Eric Clapton

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Antigua is located in the middle of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, roughly 17 degrees north of the equator. It is famous for its many luxury resorts and tourism dominates the economy, accounting for more than half of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Antigua has a population of over 85,000, mostly made up of people of West African, British, and Portuguese descent yet these residents are complemented all year round by visitors arriving for either the four or six week programme at the Crossroads drug and alcohol addiction rehabilitation centre, a 25-acre facility, surrounded by azure skies, bright purple bougainvillea flowering plants and a bright blue sea.

The facility was co-founded in 1998 by a man who is no stranger to most forms of addiction and was fortunate enough to survive his worst demons to find domestic happiness in his mid fifties. Grafitti strewn walls in the 60’s may have erroneously suggested he was God but today Eric Clapton would happily trade some of his accumulated fortune to buy more time in the secular world.

An illegitimate child born at the end of the war, Eric Clapp (his real surname), was brought up by his grandparents and told that his mother Patricia was his older sister. He never knew his father. For the first few years of his infancy he was unaware of this fact but then at the age of seven the young Eric’s world fell apart when he overheard his aunt ask the woman he thought was his mother: “Have you heard from his mum?” The young Eric felt catastrophically confused.

His real mother, Pat, had had an affair during the war and was only sixteen when she gave birth to Eric in the back bedroom of her mother and stepfather’s two-bedroom house in Ripley, Surrey, on March 30, 1945. Although never confirmed by either Pat herself or anyone else in the family, it’s widely rumoured that Eric’s father was a married Canadian airman although Claption himself remains unconvinced. Whatever the truth of the matter and Clapton will now never know, the stigma attached to unwed pregnancy was immense and so it was that Pat’s mother Rose Clapp and her second husband, Jack, raised Eric as their own.

His relationship with his mother remained difficult. Most tellingly he has admitted that the best communal period in their lives as adults struggling to express their truest feelings, was when they were drinking together. He loved her but she was a difficult woman.

“Our relationship developed as friends. Whenever I needed a mother figure, she wouldn’t be the person I’d go to.” His relationship with his grandmother Rose, though, became very strong.

Now in his late sixties, his weatherbeaten, bearded visage complete with wire-rimmed spectacles and tufty bed-head hair, dressed in jeans, white T-shirt and sneakers hints at middle England fatherhood, the type of individual attentively trailing his spouse at antique fairs on a spring sunday afternoon yet twenty five years ago the image was dangerously different. This was the time of “August” his best selling album from 1987 and the era of the archetypal rock-and-roll gigolo dressed in all his finery in expensive Armani suits and floppy coiffure. He was out of control as he had been for most of his adult life.

From his mid twenties onward, Eric Clapton was a relentless womaniser for whom love was just another addiction and then suddenly in the late 90’s he found domestic contentment with his second wife Melia and their three daughters. His, is undoubtedly, a rakish past and whilst no-one should be denied personal happiness, he has left many people of both sexes in his wake who must look upon his life today with bittersweet sentiments.

In his book Clapton describes the moment when he knew his marriage to Patti Boyd was over or should I say until he decided that he wasn’t sure he wanted it to be over. The following extract from his autobiography acurately coveys his total self absorption and self destructive ways.\

He might have persuaded himself that turning forty had propelled him into a mid-life crisis that would explain away his actions but if that were the case then this traditional male malaise had been of a more elasticated form when looking at so much of his life.

The love triangle between Patti Boyd, George Harrison and Eric Clapton has been well documented but for readers unaware of the broad details the following link succintly summarises the relevant chronology:\

Understanding Clapton’s motives is a little more difficult. In the Martin Scorsese documentary on the life of George Harrison “Living in the Material World” (2011) it is obvious that there was a distinct element of professional jealousy on Eric’s part in respect of the rarified orbit in which The Beatles moved in the mid-60’s. For all George’s self effacing ways and his genuine admiration for Eric’s guitar playing, the younger Clapton was never in doubt that whatever his burgeoning celebrity status, he was not amongst the elite of rock’s hierarchy. As much as he might have covertly dismissed the extent of Beatlemania as disproportionate to his own taste in the band’s recorded music, it is equally apparent that he aspired to be part of this elite group of musicians, and prizing a Beatle wife away from her husband was seen as a distinct first step in this direction.\

