating back to his days with The Yardbirds.  ‘Slowhand’ is produced by Glyn Johns and released on 25 November.  This set includes a trio of notable songs.  ‘Cocaine’ is a cover version of a 1976 J.J. Cale song.  Clapton previously recorded Cale’s ‘After Midnight’ on ‘Eric Clapton’ (1970).  The guitarwork here is simultaneously searing and relaxed, contradictory though that may seem.  Because of the drug reference, ‘Cocaine’ is removed from the Argentinian edition of ‘Slowhand’.  Reports have it that Eric Clapton is ‘drunk or stoned nearly all the time while recording’ this album.  Worrying overtones of his problems with alcohol are present in the lyrics for ‘Wonderful Tonight’ (US no. 16), a song written by Clapton.  Despite this, the languorous, bruised feel of the song presents Eric Clapton at his most romantic.  Doubtlessly, the “beautiful lady” who “brushes her long blonde hair” in this narrative is Pattie Boyd.  Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy provide the backing harmonies to Clapton’s husky and fragile lead vocal.  Eric wrote the song on 7 September 1976 while waiting for Pattie to get ready for Paul and Linda McCartney’s annual Buddy Holly party.  (MPL Communications, the company owned by ex-Beatle Paul McCartney, owns the copyright to the songs by 1950s rock star Buddy Holly.)  The pick of the bunch is ‘Lay Down Sally’ (UK no. 39, US no. 3, AUS no. 51), co-written by Eric Clapton, guitarist George Terry and backing singer Marcy Levy.  The famed guitarist works up a thin, wiry sound approximating the scratching of a barnyard chicken that is entirely appropriate for the song’s country-fried atmosphere.  ‘Lay Down Sally’ becomes a crossover country hit.  “It’s as close as I can get being English, but the band being a Tulsa band, they play like that naturally.  You couldn’t get them to do an English rock sound…It’s subtle,” claims Clapton.  Tulsa is a city in the U.S. State of Oklahoma.  Before joining Eric Clapton, Dick Sims (keyboards), Carl Radle (bass) and Jamie Oldaker (drums) were all in a group called The Tulsa County Band.  ‘Slowhand’ is Eric Clapton’s last original album for RSO.  It is also ‘one of his both commercially and musically most successful’ releases.

‘Backless’ (1978) (UK no. 18, US no. 8) is released by Polydor on 25 November, a year to the day after ‘Slowhand’.  Like that album, ‘Backless’ is produced by Glynn Johns.  ‘Watch Out For Lucy’ (US no. 40), written by Eric Clapton, is a down-home toe-tapper.  The highlight of the album may be ‘Promises’ (UK no. 37, US no. 9, AUS no. 26), co-written by Richard Feldman and Roger Linn.  Sharp lyrics are hidden within its easy-going melody: “I’ve got a problem / Can you relate? / I’ve got a woman / Calling love hate / We made a vow / We’d always be friends / How could we know that promises end?”  The prominent female backing vocals are by Marcy Levy.  Oddly, the high, keening guitar notes closely resemble the style favoured by Clapton’s long-time friend, George Harrison.  Improbably, their friendship survives the transfer of Pattie Boyd’s affections, though there were probably many awkward moments out of the public eye.  (When ‘Promises’ is released as a single, ‘Watch Out For Lucy’ is the B side.)  ‘Backless’ also contains Eric Clapton’s first recording of ‘Tulsa Time’.  Since a live version of this song becomes a hit in 1980, more will be said about this song at that point in Eric Clapton’s story.

Since her divorce from George Harrison was finalised in 1977, Pattie Boyd weds Eric Clapton on 27 March 1979.  The wedding takes place during a concert stop in Tucson, Arizona.  George Harrison is not bitter and attends the wedding of Eric and Pattie.  It probably helps that Harrison married his second wife, Olivia Arias, on 2 September 1978.  George and Pattie had no children and, though Eric and Pattie wish to become parents, over subsequent years they too remain childless.  Pattie only suffers miscarriages.  The couple even tries in vitro fertilisation (IVF) in 1984 to no avail.

Eric Clapton’s first album in the 1980s is the live recording ‘Just One Night’ (1980) (UK no. 3, US no. 2, AUS no. 22), issued in April.  This double album yields a hit single in the form of ‘Tulsa Time’ (US no. 30), a song Clapton first recorded on ‘Backless’ (1978).  The song is written by Danny Flowers and was originally recorded by country singer Don Williams in 1978.  Clapton’s take on ‘Tulsa Time’ has a bit too much rock muscle to be called a country song, but it is an energetic country-rock hybrid.

Eric Clapton’s ‘1980s output is kept well within safe, commercial boundaries.’

‘Another Ticket’ (1981) (UK no. 18, US no. 7) is released on 17 February.  Although the album’s title may suggest it is another live album, it is actually born in the recording studio.  ‘Another Ticket’ reunites Eric Clapton with producer Tom Dowd with whom he recorded such albums as ‘Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs’, ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ and ‘There’s One In Every Crowd’.  This album includes ‘I Can’t Stand It’ (US no. 10), a convincing, classy rocker, and ‘Another Ticket’ (US no. 78), a stately meditation on the passage of time.  Both of these songs are written by Eric Clapton.

