Inspired by the "skiffle boom", a student at Quarry Bank School in Liverpool named John Lennon decided to form a group in 1957 which laid the foundation to what was to become the most famous rock band of all time. John's original name was "The Blackjacks". However, this name only lasted a week and John used the school name as inspiration for the later name "The Quarry Men" in March 1957. John sang...
Eric Patrick Clapton was born on 30 March 1945 in his grandparents’ home at 1 The Green, Ripley, Surrey, England. He was the son of 16-year-old Patricia Molly Clapton (b. 7 January 1929, d. March 1999) and Edward Walter Fryer (b. 21 March 1920, d. 1985), a 24-year-old Canadian soldier stationed in England during World War II. Before Clapton was born, Fryer returned to his wife in Canada. Pat’s parents, Rose and Jack Clapp, raised him as their own child. The surname Clapton comes from Rose’s first husband and Pat’s father, Reginald Cecil Clapton (d. 1933). It was extraordinarily difficult for an unmarried 16-year-old to raise a child on her own in the mid-1940s. Thus, Clapton grew up believing that his mother was his sister. Eventually, his mother met someone and married. After marriage, Pat moved to Canada and Germany as her husband continued his military career. They would have a boy and two girls. Clapton’s grandparents never legally adopted him, but remained his guardians until 1963.
Quiet and polite, Clapton was characterized as an above-average student with an aptitude for art. From his earliest years in school, he realized something was not quite right when he wrote his name as “Eric Clapton” and his parents’ names as “Mr. and Mrs. Clapp”. At the age of nine, Clapton learned the truth about his parentage when Pat returned to England with his six-year-old half brother for a visit. This singular event affected Clapton deeply. He became moody and distant and stopped applying himself at school. Emotionally scarred by this event, Clapton failed the all-important 11 Plus Exams. He was sent to St. Bede’s Secondary Modern School and two years later, entered the art branch of Holyfield Road School. In 1961, Clapton began studying at the Kingston College of Art on a one-year probation. He was expelled at the end of that time for not submitting enough work. The reason was that guitar playing and listening to the Blues dominated his waking hours. Before turning to music as a career, he supported himself as a laborer at building sites, working alongside his grandfather.
Clapton was raised in a musical household. His grandmother played piano and his mother and uncle both enjoyed listening to the sounds of the big bands. By 1958, Rock and Roll had exploded onto the world. Typical of his introspective nature, Clapton looked behind the surface and began exploring its roots in American Blues. The blues meshed perfectly with his self-perception as an outsider and being “different” from other people. For his 13th birthday, he asked for a guitar. Finding it difficult to play, Clapton put the Spanish Hoya aside for a time. He began playing again around the time he started college. Sometime in 1962, he asked for his grandparents’ help in purchasing a £100 electric double cutaway Kay (a Gibson ES335 clone) after hearing the electric blues of Freddie King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and others.
In early 1963, Clapton joined his first band, The Roosters. Following the band’s demise, he spent one month in the pop-oriented Casey Jones and The Engineers. In October 1963, Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith recruited him to become a member of The Yardbirds because Clapton was the most talked about player on the R&B; pub circuit. During his 18-month tenure with The Yardbirds Clapton made his first albums: Five Live Yardbirds and Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds. The band also recorded the single, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”. During this time, he earned the nickname, “Slowhand.” Whenever he would break a string on stage, he would change it to the accompaniment of a “slow hand clap” from the audience. Throughout this period, Clapton’s serious research into the American Blues continued. When The Yardbirds began moving towards a more commercial sound with the single “For Your Love”, he quit. His path in music was the blues.
In April 1965, John Mayall invited Clapton to join his band, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. With this band, Clapton established his reputation as a guitarist and earned his second nickname: “God”. The moniker came from an admirer’s graffiti on the wall of a London Tube Station that proclaimed “Clapton is God.” His time with the band was turbulent and Clapton left for a while to tour Greece with friends. Upon his return, the now classic album Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton was recorded. After leaving the Bluesbreakers for a second time, Clapton played on numerous sessions, including those with a band dubbed “The Powerhouse” which included John Paul Jones, Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce.
In late 1966, he teamed up with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker to form Cream. Extensive touring in the U.S. and three solid albums – Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, and Wheels of Fire – brought the band worldwide acclaim. While a member of Cream, he cemented his reputation as rock’s premier guitarist and was elevated to superstar status. Although Cream was together for two years, they are considered one of the most influential rock groups of the modern era. Clapton was unique because he did not simply replicate the blues riffs he’d heard on record. He incorporated the emotion of the original performances into his own style of playing, thus expanding the vocabulary of blues guitar. The band crumbled beneath the weight of the member’s egos and constant arguing. They disbanded after two final performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 26 November 1968.
