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Arguably one of the most significant rock-n-roll artists of the 20th century, Eric Clapton was a member of four influential bands - the blues-driven Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, the soul-drenched Derek and the Dominos, and the psychedelic Cream - before embarking on a four-decades long solo career that produced such hits as "I Shot the Sheriff," "Wonderful Tonight," "After Midnight," "Tears in Heaven" and "My Father's Eyes." His formidable guitar skills, rooted deeply in the blues, first drew attention in the early 1960s, spawning the infamous "Clapton is God" graffiti that earmarked him as a legend. Clapton shrank from the spotlight, forming the power trio Cream, which favored improvisation over pop songs. The oversized talents of each member proved too great for one band, but he soon returned to a group format with Derek and the Dominos, which produced one of his greatest works, the epic "Layla," inspired by his unrequited passion for Patti Boyd, wife of his friend and Beatle George Harrison. Heartbreak turned to drug addiction that temporarily halted Clapton's career until he resurfaced in the mid-1970s with a run of acclaimed solo albums that carried into the '90s and beyond. Clapton's...
Arguably one of the most significant rock-n-roll artists of the 20th century, Eric Clapton was a member of four influential bands - the blues-driven Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, the soul-drenched Derek and the Dominos, and the psychedelic Cream - before embarking on a four-decades long solo career that produced such hits as "I Shot the Sheriff," "Wonderful Tonight," "After Midnight," "Tears in Heaven" and "My Father's Eyes." His formidable guitar skills, rooted deeply in the blues, first drew attention in the early 1960s, spawning the infamous "Clapton is God" graffiti that earmarked him as a legend. Clapton shrank from the spotlight, forming the power trio Cream, which favored improvisation over pop songs. The oversized talents of each member proved too great for one band, but he soon returned to a group format with Derek and the Dominos, which produced one of his greatest works, the epic "Layla," inspired by his unrequited passion for Patti Boyd, wife of his friend and Beatle George Harrison. Heartbreak turned to drug addiction that temporarily halted Clapton's career until he resurfaced in the mid-1970s with a run of acclaimed solo albums that carried into the '90s and beyond. Clapton's greatest triumph came at a terrible cost: his multi-Grammy-winning song "Tears in Heaven" was inspired by the loss of his young son, Conor, in 1991 who fell to his death from a high-rise apartment. Clapton recovered by returning to the healing power of the blues, on which he had built one of the most acclaimed musical careers in rock-n-roll.
Born Eric Patrick Clapton on March 30, 1945 in the village of Ripley in Surrey, England, he was the son of 16-year-old Patricia Clapton and a 25-year-old Canadian soldier named Edward Fryer, who was shipped off to service during World War II before his son's birth. Upon completing his tour of duty, Fryer returned to Canada, and Clapton's mother and grandmother raised him. They did not dispel the boy's early belief that Patricia Clapton was his older sister, while Rose Clapton and her second husband, Jack Clapp, were his parents, until he was nine years old. By this time, Patricia Clapton had married again and moved to Germany, leaving her son in the care of her mother and stepfather. Confused and saddened about his parentage, Clapton became withdrawn, but found solace in the American blues of the Deep South. He received his first guitar at the age of 13, and would tirelessly practice throughout his teenaged years, eventually gaining enough proficiency to busk around London's West End, among other locations. Clapton briefly attended the Kingston College of Art in 1961, but his studies suffered for his passion for music, and he was dismissed at the end of the academic year. He then began performing in various bands, including the Roosters with Manfred Mann guitarist Tom McGuinness and Casey Jones, and the Engineers, before joining the Yardbirds in 1963.
Clapton found a perfect outlet in the five-piece Yardbirds, which, like many British bands of the period, derived much of their sound from the Chicago blues scene in America. His weighty but precise tone invited comparisons to such American blues legends as B.B. King and Buddy Guy, which boosted his profile within the British rock scene considerably. He also developed his enduring nickname, Slowhand, by his tendency to bring shows to a halt while he changed guitar strings, earning a slow handclap from audiences as they waited for the band to start again. In 1965, the Yardbirds scored a chart hit with "For Your Love," a pop-friendly single that left blues purist Clapton cold. He left the group that same year for John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, which he soon left for another group, the Glands, that performed in Greece. But by the fall of 1965, he was back with the Bluesbreakers, where he developed his reputation as a phenomenal blues guitarist. So great was his acclaim at this point that graffiti reading "Clapton is God" began appearing throughout the London borough of Islington, much to the guitarist's dismay.