On 14 March 1981 Eric Clapton is admitted to United Hospital in St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A., after ‘a serious attack of bleeding ulcers.’  Consequently, the musician has to cancel a sixty-date U.S. tour.  Clapton is released from hospital on 17 April 1981 only to be hospitalised again on 22 April 1981 in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A., after a car accident.  The damage is not too bad; Clapton lacerates a shin and bruises some ribs.

In January 1982 Eric Clapton checks into the Hazeldean Treatment Center in St.Paul, Minnesota, U.S.A., to address his alcoholism.  “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…,” says Clapton.

While Eric Clapton is indisposed, his old record label RSO issues the compilation album ‘Timepieces: The Best Of Eric Clapton’ (1982) (UK no. 20, US no. 101, AUS no. 28) on 19 May.  This is followed by its non-charting, less commercially successful, concert-recording cousin, ‘Timepieces Vol. II: Live In The Seventies’ (1983).

‘Money And Cigarettes’ (1983) (UK no. 13, US no. 16) is Eric Clapton’s first album for Warner Bros.  It is released on 17 February.  The disc is co-produced by Eric Clapton and Tom Dowd.  Clapton describes this as his “most forced” album.  He was still in recovery for alcoholism and perhaps checked himself out of treatment too early.  This album is home to the nostalgic single ‘I’ve Got A Rock ‘N’ Roll Heart’ (UK no. 53, US no. 18, AUS no. 81).  That song is co-written by Troy Seals, Eddie Setser and Steve Diamond.

Polydor issues the Eric Clapton compilation set ‘Backtrackin’’ (1984) (UK no. 29) in May.

In 1984 Eric Clapton begins recording his next album on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.  The recording takes place at AIR studios.  The manager of this recording studio is Yvonne Kelly.  Though both are married to other people at the time, Eric Clapton and Yvonne Kelly have an affair.  The result of this is the birth of Eric Clapton’s first child, Ruth Kelly Clapton (born January 1985).  The child’s existence is kept from the public until Ruth learns she is Clapton’s daughter in 1991.  Understandably, this episode drives a wedge between Eric Clapton and his wife, Pattie Boyd.  They separate in 1985.

‘Behind The Sun’ (1985) (UK no. 8, US no. 34) is the album recorded in those fateful sessions in Montserrat.  Released on 11 March, this album is co-produced by Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Ted Templeman and Lenny Waronker.  Co-producer Phil Collins is a fellow Brit.  Collins divides his time between being vocalist and drummer for art rock group Genesis and pursuing a solo career in which he courts the adult oriented rock audience.  Eric Clapton reinvents himself ‘by forsaking his guitar-guru past and following Phil Collins into the lucrative realm of the mature, Armani-suited pop balladeer.’  This version of Eric Clapton is ‘content to crank out craftsmanlike pop hits invested with virtually no personal stamp.’  The staccato guitar of ‘She’s Waiting’ is buttressed by synthesisers, a trademark of Clapton’s mid-1980s sound.  Clapton co-writes ‘She’s Waiting’ with Peter Robinson.  Phil Collins not only produces this song, he is one of two drummers on the track.  It is not a hit.  Clapton’s record label, Warner Bros, had some doubts about this album during its recording.  They felt it lacked singles.  Accordingly, they commissioned three songs from Texan composer Jerry Lynn Williams for the album.  Two of them become the other singles from this disc.  ‘Forever Man’ (UK no. 51, US no. 26, AUS no. 92) is not a piece of science-fiction, but rather a plea for eternal love: “Try to be my forever woman / I’ll try to be your forever man.”  This is matched to ladder-like synthesiser notes with Clapton’s guitar busting out for a solo or some occasional embellishment.  ‘See What Love Can Do’ (US no. 89) is a song of self-belief and hope enunciated over boxy Third World beats.

Eric Clapton appears at the all-star charity concert Live-Aid on 13 July 1985.  Performing in Philadelphia in the U.S.A., Clapton’s three-song set consists of Cream’s ‘White Room’, his own recent song ‘She’s Waiting’ and Derek And The Dominos’ ‘Layla’.  Phil Collins plays drums for Clapton at Live-Aid.

Separated from his wife Pattie Boyd, Eric Clapton seeks romance elsewhere.  In 1985 he dates Davina McCall who later becomes a presenter on U.K. television.  From 1985 to 1988 Eric Clapton has a relationship with Italian actress, model and television celebrity Lory Del Santo (born Loredana Del Santo).  During this time, Lory Del Santo falls pregnant.  According to her, on hearing this news Eric Clapton tries to commit suicide by hanging himself…but just passes out.  Eric and Lory have a son, Conor (21 August 1986-22 March 1991).  If Eric had any hopes of reconciling with Pattie Boyd, they disappear after the birth of Conor.  After several years of separation, Eric Clapton and Pattie Boyd officially divorce in 1988.

