Clapton, Eric(originally, Clapp, Eric Patrick)

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Clapton, Eric(originally, Clapp, Eric Patrick)

Clapton, Eric(originally, Clapp, Eric Patrick), rock music’s first guitar hero and the world’s most famous guitarist, was one of the finest lead guitarists to emerge during the 1960s; b. Ripley, Surrey, England, March 30, 1945. As a member of three of the most influential English blues groups of the 1960s (The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and Cream), Clapton set the standard for the “clean” school of lead playing with his tasty, precise, yet fluid guitar work. Cream, rock music’s first supergroup and first powerhouse vocal and instrumental trio, made virtuoso playing an art form within rock and sparked the late–1960s blues revival.

The short-lived Blind Faith continued the improvisatory tradition, as did Clapton’s first group, Derek and the Dominos. Indeed, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was a remarkably focused and intense work, uniting two of rock’s most revered guitarists, Clapton and Duane Allman. Clapton’s subsequent solo work emphasized his modest songwriting and vocal talents. However, his hit recording of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff” introduced reggae to a wider audience, and “Lay Down Sally” and “Promises” expanded his audience into the country field. Recently he has scored astounding successes with his acoustic Unplugged album, taken from the MTV series, and his album of covers of blues standards, From the Cradle.

Eric Clapton took up guitar at 15, later playing in a number of bands such as The Roosters and Casey Jones and the Engineers before joining, in October 1963, the Metropolis Blues Quartet, which later changed its name to the Yardbirds. Clapton stayed on through March 1965, but he became increasingly disturbed by the growing pop direction of the group. Seeking to remain a blues purist, Clapton sought out musicians dedicated to the traditional sound of the blues, joining John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in April 1965. While with the Bluesbreakers, he received extensive adulation as England’s premier lead guitarist.

Clapton left the Bluesbreakers in July 1966 to form Cream, rock’s first supergroup, with bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Peter “Ginger” Baker. Cream revolutionized rock music with their patented improvisational jams and pioneered the power trio (guitar-bass-drums) format. With internal strains becoming increasingly apparent by mid–1968, Cream announced their intention to disband, performing their final concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall in December. Almost immediately, Clapton helped form another supergroup, Blind Faith, with Cream alumni Ginger Baker, Traffic’s Stevie Winwood, and Family’s Rick Grech. Unable to live up to the overly enthusiastic expectations of the rock community, Blind Faith completed one English and one American tour and recorded one album before disbanding at the end of 1969. The interesting, if flawed, album featured Winwood’s “Sea of Joy” and “Can’t Find My Way Back Home” and Clapton’s “In the Presence of the Lord.”

Clapton next participated in a number of sessions for other artists before joining the Delaney and Bonnie and Friends tour of 1970. Their studio album produced a major hit with Dave Mason’s “Only You Know and I Know.” Many of these “friends” later assisted Clapton in recording his first solo album, Clapton. They included Delaney and Bonnie, Leon Russell, Rita Coolidge, Steve Stills, organist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radie, drummer Jim Gordon, saxophonist Bobby Keys, and trumpeter Jim Price. The album yielded a major hit with J. J. Cale’s “After Midnight” and featured outstanding lead guitar work on “Blues Power” and “Let It Rain.”

In May 1970 Eric Clapton formed Derek and the Dominos on the U.S. West Coast with Whitlock, Radie, Gordon, and the Allman Brothers’ Duane Allman. Recorded between Aug. 26 and Oct. 2 at Miami’s Criteria Studio, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs was a stunning album of tortured love and traditional blues. The album contained excellent ensemble playing onextended versions of the originals “Anyday,” “Keep on Growing,” and “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad” (by Clapton and Whitlock), “Layla” (by Clapton and Gordon), Clapton’s “Bell Bottom Blues,” and the blues standards “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and “Key to the Highway,” plus Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing.” In 1971 Derek and the Dominoes toured without Allman; live recordings from the tour were issued in 1973. However, the group disbanded and Clapton, disillusioned by the death of Duane Allman and the failure of the “Layla” single (it became a near-smash hit when re-released in 1972), went into near-retirement; a growing addiction to heroin also contributed to his withdrawal from performance. Clapton performed only twice (at George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971 and at Leon Russell’s Rainbow Theater engagement in December 1971) before finally being coaxed into reemerging by the Who’s Pete Townshend at the Rainbow Theater in January 1973.