Under construction

Recommended listening

Crossroads (4 CD Box set) (1988)

This highly regarded compilation includes his work with The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Blues Breakers, Cream, Blind Faith, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends and Derek and the Dominos, as well as his solo career. Several previously unreleased live and alternate studio recordings complement a well paced and diverse collection of broadly familiar material that perfectly encapsulate the first twenty five years of Clapton’s recording career. Originally issued as a very expensive six vinyl long player set, the collection was further enhanced by Anthony DeCurtis’s Grammy Award winning liner notes.

Although this issue is nearly twenty five years old, it sonically holds up well thanks in part to its largely uncompressed state and flat response mastering. Perhaps the engineers used that old studio stalwart, the Yamaha NS 10 M nearfield monitor speaker. I purchased a second hand pair in 1992 which appeared as if they’d been through the War of the Roses but a lick of matt paint soon restored their aestetic look. More importantly I could now master my multitrack recordings secure in the knowledge that if I persevered long enough a good mix could be secured that would sound even better on any other domestic hi fi system. Sadly, they are no longer being manufactured although the link below is inconclusive in determining the reason why and as a consequence of this, I look after them almost as well as myself. In any event they still work perfectly well after thirty years and will probably outlast me!


These speakers are the source of a running joke in the family for every time a rock star is interviewed in his home studio my wife exclaims, “ooo look, he’s got a pair of your Yamaha NS 10M speakers!”

Bluebreakers with Eric Clapton (1966)

Fresh Cream (1966)

Disraeli Gears (1967)

Eric Clapton (1970)

Amidst the plethora of discarded boy band releases and muzak, sifting through charity shop compact disc racks can occasionally yield unexpected rewards, such as the 2006 deluxe reissue of Eric’s first official solo album. A steal at £2.99, I was previously unaware of the Delaney Bramlett remix which comprises the second disc, being like millions, more familiar with the original Tom Dowd produced vinyl release. I can get the blues but I can’t OD on it like ‘Slowhand’, so Clapton’s excursions into more maintstream material always find favour with me.

Featuring session out-takes and related singles, a 24-page picture booklet with lyrics artwork, photos, bio and credits housed in a custom deluxe edition outer clear plastic slipcase with original hype sticker and rice paper tracklisting printed back insert, this is without doubt, an attractive package.

Clapton’s fretboarding remains restrained throughout, yet surprises nevertheless abound – Bramlett’s remixed horns on ‘After Midnight’, the crisper ‘Let it rain’ and the exquisitely delicate ‘Easy now’.

This eponymously named album paved the way for ‘Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs’, as Clapton utilised these sessions to forge a once in a lifetime alliance with Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock and Jim Gordon from Delaney’s band. One of the greatest blues-rock albums ever recorded, its roots lay in these early sessions.

461 Ocean Boulevard (1974)

‘Rolling Stone’ may have considered Clapton’s comeback album as treading the perilously thin line between laid-back and listless but in the public’s mind Eric’s tentative singing was redeemed by the material on offer and his advances in syncopation as the reggae/Bo Diddley influenced songs effortlessly swing .

Clapton contributes little guitar which perplexed the faithful and his studio sessioners sound flaccid yet the album defies the odds and is near consistently satisfying. “Motherless Children” and “Mainline Florida” boast killer radio friendly guitar riffs whilst “Let it Grow” hints at the Harrison/Beatles influence on his own songwriting style – doleful vocalising and exquisite ostinatos eerily reminiscent of the band’s “Abbey Road” album.

I’ve listened to this recording for years, first on vinyl, then cassette and finally in its remastered digital form. You can pull it apart but the album still holds up. Its most famous song and one of the most enduring of his career, is the cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.” It was played to death during the summer of ’74 on its way to becoming the only number one single of his career. It was just about the perfect cover song as it combines rock and reggae into a wonderful fusion of style and sound.