‘August’ (1986) (UK no. 3, US no. 37) is released on 24 November.  The album is co-produced by Eric Clapton, Phil Collins and Tom Dowd – though it is said to be ‘primarily produced by Phil Collins’, who also plays drums on the album.  ‘August’ is ‘suffused with Collins’ trademark drum and horn sound.’  It also turns out to be Eric Clapton’s biggest selling solo album in the U.K. up to this time.  ‘It’s In The Way That You Use It’ (UK no. 77, AUS no. 34) is a rough-hewn number with a swinging rhythm.  It is co-written by Eric Clapton and The Band’s Robbie Robertson.  The song is created for the soundtrack of the movie ‘The Color Of Money’ (1986), a film by Martin Scorsese.  The famous director is a friend of Robbie Robertson and directed The Band’s concert film ‘The Last Waltz’ (1978).  The practice of supplying songs to movie soundtracks is new for Eric Clapton but it is something he will continue to do for the next thirteen years.  ‘Tearing Us Apart’ (UK no. 56) is a duet with Tina Turner, the U.S. rock singer.  This rousing song is co-written by Eric Clapton and his keyboards-player, Greg Phillinganes.  The keyboards-heavy ‘Behind The Mask’ (UK no. 15) finds the narrator struggling to determine who the woman he is addressing loves.  Clapton’s bullish guitarwork threads through a prancing synthesiser keyboard figure in a mix of fire and ice.  ‘Behind The Mask’ has a complicated backstory.  The song is officially co-written by Chris Mosdell and Ryuichi Sakamoto and was originally recorded in 1979 by Sakamoto’s Yellow Magic Orchestra.  Greg Phillinganes, the keyboards-player currently working with Eric Clapton, suggested recording ‘Behind The Mask’.  Michael Jackson, the self-styled King of Pop, recorded a version of ‘Behind The Mask’ during the recording sessions for his album ‘Thriller’ (1982), but it didn’t make the final cut for that disc.  In the process, Jackson rewrote parts of the song so he is the third (uncredited) songwriter for the piece.  Greg Phillinganes did a version of the post-Michael Jackson edit of ‘Behind The Mask’ on the keyboardist’s solo album ‘Pulse’ (1985).

In 1987 Eric Clapton has another stint in rehab to deal with his recurring alcoholism.  Clapton’s wandering religious faith also resurfaces as he goes back to God as part of the recovery process.

The U.K. compilation album ‘The Cream Of Eric Clapton’ (1987) (UK no. 3, AUS no. 12) is released by Polydor in September.  As the title hints, this collection includes a clutch of Cream songs (and Derek And The Dominos’ ‘Layla’) as well as Clapton’s solo hits.  An even more comprehensive overview of Eric Clapton’s career is the four CD box set ‘Crossroads’ (1988) (US no. 34, AUS no. 68), issued in April.  This has space for selections from The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Blind Faith and Delaney And Bonnie as well.

‘Journeyman’ (1989) (UK no. 2, US no. 16, AUS no. 27), released on 7 November, is produced by Russ Titelman.  This is considered ‘a return to form for [Eric] Clapton, who had struggled with alcohol addiction in the mid-1980s and has recently found sobriety.’  Something appears to set a fire under the British guitarist because this is the best of Clapton’s latter-day releases.  This is largely due to the guitarwork.  For the first time in many years, Eric Clapton seems to be fulfilling his potential again, unleashing startling and inventive playing.  The first single is ‘Pretending’ (US no. 55), a Jerry Lynn Williams composition with soul and funk goddess Chaka Khan supplying backing vocals.  While the chorus is sugary, in the verses Clapton’s playing is both evocatively mysterious and threatening.  A wah-wah pedal is used to achieve some of the guitar effects.  Perhaps even better is ‘Bad Love’ (UK no. 25, US no. 88), a song co-written by Clapton and Foreigner’s Mick Jones.  Eric Clapton explains the origin of the song: “[My record label] Warner Brothers wanted another ‘Layla’…a fiery intro modulated into the first verse and chorus with a riff around it.  I had this stuff in my head, so I just juggled it around, and Mick Jones came in to help tidy it up…It took on a life of its own.”  While the earthy riff and desperate vocal recall ‘Layla’, this time Clapton is not drowning in emotion but surmounting the quagmire: “I’ve had enough / Bad love / I need something I can be / Proud of.”  Phil Collins supplies the authoritative drums on ‘Bad Love’ while Tessa Niles and Katie Kissoon provide strong backing vocals.  A powerful take on first generation rock star Bo Diddley’s 1958 song ‘Before You Accuse Me (Take A Look At Yourself)’ is also on this album.  The presence of additional guitarist Robert Cray, a young African-American bluesman who could conceivably see Clapton as a mentor, only enhances the song.  ‘Running On Faith’, a Jerry Lynn Williams song, is ambiguous enough to be interpreted as a religious affirmation or just a tribute to a more secular form of love.  ‘Journeyman’ is the veteran guitarist’s first solo album to achieve double platinum sales figures and is ‘one of Eric Clapton’s favourite albums.’