In 1966, Clapton again left John Mayall's stable, this time to form Cream with fellow former Bluesbreaker Jack Bruce and his bandmate in the Graham Bond Organisation, drummer Ginger Baker. The trio favored lengthy, improvisational workouts on classic blues songs and their own psychedelic-tinged original numbers, developing a reputation as a formidable power trio through marathon live performances. The arrival of American guitarist Jimi Hendrix in London circa 1967 had an immediate effect on Clapton's playing; Hendrix's powerful, sensual guitar, built on a foundation of R&B, blues and jazz, pushed Clapton to dig deeper into his own repertoire for new sounds, which resulted in some of Cream's most enduring hits, including "Sunshine of Your Love," "White Room" and the Robert Johnson cover "Crossroads." Clapton's fame soon spread to America after a high-profile stand at the RKO Theater in New York, minting Cream as a runaway international success.
But tensions within the group, as well as increasing drug usage, splintered Cream at the height of their popularity, and by 1968, they had recorded their final album, Goodbye, which featured "Badge," a song co-written by Clapton with George Harrison of the Beatles. The two became fast friends, contributing to each other's music, including Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" from the Beatles' White Album which featured a memorable guitar solo by Clapton. In the meantime, Clapton and Baker had forged a new group, Blind Faith, with former Traffic singer Steve Winwood and Ric Grech of Family. The group's improvisational style greatly suited Clapton's creative needs at the time, after feeling constricted by pressure to present more commercially viable music as part of Cream. After releasing an eponymous album in 1969, Clapton began to feel the same pressures within his new group, and Blind Faith dissolved after only seven months in existence.
Wishing to step out of the spotlight, Clapton signed on as a sideman with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, a rock/soul outfit fronted by married musicians Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett. He also logged time as part of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Plastic Ono Band, performing with the group at their famed debut at the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival in 1969. Clapton enjoyed his tenure with Delaney & Bonnie, who encouraged his efforts to develop his own career as a solo artist. With their band backing him, as well as a host of all-star contributors including Leon Russell and Stephen Stills, Clapton released his eponymous solo debut album in 1970. The album was a remarkably relaxed affair, freed of the guitar histrionics of Cream, and driven by a blues/soul vibe that meshed well with the sound of American rock of that period. It also produced a Top 20 single, a cover of J.J. Cale's "After Midnight." That same year, he contributed to George Harrison's epic three-LP solo debut, All Things Must Pass, which also featured Delaney & Bonnie's rhythm section of keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon. The foursome would later form their own group, Derek and the Dominos, as another means for Clapton to record his own music without the pressures of solo stardom.
While working with the Dominos, Clapton fell in love with Harrison's wife, Patti Boyd. She spurned his advances, sending him into a tailspin of unrequited affection that produced the Dominos' sole studio effort, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). Inspired in part by Persian author Nizarni Ganjavi's The Story of Layla and Majnun, about a man who loses his mind over his love for an unavailable woman, the record produced one of rock's most passionate songs in its title track, which also featured ferocious slide guitar by Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers. The album was released to mixed reviews, which crushed Clapton's spirit. The subsequent death of Jimi Hendrix that same year sent him into a drug-fueled tailspin that lasted throughout the Dominos' sole tour. An abortive attempt at a second record crashed due to band conflicts, and Clapton soon left the act for self-imposed exile in Surrey. There, he slipped into serious heroin addiction, which took him out of the music scene for the better part of the next two years.
Who guitarist Pete Townshend organized an all-star concert in 1973 to rally Clapton and revive his career. The "Rainbow Concert," as it became known, featured an all-star band behind Clapton, including Pete Townshend, Small Faces (and future Rolling Stones) guitarist Ronnie Wood, Winwood and Grech. The positive response to the performance and its subsequent live album pushed Clapton to beat his heroin addiction and return to performing. Another source of inspiration was his relationship with Patti Boyd, who had left Harrison with his blessing to be with Clapton. After assembling a new band that included Radle, drummer Jamie Oldaker and vocalists Yvonne Elliman and Marcy Levy, Clapton commenced work on his second solo album, 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974), which derived its name from the Florida home where Clapton lived while recording the album. Its rendition of Bob Marley's reggae classic "I Shot the Sheriff" rose to No. 1 on the singles chart, as did the album itself, cementing Clapton's comeback.