Following Cream’s break-up, Clapton founded Blind Faith – rock’s first “supergroup” – with Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech. Disbanding after one album and a disastrous American tour, Clapton tried to hide from his growing fame by touring as a sideman with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. While with this outfit, Clapton was encouraged to sing and he began composing more. A live album from that tour was released in 1970. Clapton’s self-titled debut was also released that year. In the summer of 1970, he formed Derek and the Dominos with members from Delaney & Bonnie’s band. The Dominos would go on to record the seminal rock album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. A concept album, its theme revolved around Clapton’s unrequited love for George Harrison’s wife, Pattie. The band would drift apart following an American tour and a failed attempt at recording a second album.
Hit hard by the break up of The Dominos, the commercial failure of the Layla album and his unrequited love, Clapton sunk into three years of heroin addiction. Although he rarely emerged from his Surrey Estate, he filled box upon box with tapes of songs. Clapton kicked his drug addiction and re-launched his career in January 1973 with two concerts at London’s Rainbow Theater organized by his friend, Pete Townshend (The Who). The concerts represented a turning point in his career. In 1974, he reappeared with a new style and sound with 461 Ocean Boulevard. He became an assured vocalist and composer in addition to a guitar hero.
With each album after 461 Ocean Boulevard, Clapton reinvented himself musically. In 1985, Clapton found a new audience following his performance at the worldwide charity concert, Live Aid. In the last years of that decade, he carved out a second career as the composer of film scores. Annual stands at the Royal Albert Hall and successful albums like August, Journeyman and the Crossroads box set kept him well in the public mind. His career went from strength to strength and reached new heights in 1992 with the release of Unplugged and the Grammy winning single, “Tears In Heaven.” Clapton returned to his blues roots with the 1994 release From The Cradle. The album was Clapton’s tribute to his musical heroes and contained cover versions of Blues classics. The year 1997 brought an excursion into electronica with the release of TDF / Retail Therapy with Clapton posing as X-Sample. In 1998, he released the soul-influenced Pilgrim, his first album of all new material in nine years. In 2000, he continued his love affair with the blues when he recorded an album with American blues legend, B.B. King. “Riding With The King” was released in June and within three weeks of release, was certified gold. Shortly thereafter, Clapton was back in the studio recording his next solo project. Reptile was released in March 2001. In late 2002, he began work on a new album. “Me & Mr. Johnson,” Clapton’s tribute to American blues legend Robert Johnson, was released on March 22, 2004. A new studio album is also planned for late 2004.
Eric Clapton is the only triple inductee into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (as a member of both the Yardbirds and Cream and as a solo artist). He has also won or shared in seventeen Grammy Awards.
Clapton has contributed to numerous artists’ albums over the decades. The most well known session occurred in September 1968, when he added guitar to George Harrison’s composition, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It is on the album, The Beatles (best known as the “White Album”). He can also be heard on albums by Aretha Franklin, Steven Stills, Bob Dylan, Plastic Ono Band (John Lennon and Yoko Ono), Ringo Starr and Roger Waters.
In the mid-70s, Clapton replaced his heroin addiction with an addiction to alcohol. Into the 80s, his life and studio work suffered because of it. In January 1982, he entered the Hazelden Foundation, a rehabilitation facility for alcoholics. He did backslide, but has been sober since 1987 through membership in Alcoholics Anonymous. In February of 1998, Clapton announced the opening of Crossroads Centre, a rehabilitation facility for drug and alcohol abuse in Antigua. One of its founding principles is to provide subsidized care for some of the poorest people of the Caribbean who can not afford to enter such a facility on their own. A foundation was established to provide this much-needed care. On 24 June 1999, Clapton auctioned 100 of his guitars, including “Brownie” (the guitar on which he recorded “Layla”), at Christie’s Auction House / New York. The sale netted almost $5 million (US) for the foundation. On 30 June 1999, Clapton hosted a concert to benefit the Centre at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. Proceeds from its airing on America’s VH1 and DVD and video sales benefited the Centre. Additional fund-raisers for the Centre are planned for June 2004. They are the Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas, Texas and a second auction through Christie’s on 24 June.
Clapton is married. He and his second wife, Melia, have two daughters – Julie Rose (b. June 2001) and Ella Mae (b. January 2003). His eldest child is Ruth (b. January 1985). On 20 March 1991, his son Conor (b. 15 August 1986) fell to his death from his mother’s Manhattan high-rise apartment. Clapton’s grief would be expressed in the song “Tears In Heaven”, which would bring him worldwide accolades and a legion of new fans, following its release on the soundtrack album Rush and its subsequent live rendering on Unplugged. In 1978, he married his first wife, Patti Boyd Harrison. They divorced in the late 1980s.