Having broken up with Lory Del Santo in 1988, in 1991 Eric Clapton dates Italian actress Valeria Golino.  Clapton still has some contact with Lory Del Santo because she is the mother of his son, Conor.  On 20 March 1991 the 4 ½ year old boy dies in a tragic accident.  Lory and Conor were staying on the fifty-third floor of a New York apartment owned by one of Lory’s friends.  A window had been removed by a janitor to let in fresh air while he worked.  Conor, while playing hide-and-seek with a nanny, falls out the window.  The boy dies instantly when he lands on the roof of an adjacent four-storey building.  Eric Clapton was not on the scene at the time, but arrived shortly after.  In his grief, Clapton loses his religious faith once again.

’24 Nights’ (1991) (UK no. 17, US no. 38, AUS no. 49) is a live album released on 8 October.  The performances on this set are drawn from Eric Clapton’s shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall in January-February 1990 and February-March 1991.  The music on this double album is divided into four sections: (1) songs recorded with a four-piece band; (2) blues songs; (3) songs recorded with a nine-piece band; and (4) songs recorded with an orchestra.  This novel presentation brings freshness to the project.

Eric Clapton convinces his friend George Harrison to join him for a concert tour of Japan.  Harrison has rarely played live since 1974 so the shows are primarily songs from Harrison’s solo career and Harrison’s days with The Beatles.  Clapton plays a short set of his own songs too, but he is mainly there as band leader for the backing group.  ‘Live In Japan’ (1992) (US no. 126), released on 13 July, is credited to ‘George Harrison with Eric Clapton and Band.’  The songs on this double album come from shows performed in the period 1 December 1991 to 17 December 1991.  None of Clapton’s songs are on the album; only the songs of George Harrison are on the disc.

On 7 January 1992 Eric Clapton releases the single ‘Tears In Heaven’ (UK no. 5, US no. 2, AUS no. 3).  It is ‘written about the pain and loss Clapton felt following the death of his 4 year old son, Conor.’  Clapton co-writes ‘Tears In Heaven’ with lyricist Will Jennings.  “Would you know my name / If I saw you in heaven?” asks Clapton in this acoustic lament.  He concludes that, “Beyond the door there’s peace I’m sure / And I know there’ll be no more tears in heaven.”  Such a theme could have been a mawkish embarrassment, but it sidesteps that outcome even if it has ‘no business being as effective as it is.’  ‘Tears In Heaven’ is included on the soundtrack of the movie ‘Rush’ (1991), a film about undercover police and the culture of drug addiction.  It is a bit ironic that someone with Clapton’s history of substance abuse is a contributor to this movie.  Clapton points out that ‘Tears In Heaven’ “is a little ambiguous because it could be taken to be about Conor but is also meant to be part of the film.”  ‘Tears In Heaven’ becomes one of Eric Clapton’s best-selling singles.  Clapton continues to perform with an acoustic – rather than electric – guitar for many songs in the next few years.

‘It’s Probably Me’ (UK no. 30, AUS no. 23) is a single released on 23 June 1992 that is co-credited to Sting with Eric Clapton.  Sting (formerly with The Police) does all the singing, but he is backed by Clapton’s acoustic guitar for most of the song – though there is an electric guitar solo and some later electric parts.  The song is co-written by Sting, Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen and comes from the soundtrack to the movie ‘Lethal Weapon 3’ (1992).

‘Unplugged’ (1992) (UK no. 2, US no. 1, AUS no. 1), released on 25 August, is the most obvious example of Eric Clapton’s acoustic approach around this time.  The U.S. cable television network MTV – known for playing music videos twenty-four hours a day – popularised a series of ‘unplugged’ concerts in which famed rock acts were asked to perform acoustic sets for the cameras.  Eric Clapton’s acoustic performance is recorded at Bray Film Studios in Windsor, England, on 16 January 1992.  Clapton is now seen to be wearing spectacles as well as playing an acoustic guitar.  This represents a considerable shift in his image.  From Clapton’s repertoire, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of an acoustic reimagining is ‘Layla (Unplugged)’ (US no. 12).  This becomes a surprisingly satisfying acoustic strut.  Also released as a single is a hushed reading of ‘Running On Faith’ (first heard on ‘Journeyman’), though it does not fare as well commercially.  An early version of ‘My Father’s Eyes’ is also played in these sessions.  This song is more fully developed in later years.  The ‘Unplugged’ album gets a sales boost from the inclusion of the single ‘Tears In Heaven’.

Cream (Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) briefly reunite in January 1993 to play at their induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

‘From The Cradle’ (1994) (UK no. 1, US no. 1, AUS no. 6), issued on 13 September, is co-produced by Eric Clapton and Russ Titelman.  The entire contents of this album are cover versions of blues songs – such as Muddy Waters’ 1954 ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ – played live in the recording studio.   The album is hailed as ‘surprising’ and a ‘renaissance.’

In 1994 it is announced that Eric Clapton will receive an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire) in the Queen’s 1995 New Year’s Honours List.

A U.S. version of ‘The Cream Of Eric Clapton’ (1995) (UK no. 52, US no. 80) is released on 7 March.  The track-listing varies a bit from its 1987 U.K. counterpart (e.g. it includes ‘Presence Of The Lord’ by Blind Faith and ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ by Derek And The Dominos).