The album was hugely successful in the United States, being one of only two of his studio albums to top the charts.

Slowhand (1977)

Clapton’s most commercially successful release of the 70’s, ‘Slowhand’ opens with the relaxed, bluesy shuffle of J.J. Cale’s “Cocaine” and sustains this feel of laid back virtuosity throughout the album’s running length, notwithstanding the regrettable inclusion of the overblown ‘Wonderful Tonight’, surely one of the dreariest melodies ever written by a major rock composer. There, I’ve said it – someone had to. Vastly superior is the darkly threatening ‘The next time you see her’

Alternating between straight blues – ‘Mean Old Frisco’, country -‘Lay Down Sally’, mainstream rock – ‘Cocaine’ / ‘The Core’, and pop – ‘Wonderful Tonight’, Clapton, happily reunited with his touring band, is masterful and assured. If his drinking was spiralling our of control, it doesn’t show here.

Journeyman (1989)

Following on from the thoughtfully compiled ‘Crossroads’ retrospective box set, Clapton rounded off the 80’s with his first non formulaic album in years.

As well as the eclectic mix of rock and blues standards with new compositions, ‘slowhand’ allows his musical selflessness to contradict the guitar-hero mythology of his Bluesbreaker days. Even on his solos, Clapton seems wary of hogging the limelight; apart from “Before You Accuse Me,” which finds him in a Chicago-style cutting contest with Robert Cray, our hero defers to the song in every instance. Yet rather than reduce the album’s impact, Clapton’s insistence on underplaying is a stunning demonstration of the power of restraint. He fills the album with such incisive solos that it’s tempting to linger over every note. Infusing every tune, from the vintage blues of Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” to the slick funk of “Breaking Point,” with equal passion and fire, he sails over any hint of calculation in the radio-ready ballad “No Alibis” just as smoothly as he avoids self-indulgence in his offhand rendition of “Hound Dog.”

The radio friendly 45 ‘Bad love’, which echoes 1968’s ‘Badge’ in its construction, helped propel the album to double platinum status and earned Eric a 1990 Best Male Rock Vocal Performance Grammy Award.

Clapton and producer Russ Titelman maintain a sense of scale throughout. Ray Charles’s “Hard Times” is replete with slap-back reverb and even features a couple of members of Charles’s old horn section. “Pretending” dramatizes its tale of emotional betrayal in the contrast between its buoyantly melodic chorus and the dark, stinging tone of Clapton’s lean guitar flourishes. “Lead Me On” starts with a similar set of emotions but takes a considerably less angry tack; the song’s sense of acceptance imbues it with a gentleness not unlike the spiritual glow that illuminated “Can’t Find My Way Home.”

The only dud is the Harrison number ‘Run so Far’, a vastly superior version being ultimately issued on the former Beatle’s posthumous 2002 release ‘Brainwashed’. Gorgeously overlaid acoustic and electric guitar lines from Harrison and Jeff Lynne convey the intimacy of this Buddy Holly homage to its full effect; Eric simply missed the point.

Riding with the King (2000)

I dreamed I had a good job and I got well paid.
I blew it all at the penny arcade.
A hundred dollars on a kewpie doll.
No pretty chick is gonna make me crawl.

Get on a TWA to the promised land.
Every woman, child and man
Gets a Cadillac and a great big diamond ring.
Don’t you know you’re riding with the king?

Superstar pairings rarely live up to the marketing hype and the opening title track promises more than the rest of this collection can deliver. Nevertheless, its an entertaining blues retread and the mutual respect between King and Clapton, steadfastly forged throughout the preceding thirty plus years, imbues the album with a sense of credibility if only spasmodic fire.

I was encouraged to tackle the version of “Come Rain or Come Shine”, the Harold Arlen standard that closes the album. It was an eye opener to hear the number scored for a blues ensemble and whilst I slavishly copied certain elements of the recording I also devoted time to recreating elements of Don Costa’s majestic score for the “Sinatra and strings” album.

