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 ROBERT JOHNSON  ALLMAN BROTHERS  LYNYRD SKYNYRD                                              LINKS PAGE     SITEMAP     
b&w photo of eric
Photo courtesy of Jim's Eric Clapton Site
Lord, how long have I got to keep on running
Seven hours, seven days or seven years?
All I know is, since you've been gone
I feel like I'm drowning in a river
Drowning in a river of tears

"River Of Tears" - ERIC CLAPTON & SIMON CLIMIE
INTRODUCTION
        As I previously stated on the page devoted to the life of Robert Johnson, the blues played a crucial role in the birth of rock and roll. It had a particularly dramatic effect in post-war England, as merchant seaman returned home with this exotic music from the United States. Like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and countless other British rock musicians, Eric Clapton was enthralled with the American blues records that he heard on the BBC. In the grooves of the vinyl discs, he recognized kindred spirits. These artists expressed the same sense of heartache and loss which Eric often felt in his own life. Although he listened to a wide variety of blues records, it was Johnson who made the strongest impression on him. Clapton once declared; "Robert Johnson to me is the most important blues musician who ever lived." Judging by this unabashed admiration, it is therefore hardly surprising that Clapton chose to record "Crossroads", as well as several other songs by Johnson. Despite the obvious differences between these two individuals, they seem to be cut from the same ragged cloth. So decades after the bluesman's death, Clapton still carries on his legacy. His own music now exudes the same raw passion and commitment which once flowed out from Johnson's haunting guitar.        Return to the TABLE OF CONTENTS

THE BIRTH OF SLOWHAND
        Eric Clapton was born on March 30, 1945 in the village of Ripley, near London. He was raised by his grandparents, believing them to be his real family. When his mother would come to visit, she would claim to be his older sister. He didn't learn the truth until he was nine years old. Like Robert Johnson, Clapton would never know his real father. But this made little difference, since his grandparents provided a loving home for him. Eric began playing guitar at thirteen and joined several blues bands in the early '60s. By 1962, he had decided to pursue a full-time career in music and dropped out of the Kingston College of Art. In 1963 he joined the Yardbirds, who were already well-established in the English music scene. Fans were impressed with his abilities, although he would often play so ferociously that he would break the strings on his guitar. It was for this reason that he earned his nickname "Slowhand" because the impatient fans in the audience would begin a slow hand clap until he had replaced the strings and tuned up his instrument. One of the highlights of his tenure with the group was their opening slot on a U.K. tour with Sonny Boy Williamson. Eric had been playing "Crossroads" since his earliest days as a musician, so he was awed to meet one of the legendary bluesmen who had performed with his idol. But although he certainly enjoyed his newfound fame with the Yardbirds, Clapton was still devoted to the blues. For this reason, he was becoming increasingly disappointed with the band's attempts to develop a more commercial sound. He recorded two successful albums with the group, then decided to strike out on his own. After he left, the band replaced him first with Jeff Beck, then later with Jimmy Page.        Return to the TABLE OF CONTENTS

CLAPTON IS GOD
        Following his departure from the Yardbirds, Eric briefly joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, in April of 1965. It was during this period that "Clapton is God" graffiti began appearing around London, painted by his devoted fans. The debut album from the Bluesbreakers was released in 1966 and rose into the Top Ten on the charts.
Eric in white suit
                        Photo courtesy of Jim's Eric Clapton Site
However, there were personality clashes in the group and Eric soon departed, along with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. The three musicians then formed Cream, immediately developing a loyal fan base and becoming a legendary power trio. Drawing on their shared love for the blues, they often performed old standards and it is Cream's version of "Crossroads" which is best known. But once again, the members began to squabble amongst themselves and the group eventually dissolved.
        A few months after leaving Cream, Eric formed Blind Faith with Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood, and Rick Grech. Regarded as the first true "supergroup" in rock and roll, they released one album in 1969. Unfortunately though, this promising venture was also short-lived. Perhaps they were under too much pressure to repeat the successes of their previous groups or perhaps they simply burned out in a sudden flurry of creativity. Whatever the real explanation might have been, they broke up following their only American tour.        Return to the TABLE OF CONTENTS

A FALL FROM GRACE
        Over the course of the year that followed, Clapton continued to work as a session musician and began recording his first solo record. In addition, he contributed his talents to albums by two former Beatles; John Lennon and George Harrison. While Eric was working in the studio with George, he fell in love with Harrison's wife; Pattie Boyd. Torn between his friendship with Harrison and his passion for Boyd, Clapton sank into a deep depression. Unable to cope with his frustration, he turned to heroin. But even in the throes of addiction, his desire to make music could not be fully extinguished. Working under the pseudonym Derek And The Dominoes, he recorded the classic album "Layla And Other Love Songs". The title track was a thinly-veiled plea to Pattie, as Eric poured out his emotions to a woman who seemed out of reach. Duane Allman also participated in these sessions, which were conducted in a haze of drug use. Perhaps not surprisingly, Clapton was unable to sustain this project for long. While attempting to record their second album, the group fell apart.        Return to the TABLE OF CONTENTS