‘Crossroads 2 – Live In The Seventies’ (1996) (UK no. 115, US no. 137), released on 2 April, is a compilation of live material.

On 5 July 1996 Eric Clapton releases the single ‘Change The World’ (UK no. 18, US no. 5, AUS no. 18).  In this song, an acoustic guitar-wielding Clapton is paired with the urban rhythm and blues grooves of producer Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds.  It is an unusual mixture but that might be part of why it works.  Over a slow strum, the British veteran intones, “I would be the sunlight in your universe / You will think my love was really something good / Baby, if I could, change the world.”  ‘Change The World’ is co-written by Gordon Scott Kennedy, Wayne Fitzpatrick and Tommy L. Sims.  It was recorded earlier in 1996 by country music singer Wynonna Judd – but that version was not released.  ‘Change The World’ is ‘one of Clapton’s best-selling singles.’  It is recorded for the soundtrack of the movie ‘Phenomenon’ (1996).

From 1996 to 1998 Eric Clapton is in a romantic relationship with Sheryl Crow, a fellow rock and pop vocalist.

Early in 1997 an album titled ‘Retail Therapy’ (1997) is released by an act called TDF.  This turns out to be a pseudonym for Eric Clapton and Simon Climie.  Clapton himself is billed under the assumed identity of ‘X-Sample.’  The reason for all this subterfuge is that this is ‘an album of electronic music,’ a genre not associated with Eric Clapton.  TDF disappear after this one-off experiment, though Clapton continues to work with Simon Climie.

Eric Clapton’s next album is ‘Pilgrim’ (1998) (UK no. 3, US no. 4, AUS no. 17), released on 10 March.  ‘Pilgrim’ is Clapton’s first work for Reprise – though this label is associated with Warner Bros, the guitarist’s previous label.  ‘Pilgrim’ is co-produced by Eric Clapton and Simon Climie.  The 1996 single ‘Change The World’ is included on this disc.  The best known songs from this album also display similarly gentle and reflective settings.  ‘My Father’s Eyes’ (UK no. 33, AUS no. 74) first appeared in an earlier form during the 1992 ‘Unplugged’ sessions.  It is written by Eric Clapton.  “’My Father’s Eyes’ is very personal,” he explains.  “I realised that the closest I ever came to looking in my father’s eyes was when I looked into my son’s eyes.”  Part of the lyric says, “As my soul slides down to die / How could I lose him? / Did I try? / Bit by bit, I’ve realised / That he was here with me; / I looked into my father’s eyes.”  Though very gentle, ‘My Father’s Eyes’ is almost sprightly in comparison to the slow, soulful and sombre ‘River Of Tears’, which Clapton co-writes with Simon Climie.  ‘River Of Tears’ is not released as a single.

In 1998 Eric Clapton (53 years old) meets Melia McEnery (22 years old) at a party in Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. after one of Clapton’s gigs.  Melia McEnery is an administrative assistant.  She and Clapton date in secret for a year before going public with their relationship in 1999.

In 1998 Eric Clapton establishes the Crossroads Centre on the Caribbean island of Antigua.  This is a facility to help rehabilitate people addicted to drugs or alcohol.

Eric Clapton creates the Crossroads Guitar Festival to act as a fund-raiser for his Crossroads Centre for rehabilitation.  The Crossroads Guitar Festival is held five times.  The first show is on 30 June 1999 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.  In 2004, the Festival takes place at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.  Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, hosts the Festival in both 2007 and 2010.  In 2013 the Crossroads Guitar Festival returns to its original venue, Madison Square Garden.

The single ‘Blue Eyes Blue’ (UK no. 94) is released on 20 July 1999.  This song sits comfortably amongst the mellow output common to this part of Eric Clapton’s career.  ‘Blues Eyes Blue’ is written by professional songwriter Dianne Warren and comes from the soundtrack for the movie ‘Runaway Bride’ (1999).  ‘Blue Eyes Blue’ appears to be the last single by Eric Clapton to reach the charts.

‘Blues’ (1999) (UK no. 52, US no. 52, AUS no. 38) is an Eric Clapton compilation album released by Polydor on 27 July.  As the name suggests, this collection concentrates on Clapton’s work in the genre of blues music.  ‘Clapton Chronicles: The Best Of Eric Clapton’ (1999) (UK no. 6, US no. 20, AUS no. 16) is released by Reprise on 12 October and focuses upon the hits from the latter part of Slowhand’s career.

The single ‘(I) Get Lost’ is issued on 23 November 1999.  Written and performed by Eric Clapton, this tune is still a mainly acoustic number.  It comes from the soundtrack of the movie ‘The Story Of Us’ (1999).  ‘(I) Get Lost’ seems to bring to an end Clapton’s lengthy habit of performing songs for films.

‘Riding With The King’ (2000) (UK no. 15, US no. 3, AUS no. 20), released on 13 June, is an album Eric Clapton records with noted blues guitarist B.B. King.