The gentle tone of 461 Ocean Boulevard, which emphasized a full band over Clapton's guitar and ballads instead of hard rock, informed his next few releases. However, There's One in Every Crowd (1975), the live LP E.C. Was Here (1975) and No Reason to Cry (1976) fared only moderately well in comparison. He rebounded with 1977's Slowhand, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart with three hit singles, including the wistful "Wonderful Tonight," "Lay Down Sally" and the J.J. Cale-penned "Cocaine." After contributing to the Band's farewell performance, which was captured on film by Martin Scorsese as "The Last Waltz" (1976), he produced two more Top 10 singles: "Promises," from his 1978 album, Backless, and "I Can't Stand It," from Another Ticket (1981). Though life appeared to be on the right track for Clapton, who finally married Boyd in 1979, a growing problem with alcohol spurred Clapton to seek treatment the following year. His career was put on hold until 1983, which saw the release of Money and Cigarettes and its Top 20 single, "I've Got a Rock and Roll Heart." Clapton himself was dissatisfied with the record, and delved into sideman work with Roger Waters on the former Pink Floyd leader's The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking (1984). After performing at the Live Aid event in 1985, he returned to solo work with Behind the Sun (1985), his first of two records with Phil Collins as producer. The album was a highly polished, pop-friendly affair that left many listeners cold, despite a string of hits, including "It's In the Way That You Use It," which was featured in Martin Scorsese's "The Color of Money" (1985). Clapton drew further criticism for recording a new version of "After Midnight" for a Michelob beer commercial.
The year 1989 saw the release of the retrospective box set Crossroads, which compiled music from the many facets of his career up to that point. It spurred one of Clapton's best solo efforts in years, Journeyman, which arrived at a difficult point in the musician's personal life. A series of affairs, which had produced two children, came to light in the late '80s, prompting Boyd to divorce Clapton in 1988. The death of Clapton's friend, fellow guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn, in 1990 further darkened matters, but the death of his son, Conor, by Italian model Lory Del Santo, left him in a state of extreme depression. The boy, who fell from a window at his mother's high-rise apartment in 1991, spurred Clapton to pen "Tears in Heaven," which appeared on his soundtrack for the thriller "Rush" (1992) and earned him six Grammy Awards.
He remained inactive as a recording artist for the next three years, preferring to devote his attention to live performance, including an epic 32-night stand at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990 and 1991, and Bob Dylan's 30th Anniversary Concert Celebration in 1992 - the same year Clapton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Yardbirds. The following year, he was inducted a second time as a member of Cream. From the Cradle arrived in 1994 with a set list of classic blues songs that reaped both critical and commercial acclaim. That same year, Clapton was made an Officer of the British Empire for his contributions to music. A second volume of Crossroads devoted to his live shows in the 1970s, followed, as did a curious collaboration with keyboardist Simon Climie on the ambient/trip-hop album Retail Therapy (1997), for which Clapton was billed as "X-Sample." The duo reunited for Pilgrim (1998), which generated a Grammy-winning hit single with "My Father's Eyes."
Clapton became the only artist to be inducted three times into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when he was nominated as a solo artist in 2000. He then teamed with longtime inspiration B.B. King for the blues album Riding with the King (2000) before releasing his Top 10 solo effort Reptile, which featured Billy Preston on organ and the Impressions as his backing vocalist. The following year, he served as musical director for The Concert for George, a tribute to his friend George Harrison, who had succumbed in 2001 to cancer. A pair of tribute albums to seminal blues performer Robert Johnson was released in 2004, the same year Clapton was promoted to Commander of the British Empire, before he reunited with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker for a series of Cream concerts at the Royal Albert Hall in London. That historic event was followed by the band's receipt of the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as another reunion, this time with singer-songwriter J.J. Cale for The Road to Escondido (2006). Clapton released his self-titled memoirs in 2007, the same year that a Montreal newspaper's investigation into Clapton's father, Edward Fryer, learned that he was a former musician as well as a drifter who had married several times and fathered a daughter. Fryer died in 1985 without apparently ever knowing that his son was Eric Clapton.
In 2008, Clapton reunited with Steve Winwood for a concert at Madison Square Garden before embarking on a 14-city tour of North America the following year and subsequent jaunts through Europe and Japan. Clapton was scheduled to appear at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 25th anniversary concert in 2009, but was forced to cancel due to gallstone surgery. The following year, he toured with fellow former Yardbird Jeff Beck before releasing his 20th studio album, Clapton (2010). The album, comprised largely of jazz standards and blues traditionals, was warmly received by critics and reached No. 6 on the Billboard albums chart. He toured Europe, South America and Japan throughout 2011 before returning to the United States to pay tribute to bluesman Hubert Sumlin, the legendary guitarist for Howlin' Wolf, at a 2012 concert in New York which also featured Keith Richards and Allman Brothers Band guitarist Derek Trucks.
By Paul Gaita
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CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
Drummer and co-writer of "Layla", Jim Gordon was serving time for the murder of his mother when "Layla" won the Grammy as Best Rock Song of 1993.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in June 2001.
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