Clapton’s first album of new material in several years, 461 Ocean Boulevard, released in 1974, showcased his modest vocal talents, relegating his guitar playing to a support role. The album yielded one of Clapton’s biggest hit singles with his cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff,” plus the major hit remake of Johnny Otis’s “Willy and the Hand Jive.” That year he also began attempts to clear up his alcohol and heroin habits and moved in with George Harrison’s ex-wife Patti (the object of “Layla”), whom he married in 1979.

Clapton toured the United States again in 1974 and 1975, and live recordings from the tour were issued as E. C. Was Here. He began concentrating on his songwriting, and 1976’s No Reason to Cry produced a major hit with his own “Hello Old Friend.” Slowhand included J. J. Cale’s “Cocaine” and yielded a smash pop hit (and major country hit) with “Lay Down Sally,” and a major hit with the love song “Wonderful Tonight.” Subsequent major hits through 1985 included “Promises,” “I Can’t Stand It,” “I’ve Got a Rock ’n’ Roll Heart,” and “Forever Man.” During the 1980s Clapton toured regularly, usually accompanied by an outstanding second guitarist, such as Albert Lee, Tim Renwick, or Mark Knopfler.

Eric Clapton’s relationship with Patti Harrison ended in 1986 and the couple divorced in 1988. He finally overcame his alcohol and heroin addictions in 1987 and has been in a recovery program ever since. Surrounded by tragedy most of his life, as evidenced by the deaths of Duane Allman, Yardbirds lead vocalist Keith Relf, and Domino Carl Radie (in 1971, 1976, and 1980, respectively), the murder of Cream producer Felix Pappalardi in 1983, and the institutionalization of Domino Jim Gordon in 1984, Clapton further suffered the loss of Stevie Ray Vaughan in a helicopter crash minutes after the two had performed together in August 1990. Then, on March 20, 1991, his son Conor (by Italian actress Lori Del Santo) fell to his death from the 53rd floor of the Galleria Condominium in N.Y. Grief-stricken, Clapton ultimately reemerged in early 1992 with the poignant smash hit “Tears in Heaven,” written for his son, and an inspiring appearance on MTV’s Unplugged. The album from the show later yielded a surprise hit with a slowed-down acoustic version of ”Layla,” which amazingly sold more than seven million copies. Cream reunited in 1993 when the trio was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 1994 Clapton recorded the best-selling From the Cradle, an album of traditional blues that included covers of songs by Willie Dixon, Elmore James, and Muddy Waters, and conducted a blues-only tour of arenas and halls. In May 1995 Eric Clapton appeared in a 90-minute PBS television special that focused on the blues. Recorded at the Fillmore in San Francisco, the special was produced by filmmaker Martin Scorsese.


eric clapton with john mayall’s bluesbreakers:Bluesbreakers (1967). blind faith:Blind Faith (1969). eric clapton with delaney and bonnie:On Tour with E. C. (1970). derek and the dominos:Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970); The Layla Sessions (1990); In Concert (1973); Live at the Fillmore (1994). the rainbow concert:E. C.’s Rainbow Concert (1973). eric clapton: E. C. (1970); History of E. C. (1972); E. G at His Best (1972); Clapton (1973); 462 Ocean Boulevard (1974); There’s One in Every Crowd (1975); E.C Was Here (1975); No Reason to Cry (1976); Slowhand (1977); Backless (1978); Just One Night (1980); Another Ticket (1981); Time Pieces/Best of E. G (1982); Time Pieces/Live in the 1970s (1988); Crossroads (1988); The Cream of Clapton (1995); Money and Cigarettes (1983); Behind the Sun (1985); August (1986); Homeboy (soundtrack; 1989); Journeyman (1989); 24 Nights (1991); Rush (soundtrack; 1992); Unplugged (1992); From the Cradle (1994).


E.C: In His Own Words (N.Y., 1993).


Ray Coleman, Clapton!: An Authorized Biography (N.Y., 1986); John Pidgeon, E.C.: A Biography (London, rev.ed., 1985); Marc Roberty, E.C Scrapbook (N.Y., 1994); Marc Roberty, Slowhand: The Life and Music of E.C. (N.Y., 1993); Christopher Sandford, Clapton, Edge of Darkness (N.Y., rev. ed., 1999); Michael Schumacher, Crossroads: The Life and Music of E.C. (N.Y., 1995); Harry Shapiro, E.C.: Lost in the Blues (N.Y., 1992); Steve Turner, Conversations with E.C. (London, 1976).

—Brock Helander

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Clapton, Eric(originally, Clapp, Eric Patrick)

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