‘Reptile’ (2001) (UK no. 7, US no. 5, AUS no. 20) is co-produced by Eric Clapton and Simon Climie and released on 13 March.  The cover of this new Eric Clapton album does not portray any snake, lizard or crocodile; it is a boyhood photo of Eric Clapton.  The guitarist explains the album’s title this way: “’Reptile’…in Ripley, the village where I was born, that’s the way we refer to one another.  In the pubs, it’s like, ‘Here comes that reptile’…Reptile refers to my uncle, and it’s me as well.  Where I come from, the word ‘reptile’ is a term of endearment…It was coined by a guy called Charlie Cumberland, who’s not even from Ripley, he’s from Cumberland, but he’s one of the local lads…My uncle was Adrian, but his nickname was ‘Son’…”

Eric Clapton and his partner, Melia McEnery, have a daughter, Julie Rose (born 13 June 2001).  Guests are invited to a christening for the child when she is 6 months old.  Also being christened at the same time is Clapton’s eldest child, 16 year old Ruth.  To the surprise of those gathered, Eric Clapton and Melia McEnery then step forward and exchange marriage vows.  The date of the wedding is 1 January 2002.  The service is conducted by Reverend Christopher Elson at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Eric Clapton’s birthplace of Ripley.  Eric and Melia go on to have two more daughters, Ella May (born 14 January 2003) and Sophie (born 1 February 2005).

Eric Clapton’s next album is the live recording ‘One More Car, One More Rider’ (2002) (UK no. 69, US no. 43), released on 5 November.

Eric Clapton’s long-time friend George Harrison died from lung cancer on 29 November 2001.  On the first anniversary of his death – 29 November 2002 – the ex-Beatle’s widow Olivia organises the ‘Concert for George’, a musical tribute in which Harrison’s songs are performed by friends, colleagues and admirers.  Eric Clapton is co-musical director of the event alongside Jeff Lynne (who worked with George Harrison in the casual supergroup The Traveling Wilburys).  Other performers besides Clapton and Lynne include Paul McCartney (The Beatles), Ringo Starr (The Beatles) and Tom Petty (Traveling Wilburys).  The backing band for the show features many of Eric Clapton’s regular accompanists such as Albert Lee (guitar), Henry Spinetti (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion), Katie Kissoon (backing vocals) and Tessa Niles (backing vocals).  A CD of the ‘Concert For George’ (2003) (US no. 97) is issued on 17 November and a DVD of the show also comes out the same month.

Eric Clapton receives a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in the 2004 New Year’s Honours List.

On 29 January 2004 Eric Clapton sells his familiar Fender Stratocaster ‘Blackie’ at auction.  The sale of this item raises nine hundred and fifty-nine thousand dollars (U.S.) to benefit Clapton’s Crossroads Centre for drug and alcohol addictions.

‘Me And Mr Johnson’ (2004) (UK no. 10, US no. 6, AUS no. 23), released on 23 March, is a whole album of Eric Clapton’s interpretations of song originally recorded by blues artist Robert Johnson.  Later in the year, on 7 December, comes the companion album ‘Sessions For Robert J’ (2004) (US no. 172) with different recordings from the same project.

A full-scale reunion of Cream – Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker – takes place in May 2005.  This event is captured in Cream’s live album ‘Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005’ (2005) (UK no. 61, US no. 39).  Eric Clapton follows this with his own album, ‘Back Home’ (2005) (UK no. 19, US no. 13), released on 28 August.  The disc is co-produced by Eric Clapton and Simon Climie.  ‘The Road To Escondido’ (2005) (UK no. 50, US no. 23), issued on 7 November, is co-credited to Eric Clapton and J.J. Cale.  Clapton had previously recorded such J.J. Cale songs as ‘After Midnight’ and ‘Cocaine’ and now the pair records this album together.

As a youth Eric Clapton discovered his father’s name was Edward Fryer but he didn’t know much else about him.  Clapton was 53 when he found out his father was a pilot.  In 2007 Montreal journalist Michael Woloschuk presents Clapton with a more complete biographical picture of Edward Fryer.  The guitarist also pens his own story in ‘Clapton: The Autobiography’ (2007).

The compilation album ‘Complete Clapton’ (2007) (UK no. 2, US no. 14, AUS no. 38) is issued on 4 October by Reprise (in the U.S.) and Polydor (in the U.K.).

‘Live From Madison Square Garden – With Steve Winwood’ (2009) (UK no. 40, US no. 14) reunites Eric Clapton with his former colleague from Blind Faith.  The album is released on 19 May.

‘Clapton’ (2010) (UK no. 7, US no. 6, AUS no. 21) is Eric Clapton’s first album of new material since ‘Reptile’ (2001).  Released on 27 September, this set is co-produced by Eric Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley.

‘Icon’ (2011) (US no. 114), issued by Polydor on 5 April, is a compilation of Eric Clapton’s recordings.  ‘Play The Blues: Live From Jazz At Lincoln Center (With Winton Marsalis)’ (2011) (UK no. 40, US no. 31) pairs Clapton with the noted trumpet player.  It is released by Reprise/Rhino on 13 September.

In 2013 Eric Clapton is diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy, a condition which results in a burning, stabbing or tingling pain in the arms and legs.  This suggests that Clapton’s tour and concert appearances will need to be curtailed.

