AKA Eric Patrick Clapton
Birthplace: Ripley, Surrey, England
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Executive summary: Slowhand
A guitarist who rode to international fame at the forefront of the British blues movement on the 1960s -- and whose legendary status has long ago surpassed any rational proportions -- Eric Clapton was given a dubious start to his life that was in some ways akin to the kinds of hardships faced by many of the American blues players he would later come to idolize. Born the illegitimate son of Patricia Clapton, a 16-year old British girl living in Surrey, and Edward Fryer, a Canadian pilot stationed in England during World War II, young Eric was ultimately abandoned to the care of his grandparents Rose and Jack Clapp: his father returned to his wife and family in Canada at the end of the war, and his mother moved to Germany not long afterward, where she married another Canadian soldier (those trouble-making Canadians!). To avoid the stigma attached to "illegitimacy" back in those enlightened times, the boy was raised under the belief that his grandparents were in fact his parents, and that his mother was an elder sister. The truth was eventually revealed to him at the age of 9.
In his youth, Clapton developed a passion for American R&B -- particularly the music of guitarists like Sonny Boy Williamson, Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. He joined his first band The Roosters at the age of 17, staying with them for eight months before moving on to a brief stint with the top 40 group Casey Jones and the Engineers. An attempt to study stained-glass design at the Kingston College of Art during this period was brought to an end by these musical preoccupations (he was thrown out for playing guitar in class), and manual labor supported him until his career as a professional musician had been established. The beginning of his climb to public recognition began shortly after his expulsion, when he was brought into The Yardbirds by bandleader and former art-school mate Keith Relf as a replacement for original guitarist Tony Topham. By March of 1965 the Yardbirds were storming both the American and UK charts with the track For Your Love, but it was this very success that motivated Clapton to leave the group: a devoted blues player, he felt they were becoming too pop-oriented and subsequently severed his connection with the band at the end of March.
After a short vacation spent working in construction, Clapton was invited to join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, the leading British blues unit of the 1960s. The group proved to be a complimentary match for his then-purist sensibilities, and the sole album he produced with them (Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, 1966) both returned the guitarist to the UK top ten (this time, however, on his own musical terms) and instigated the theories about his supposed Godhood that would cling to him throughout the subsequent decades of his career. Alongside Mayall, in 1966 Clapton also took part in the studio band Powerhouse, which also featured future Traffic keyboardist Steve Winwood and bassist Jack Bruce. Later in the year the fickle performer left Mayall to work with Jimmy Page, and then left Page to enlist Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker into what is considered to be the music industry's first "power trio": the band Cream.
In the context of Cream, Clapton's blues playing moved into more psychedelic areas, influenced by the sensibilities (and recreational substances) of the times. Making use of the formats of both radio-friendly singles (such as Sunshine Of Your Love, White Room, and a version of Robert Johnson's Crossroads) and extended improvisation (particularly during live performances), the trio achieved enormous popularity not only in their home territory, but in the U.S. and Europe as well -- a status due in no small part to their grueling schedule of constant touring. The strong personalities of all three members created an extremely unstable working environment, however, and despite their huge success the band disintegrated after less than three years (still a long time in terms of Clapton's past attention span) and only three studio albums (Fresh Cream, 1966; Disraeli Gears, 1967; and Wheels of Fire, 1968). Cream's final concert took place at the Royal Albert Hall near the end of November 1968, a performance released in 1969 as the album Goodbye.
Upon the dissolution of Cream, Clapton immediately moved from the first "power trio" to the first "supergroup", assembling Blind Faith along with Bruce, Family's Rick Grech and Winwood (whom he had attempted to recruit into Cream just prior to its demise). The hype surrounding this line-up insured sold-out performances to huge crowds on both sides of the Atlantic, even before any recordings had been released; but the attendant pressures also insured that the group would not last, and the long American tour in particular had ground them down to a nub by the end of 1969, with only one eponymous studio album to show for their efforts. Clapton spent the remainder of the decade working with Delaney and Bonnie (a duo who had served as the opening act for Blind Faith), as well as spending a brief time as a member of the Plastic Ono Band. By 1970 he had relocated to New York City, where he brought in friends Leon Russell and Stephen Stills -- both of whom had already enlisted Clapton for their own projects -- to create his first solo effort, Eric Clapton. Once again the guitarist would find himself in the top 20, this time with a cover of the J. J. Cale song After Midnight.
In a pitiful attempt to deflect some of the attention now directed at him as a solo artist, Clapton next took the line-up that had created his first album (consisting of the three players that had been backing Delaney and Bonnie, and later including Duane Allman) and presented it as a proper band called Derek and the Dominoes rather than as another solo project. Following the vein of some of his previous projects, only one studio album (albeit a double: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)) would be produced before another difficult American tour caused the line-up to self-destruct. As with Cream, the problems were aggravated by substance abuse, including Clapton's own worsening addiction to heroin. The album was not particularly well-received upon its release, but eventually came to be regarded by many critics as the high-water mark in Clapton's career, while its featured single Layla -- written as a love song to Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend George Harrison, whom he himself would marry nine years later (Patti, not George) -- became one of his best-known songs.