Despite the fact it was co-produced by Clapton and released on his record label, he insisted that King’s name be given first billing. It is to his credit that he could summon sufficient humility to make this gesture. The old pro responds by giving his all vocally on the reworking of his first national hit “Three O’Clock Blues” whilst both men trade solos.

The band really cooks on “Hold On, I’m Coming”, the old Sam & Dave hit written by Isaac Hayes. The Memphis soul feel gives this oldie a fresh varnishing and provides one of the highlights of the collection; the acoustic pairing on “Key to the Highway” also works well.

Of course there are some clunkers and turkeys present and the overall mix is suspect on certain counts; the odd distortion on King’s vocals and guitar work and the overall tepid bass content – all minor quibbles though for what is essentially a joyful collaboration and that’s saying something for the blues!!!

Reptile (2001)

A Clapton album with instrumental bookends, a novelty in itself but one that grabbed my listening attention when the recording was issued.

The title track is a samba with Eric contributing some restrained understated picking before he hits his stride with Ray Charles’ “Come Back Baby,” featuring his most passionate solo on the album. There’s a soulful groove to Stevie Wonder’s “I Ain’t Gonna Stand for It,” and his impassioned vocalising on James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” reveals a hitherto unimaginable intensity to his singing. Of the handful of Clapton originals, “Superman Inside” recalls the best of his sleekly produced Eighties material which is unsurprising given the pedigree of his session team – keyboardists Joe Sample and Billy Preston, bassist Nathan East, drummer Steve Gadd and the Impressions on background vocals, all of whom are uniformly first-rate.

Desert Island Discs (10/9/89)

Recommended viewing

Eric Clapton – South Bank Show (1987)

Eric Clapton – South Bank Show (2007)

Melvyn Bragg recalled his two meetings with ‘Slowhand’ in 2010. Clapton had been drunk and on drugs throughout the twenty years before their first encounter and had been dry and clean in the years since.

Talking to the ‘Telegraph’ newspaper in Britain, Bragg referred to the guitarist’s 1987 appearance as ‘blooming with health, even fresh faced, bright eyed’ whilst in 2007 there was a lean and grizzled look, still a handsome man, but much calmer, little of the loose-cannon vivacity that had characterised him in the first interview. The pair were reunited in his London house in Chelsea, the place impeccable, Clapton in black T-shirt, dark jeans; bespectacled. When the 2007 programme was transmitted, the editorial decision was taken to intercut between the two interviews.

Second guessing his interviewee’s memory loss, Bragg began testing the waters:

2007 – “We did an interview about 20 years ago. What was happening to you then?”

“I can’t remember, to tell you the truth. I think that was at the end of my drinking career.”

1987 – “But when it gets to two bottles of brandy a day, it’s beyond having a good time. That’s punishment,” said Clapton.

“I did one gig lying flat on my back with the microphone lying down beside me.”

“Because you couldn’t stand up?”

“’Cos I could stand up. I tried to stand up to begin with and then lay down and I thought, ‘Well, they don’t care so why should I care.’ They had a good time.”

2007 “I remember you and I drank,” said Clapton. “That’s probably the only way you’d have been able to stay with me. Shortly after that, during a tour to Australia, I came to the conclusion that I had to pack it all in and try again to get sober. I thought that last year I’d had a lot of fun, going to the cricket and going out with Beefy [Ian Botham]. But when everyone else went to bed I’d just carry on and get blitzed until I passed out and have really dark thoughts about myself, suicidal thoughts. It got pretty grim.”

“Do you look back and see your life in two parts?”

“Three parts. Until my twenties I was skating on thin ice now and then but it wasn’t really an issue. Then there’s this long period until my early forties when I was in the grip of all kinds of compulsions and powerless. Then the last 20 years – sober.”

“Powerless? Helpless to resist?”

“Helpless. And hopeless. And compelled to do whatever my instincts drove me to do.” (He ticked them off on his fingers.) “Sex, drugs, drink, relationships, with absolutely no inclination to disengage – just” – he threw up his arms – “go for it.”