‘Old Sock’ (2013) (UK no. 13, US no. 7, AUS no. 22), released on 12 March, is ‘largely a collection of old songs the guitarist loved.’  The cover of the album is a ‘selfie’ snapped by Eric Clapton.  This set of ‘some of his favourite songs from childhood to the current day’ is Eric Clapton’s last new album for Reprise/Warner Bros.  The album is co-produced by Eric Clapton, Doyle Bramhall II, Justin Stanley and Simon Climie.

A live recording of the ‘Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013’ (2013) is released on 19 November by Reprise/Rhino – but it does not chart.

When Eric Clapton’s sometime collaborator J.J. Cale passes away in 2013, Clapton puts together ‘The Breeze: An Appreciation Of J.J. Cale’ (2014) (UK no. 2, US no. 2, AUS no. 17), released on 29 July.  The album is credited to ‘Eric Clapton + Friends’ with contributions from such luminaries as Tom Petty, Mark Knopfler (from Dire Straits), John Mayer and Willie Nelson.  This disc is issued by ADA/Surfdog, beginning Clapton’s association with this label.

‘Forever Man’ (2015) (UK no. 8, US no. 48, AUS no. 62) is an Eric Clapton compilation album released by Warner Bros.  The two CD set ‘Slowhand At 70 – Live At The Royal Albert Hall’ (2015) is issued by Eagle Records on 9 November.  It does not make the charts.

‘I Still Do’ (2016) (UK no. 6, US no. 6, AUS no. 10), issued on 20 May, is a new album by Eric Clapton.  It is released by Bushbranch-Surfdog.  Glynn Johns serves as producer on this album.  The cover is a portrait of Eric Clapton painted by Sir Peter Blake.  Rhino, the archive specialist label, puts together ‘Crossroads Revisited: Selections From The Crossroads Guitar Festivals’ (2016) (US no. 122, AUS no. 30).  This three CD set of live material is released on 1 July.  ‘Live In San Diego’ (2016) (UK no. 60, US no. 47, AUS no. 61) is issued by Bushbranch-Surfdog on 30 September.

“I am and always will be a blues guitarist,” said Eric Clapton early in his career.  This was not strictly accurate.  Clapton also played music that could be described as reggae, country and adult contemporary rock.  At the very least, he was a blues-rock guitarist.  “The blues are what I’ve turned to, what has given me inspiration and relief in all the trials of my life,” said Clapton on another occasion.  This was perhaps closer to the truth.  The blues was something he could fall back on and use as a default setting.  Clapton’s intermittent religious faith seemed to function in a similar way.  As a guitarist, Eric Clapton’s best work was recorded in the first ten years of his career.  Although he also did some great work later, it could not equal the furious rate of invention in the first decade.  Often Clapton seemed to shy away from his earlier guitar pyrotechnics.  Perhaps the strain of being ‘Clapton – the Legend’ was unsustainable for ‘Clapton – the Man’?  When considering his best period as a solo artist, there is no clear ‘golden age.’  Rather, like his devotion to blues and Christianity, Eric Clapton’s best recordings are intermittent.  Nominees for his best works would include ‘461 Ocean Boulevard’ (1974), ‘Slowhand’ (1977), ‘August’ (1986), ‘Journeyman’ (1989) and the live albums ’24 Nights’ (1991) and ‘Unplugged’ (1992).  Eric Clapton was devoted to the blues, a music of pain.  The greatest lesson he learned may have been turning his own pain into something more beautiful.  Clapton’s confused childhood (‘Motherless Children’), his thwarted love for Pattie Boyd (‘Layla’) and the death of his son, Conor (‘Tears In Heaven’), are all examples of this transfiguration.  Eric ‘Clapton…opened up a new world of music to the rock crowd.’  ‘He was one of the great guitarists in rock.’

Sources:

