Eric Patrick Clapton was born in 1945 to a single parent and was brought up with his grandparents. The young Clapton received his first guitar aged 13 but ironically took time to master the instrument. Just as well he persevered because when rebel Clapton was thrown out of art school he scraped a living busking. His first band was called The Roosters (1963) but he left them to join The Yardbirds and stayed with the London blues outfit for a couple of years. Young Eric had been influenced by blues guitarists Buddy Guy, Freddie King and B.B. King and developed his own style. Needless to say he soon became the talk of the town as the great white hope attracting a large cult following. The Yardbirds had their first hit single which featured Eric’s guitar work.
Eric was unhappy with the pop direction the Yardbirds were taking and left to join John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, their album Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, (or the The Beano Album) (1966) was a classic.
Not only has it tracks which feature Eric’s first vocals but what gave the album its distinctive sound was the Gibson Les Paul guitar played through an overdriven Marshall amplifier. All Eric’s work but by the end of 66’, Eric and fellow muso, bass player Jack Bruce, were bored and left to form Cream (with drummer Ginger Baker).
Cream recorded sophisticated rock based upon high-volume blues jamming and extended solos more like jazz. Their live shows were a Happening but inter-band relationships were poor and whilst the trio could produce fantastic music they were incompatible off stage. Eric was often left to act as pacemaker which he found stressful. He tried to encourage Stevie Winwood (ex Spencer Davis Group) to join but before he could confirm Cream had broken up (1968).
Eric had many influences bit was rarely challenged as a maestro guitarist, however there was one particular fellow who made Eric feel he had not yet achieved his pinnacle of play and that was Jimi Hendrix. The feelings were mutual and when the Experience broke their prearranged set to play an impromptu version of "Sunshine of Your Love" as a tribute to Cream after learning the band broke-up on the BBC1 show, Happening for Lulu in 1969, then the mutual appreciation was public. Needless to say the set ran over time and caused producers much concern but television history was made
Blind Faith came about immediately after the demise of Cream. Like Axiom in Australia, this was an amalgam of talent brought together as a supergroup. The lineuo was Steve Winwood (vocals, keyboards, guitars), Eric Clapton (vocals, guitars),Ric Grech (bass guitar, violin, vocals), Ginger Baker (percussion, drums). Blind Faith lasted only a short time and made one album before breaking up.
Disillusioned after the demise of Blind Faith Eric was keen to move on. He had been a guest on other artist’s works notably George Harrison, Plastic Ono Band and Dr John.
But it was in Delany and Bonny’s “Friends” support band that he met the nucleus of his new group, Eric and the Dominoes. Eric became Derrick through a misprint and that suited Clapton because he wanted to loose the super-star label as the band played live gigs in small clubs well away from the pomp and ceremony of Cream and Blind Faith. Delaney Bramlett had encouraged Eric to write and sing more. This was good advice because although the new band only released one album before they broke up, they gave us the fantastic, Layla." The lyrics were inspired by "The Story of Layla and Majnun", a Persian classical poem. Clapton saw strong similarity to his own private dilemma with Patti Boyd and George Harrison, so the song has heart.
Eric’s first solo album was called Eric Clapton and received much critical acclaim. Ironically he launched himself into a solo career his own life was in chaos. Trying to overcome a heroin and alcohol addiction his live performances were erratic.
During Clapton's heroin addiction from 1969 to 1974, he began to sell off his collection of guitars to pay for his drug habit. Seeing Clapton selling his most treasured possessions was one of the reasons Pete Townshend was prompted to assist him get over his addiction. As time passed and he overcame both with many of his loyal friends, including George Harrison helped him gain confidence again. In 1974 Eric Clapton recorded 461 Ocean Boulevard, an album with the emphasis on songs rather than musicianship; the cover-version of Bob Marley’s "I Shot The Sheriff" was a major hit and was important in brought reggae music and Bob Marley to a wider audience.
Eric had his demons and relapsed in alcoholism in the late 70s. An inebriated Clapton was a controversial figure and became associated with racism after a Birmingham concert. As a counter action his UK colleagues in the music business, created Rock Against Racism. Addictions overcome, his 80s works were more polished. Sadly in his private life Eric faced great tragedy with the loss of his estranged infant son. A fraction of Eric’s grief can be heard on the song Tears in Heaven (co written by Will Jennings); the recording went to the top of the charts. It was re-recorded in 1994.
EC continues to record and play and like a mature wine only gets better with age.
Worth a listen:
I Shot The Sheriff (1974)
San Francisco Bay Blues (1994
For your love (1963)
Purple Haze (1967)
Sunshine of your love (1968)
Well all right (1969)
Derrick and the Dominoes