“When I came back from treatment the first time, I couldn’t sleep with my wife. I just couldn’t perform. I didn’t understand it. Then it occurred to me I’d never had sex without being stoned. Ever. In my life. If I thought about having sex with somebody, I’d get drunk first.” (He threw back an imaginary drink.) “Usually I’d be guided through it. And when the drink was removed, all of those things which are normal things to most people, become impossible.”

One of the key ways in which he fights against a recurrence of the addiction, he said, is to get down on his knees every morning and pray.

“Why decide to publish your autobiography now?”

“If I didn’t do it now I won’t remember it. I experience memory lapses, you know… the middle period of my life is plagued with black patches. I needed a great deal of help.”

I have retained both shows on back to back DVDs. My original VHS tape recording had degenerated beyond watchability (so much for the Scotch lifetime guarantee!), but I was fortunate to find an official pre-recorded tape release for 50p in a junk shop. Swiftly transferred to my hard drive and burnt to disc, it’s not on a par with the 2007 digital transmission but it’s fine.

Looking back, detractors might argue that Clapton’s musical reputation rests squarely with his 60’s/70’s output, thus questioning the wisdom behind this second high profile appearance. There is some merit in this viewpoint, but few stars have survived such ‘personal excess’, and for that reason alone, the 2007 edition is reflective and insightful.\

Unplugged – MTV (1992)

Recommended reading

Eric Clapton – the autobiography 2007

“I found a pattern in my behavior that had been repeating itself for years, decades even. Bad choices were my specialty, and if something honest and decent came along, I would shun it or run the other way.”

Well he didn’t always run the other way which is precisely the point with which I took issue in my main commentary. If Clapton sounds at peace with his complicated personal history, what emerges as he recounts his musical career in his autobiography is a kind of perpetual dissatisfaction. In one telling anecdote, he remembers coveting a certain guitar when he was young, only to lose interest after buying it. “As soon as I got it, I suddenly didn’t want it anymore,” he writes. _“This phenomenon was to rear its head throughout my life and cause many difficulties.”
He first attempted the conventional process for a celebrity memoir utilising longterm friend Christopher Sykes as a ghostwriter but was unhappy with the work-in-progress. “It looked very defensive, judgmental, full of self-justification,” he said._ “It just looked dreadful.”_

Suitably disatisfied with the overall tone of the first draft he eventually took over the writing chore himself. The most striking aspect of this decision was a distinctly measured tone, which never becomes hysterical or sentimental, even when writing about painful, dramatic or unflattering situations. At one point he tellingly admits “I considered all of my previous irrational behavior to have been reasonably excusable because it had been conducted with consenting adults.”

Commenting to journalists during his promotional campaign, the musician commented that “To write this book, I had to be comfortable with my day-to-day existence. I like that I can look back and feel comfortable with my life”.

I cannot say I could in his shoes.

Pattie Boyd – Wonderful Today (Pattie Boyd with Penny Junor) 2007

Another £2.99 discounted purchase and one of the few times I’ve parted with money for a kiss’n‘tell book, but Pattie Boyd was married to both George Harrison and Eric Clapton so her memoirs were never going to be anything less than illuminating.

Eric emerges at best, as an eccentric personality dressing in his ‘whites’ to watch cricket on the Tv yet at his worse as a deeply introverted and self centred individual conspicuously lacking in social graces. On page 203, she sums up the eternal mistake made by millions when she opens chapter eleven by stating for the record – “I had known little about Eric when I allowed him to seduce me away from George. I had seen him as a romantic character, impetuous, free spirited and talented, not just as a musician but as an artist, and I had built him up so much in my imagination that in the flesh he could never have lived up to my idealised, romantic image. I was madly in love with him, but as I negotiated the moods, the depression, the destructiveness that went with the drinking, I began to wonder whether I had made a mistake in leaving George, whether I should have tried a bit harder when things had gone wrong, fought for our marriage and not walked away. After all, I had never stopped loving him. I’d thought he had stopped loving me, but he was so upset when I left that perhaps I’d been wrong.”

Elsewhere in her memoirs, she describes Harrison as her soulmate and the regrets reverberate throughout the second half of the book.


Where's Eric?