  1. ‘Rock Stars’ by Timothy White (Columbus Books, 1984) p. 172, 176, 177, 179
  2. ‘The Illustrated New Musical Express Encyclopedia of Rock’ by Nick Logan, Bob Woffinden (Salamander Books, 1978) p. 10, 33, 35, 42, 54, 55, 61, 65, 79, 108, 137, 150, 202
  3. wikipedia.org as at 11 September 2016
  4. todayifoundout.com – ‘The Woman Eric Clapton Thought was his Sister was Actually his Mother’ by Dave Hiskey (21 June 2011)
  5. Notable Names Database – nndb.com – as at 15 September 2016
  6. christianitytoday.com – ‘Eric Clapton – In the Presence of the Lord’ by John Powell (9 April 2008)
  7. famechain.com as at 16 September 2016
  8. brainyquote.com as at 15 September 2016
  9. ‘Clapton: The Autobiography’ by Eric Clapton (Broadway Books, 2007) p. 48 – via 3 (above), via 6 (above), p. 198 – via 3 (above)
  10. ‘Guitarist Magazine’ (18 November 2011) – ‘Classic Interview: Eric Clapton – June 1994’ – no author credited – via musicradar.com
  11. Internet Movie Database – imdb.com – as at 17 September 2016
  12. ‘The Illustrated Rock Handbook’ edited by Roxanne Streeter, Ray Bonds (Salamander Books, 1983) p. 11, 25, 42, 43, 59, 60, 128, 141, 182, 214, 230, 235
  13. whereseric.com – no author credited – as at 14 September 2016
  14. whosdatedwho.com as at 14 September 2016
  15. ‘Sunday Express’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘Rolled Over by the Stones’ by Anna Pukas (15 March 2007) (reproduced at express.co.uk) [Krissy Findlay information]
  16. ‘The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock ‘N’ Roll’, ‘Eric Clapton’ by Dave Marsh (Plexus Publishing, 1992), p. 407, 409, 410, 411
  17. ‘Rolling Stone Rock Almanac’ by the Editors of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (Papermac, 1984) p. 90, 98, 151, 155, 162, 173, 210, 212, 232, 262, 324, 325
  18. ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 68, 75, 85, 98
  19. ‘The Yardbirds – Happenings Ten Years Time Ago 1964-1968’ – Sleeve notes by Ian McFarlane (Raven Records Pty Limited, 2008) p. 5, 10
  20. youtube.com as at 15 September 2016 [1955 date for Billy Boy Arnold’s ‘I Wish You Would’]
  21. ‘The Yardbirds Story’ box set – Eric Clapton quote via 3 (above) (Charly Records, 2002) p. 20
  22. en.citizendium.org – no author credited – as at 14 September 2016 [Charlotte Martin information]
  23. songfacts.com as at 21 September 2016
  24. ‘The Cream Of Eric Clapton’ – Sleeve notes by Ray Coleman (Polydor Ltd (U.K.), 1987) p. 2
  25. ‘The Very Best Of Cream’ – Sleeve notes by Hugh Fielder (Polygram International, 1995) p. 2, 3, 7, 11
  26. ‘The History of Rock’ by Mark Paytress (Parragon Books, 2011) p. 100, 172
  27. ‘The 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time’, ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine (February 2004) p. 50, 58
  28. ‘Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy’ by Harry Shapiro, Caesar Glebbeek (St. Martin’s Press, 1990) p. 137 via 3 (above)
  29. metrolyrics.com as at 16 September 2016
  30. ‘Understanding Rock: Essays in Musical Analysis’ by Dave Headlam (Oxford University Press, 1997) p. 91 via 3 (above)
  31. ‘Lennon Remembers’ – John Lennon interview conducted by Jann Wenner (Penguin Books, 1970) p. 143
  32. ‘Guitar Player Magazine’ No. 108 (June 2001) – Eric Clapton interview conducted by Darrin Fox – via 3 (above)
  33. ‘The Love You Make – An Insider’s Story of The Beatles’ by Peter Brown, Steven Gaines (Pan Books, 1983) p. 115, 170, 343
  34. ew.com – ‘Headscratcher No. 82: Noone Here by that Name’ by Amy Ryan (27 March 2007)
  35. eric-clapton.co.uk – ‘The Mike Hrano Interview’ (2001)
  36. ‘The Daily Mail’ (U.K. newspaper) – ‘The Lover Jagger Can’t Forgive: He Dumped Her for his Live-In Chef and Abandoned their Baby Daughter, Marsha Hunt’s Time with the Rolling Stone’ by Paul Scott (7 January) (reproduced on dailymail.co.uk) [Catherine James information]
  37. allmusic.com – ‘Eric Clapton’ by William Ruhlmann as at 15 September 2016
  38. ‘Eric Clapton – A Biography’ by John Pidgeon (Vermillion & Company, 1985) p. 103 via 3 (above)
  39. ‘Rolling Stone’ (U.S. rock magazine) – ‘Longtime Eric Clapton Band Member Dick Sims Dies’ by James Sullivan (12 December 2011) (reproduced on rollingsone.com)
  40. ‘Eric Clapton FAQ [Frequently Asked Questions]: All That’s Left to Know About Slowhand’ by David Bowling, Eric Clapton (Hal Leonard Corporation, 2013) (no page no.) via google.com.au [‘She’s Waiting’ not a hit single]
  41. ‘The New York Daily News’ (New York, U.S.A., newspaper) – ‘The Many Women of Eric Clapton’ – no author credited (2015) (reproduced on nydailynews.com)
  42. whereseric.com – ‘Eric Clapton’s Songs: The Backstories’ – no author credited – as at 14 September 2016
  43. ‘Clapton Chronicles: The Best Of Eric Clapton’ – Anonymous sleeve notes (Reprise Records, 1999) p. 3
  44. ‘Eric Clapton: Sue Lawly 1992’ – youtube.com – via 3 (above)

 

Song lyrics copyright Chappell with the exceptions of: ‘Crossroads’ (Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., The Bicycle Music Company); ‘Promises’ (Essex); ‘Bad Love’ (E.C. Music Pty Ltd PRS all rights adm. by Unichappell Music Inc. BMI / Somerset Songs Publishing Inc. ASCAP); ‘Tears In Heaven’ (Warner/Chappell Music Inc., Universal Music Publishing Group); ‘Change The World’ (Universal Music Publishing Group); and ‘My Father’s Eyes’ (Warner/Chappell Music Inc.)

 

Last revised 14 October 2016

 

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