THE LONG ROAD HOME
        The Seventies were a decade of turmoil for Clapton, filled with peaks and valleys. Following the break-up of Derek And The Dominoes, heroin became the dominant force in his life and he retreated from public view. By 1974, he had finally conquered his addiction and he emerged from self-imposed exile. He rebounded strongly with the release of "I Shot The Sheriff", his cover of the Bob Marley anthem. For many white listeners, this was their first exposure to reggae. Then he enjoyed further success in 1977, as his album "Slowhand" achieved platinum status. Later that year, he married Pattie Boyd, following her divorce from George Harrison. It is testimony to Clapton's character that his friendship with Harrison managed to survive through these turbulent times. But despite all of his good fortune, he was still waging a fierce battle against his personal demons. While he had managed to overcome his craving for heroin, he continued to drown his sorrows with alcohol. This behavior began to have a detrimental effect on his career and two of his albums during the Eighties were poorly received by fans and critics alike. These disappointments actually seemed to have a positive effect on Clapton and he finally confronted his dependence on alcohol. Lamentably though, this realization came too late to save his troubled marriage. The bottle almost certainly played a role in the destruction of his relationship with Pattie Boyd and their divorce was finalized in 1988.        Return to the TABLE OF CONTENTS

TEARS IN HEAVEN
        In the mid-Eighties, Clapton had begun an affair with Italian model Lori Del Santo. In August of 1986, she gave birth to their son, Connor. The boy was the greatest joy of Eric's life and his renewed sense of optimism could be clearly heard in his work.
b&w photo of eric, seated
Photo courtesy of Jim's Eric Clapton Site
In 1988, his record company released a career-spanning retrospective called "Crossroads". The title of this box set was both an acknowledgment of the choices he had made concerning his personal struggles and also a tribute to his greatest musical influence, Robert Johnson. But just as Clapton was beginning to rebuild his career, tragedy struck again, as his son was killed in a freak accident. On March 20th of 1991, while playing in Del Santo's Manhattan high-rise apartment, Connor fell out an open window and plunged fifty-three stories to his death. The boy was laid to rest in the same English cemetery as Eric's beloved grandfather, Jack Clapp. In the midst of his crippling grief, the guitarist was inspired to write the moving ballad "Tears In Heaven" as a farewell to his child. Eric played the song on MTV's Unplugged and a recording of this show was subsequently released as an album. It was a huge hit throughout the world and Clapton won six Grammies in 1992. Accepting this honor with just a few eloquent words, he dedicated the awards to Connor. Then in 1994, he built upon this success with "From The Cradle", an album which compiled some of his favorite blues numbers. Now more than ever, he understood the heartbreak which had originally inspired this powerful music.        Return to the TABLE OF CONTENTS

REDEMPTION AT THE CROSSROADS
        Perhaps Eric's greatest gift is his ability to persevere in the face of adversity. Although he played on George Harrison's song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps, it is another Beatles composition which seems more suited to Clapton's life. In the lyrics for "Hey Jude", Paul McCartney wrote; "Take a sad song and make it better." McCartney penned these words for Julian Lennon, but they could just as easily apply to Clapton. Whatever hardships he may face in his life, Eric always manages to produce a positive outcome. So it was no surprise that he helped to found the Crossroads Centre, an addiction recovery facility on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Despite its lush tropical setting, this center is not reserved for the privileged few. It opened its doors in 1998, helping to treat patients who were suffering from the same addictions which had tormented Clapton years earlier.
        To raise additional funding for the center, Eric sold one hundred guitars from his personal collection. This extraordinary event was held at Christie's Auction House in Manhattan on July 24, 1999. During the course of a few hours, more than $5 million dollars was raised for the facility. One particular guitar was a familiar sight to Clapton fans; a 1956 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster. This instrument was Eric's favorite and he had affectionately dubbed it "Brownie". He had played this guitar on the recording sessions for "Layla", as well as during countless live appearances over the years. At first glance, the instrument may have seemed unimpressive. It was battered and worn, marred with scrapes and chipped paint. But this belied the proud history of the instrument and it seemed to radiate with pure energy. When the auctioneer's gavel fell, this single guitar had fetched $497,000, thereby achieving a new sales record. The previous mark had been held by another Fender Stratocaster, the white model played by Jimi Hendrix during his appearance at Woodstock. Clapton's guitar was purchased by billionaire Paul Allen and is currently displayed at the Experience Music Project museum in Seattle, WA.        Return to the TABLE OF CONTENTS

color photo of eric
Photo courtesy of Jim's Eric Clapton Site

I have finally found a place to live just like I never could before
And I know I don't have much to give, but soon I'll open any door
Everybody knows the secret, everybody knows the score
I have finally found a place to live in the presence of the Lord
In the presence of the Lord.

"Presence Of The Lord" - ERIC CLAPTON

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 ROBERT JOHNSON  ALLMAN BROTHERS  LYNYRD SKYNYRD                                              LINKS PAGE     SITEMAP     

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