With the exception of some session work for Dr. John and participation in Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh benefit in August of 1971, the guitarist remained out of the spotlight for the next two years, overwhelmed by the strain of his addictions and the shambles of his personal life. He was finally coaxed back into action by The Who's Pete Townshend, who assisted in his rehab, gave him a role in the film version of Tommy, and helped to arrange a comeback performance at London's Rainbow Theatre at the beginning of 1973. Clapton's solo recording career was once again underway by the following year, and he maintained a consistent, commercially-viable output for the remainder of the decade, starting with the U.S. #1 album 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974) and continuing with There's One In Every Crowd (1975), E. C. Was Here (1975), No Reason To Cry (1976), Slowhand (1977) and Backless (1978). Three more top ten singles were also released during the 70s: the Bob Marley cover I Shot The Sheriff (1974), Lay Down Sally (1978) and Promises (1979).
Clapton entered the 1980s still riding his re-captured popularity, scoring another top 10 album with the live document Just One Night in 1980 and following with the top 10 single I Can't Stand It (from the album Another Ticket) in 1981. The start of the year was not without its hardships, however, and another period of rehab was necessary in order to sort out the alcoholism that had taken over from his heroin addiction. His 80s output was kept well within safe, commercial boundaries, and he maintained his presence in the middle-regions of the charts with singles such as I've Got A Rock 'N' Roll Heart (1983) and Forever Man (1985); a well-received venture into film scoring was also made, in the form of a soundtrack for the BBC serial Edge of Darkness (1985), realized in collaboration with Michael Kamen. Clapton's status as a "living legend" remained undiminished regardless of the nature of his contemporary output, however, and this attitude was given a big record industry push in 1988 by the release of the career retrospective Crossroads.
In the first years of the 1990s, Clapton's musical career was once again stalled by personal tragedies: the deaths of two members of his road crew and his friend Stevie Ray Vaughan in a helicopter crash (on a flight that Clapton himself was supposed to be taking) in August of 1990, followed by the accidental death of his only son in March of 1991. His eventual return to activity began with a soundtrack for the crime drama Rush (1991). Film scoring had remained a regular feature of his output since the early 80s, including contributions to movies such as the Lethal Weapon series (the first having been created with Michael Kamen in 1987, and the next three realized with Kamen and horn player David Sanborn in 1989, 1992 and 1998), the Stephen Frears-directed feature The Van (1996), Gary Oldman's semi-biographical Nil By Mouth (1997), and the low-budget thriller The Accountant (1999), among several others. By 1992 he was once again at the forefront of the music scene, reaching the #2 position and receiving a total of six Grammy awards for his MTV Unplugged album and the single Tears In Heaven.
As a result of the band's 1993 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Clapton made a very unlikely reunion with his Cream bandmates Bruce and Baker to perform three songs at the award ceremony (this was eventually managed once again in 2005, when the trio staged four shows at the Albert Hall and three in Madison Square Garden). The guitarist subsequently made a return to the traditional blues playing that had inspired him as a youngster with the album From The Cradle (1994), followed by a foray into electronica (Retail Therapy (1997) as part of the project T.D.F. with Simon Climie), and then the mainstream pop collection Pilgrim (1998). The same year as this last release, Clapton's five-year effort to create a substance-abuse treatment center on the island of Antigua (ultimately named the Crossroads Centre) was finally realized. A collaboration with one of his primary influences (blues veteran B. B. King, for the album Riding With The King, 2000) and interpretations of the songs of another (Robert Johnson, for the album Me and Mr. Johnson, 2004) interspersed collections of original blues material (Reptile, 2001; the live album One More Car, One More Rider, 2002; Back Home, 2005) during the first half of the 00s.
Father: Edward Walter Fryer (Canadian soldier)
Mother: Patricia Molly Clapton
Girlfriend: Charlotte Martin (model, together 1966-68, later m. Jimmy Page)
Wife: Pattie Boyd (model, m. 27-Mar-1979, div. 1988)
Girlfriend: Yvonne Khan Kelly (dated 1985)
Daughter: Ruth (b. 1985)
Girlfriend: Lori Del Santo (model)
Son: Conor (b. 1986, d. 20-Mar-1991 accidental defenestration)
Wife: Melia McEnery (graphic artist, m. 2002, three daughters)
Daughter: Julia Rose (b. 2001)
Daughter: Ella May (b. 2003)
Daughter: Sophie (b. 2005)
High School: St. Bede's Secondary Modern School
University: Kingston College of Art, Kingston-upon-Thames, England
The Yardbirds Guitarist (1963-65)
John Mayall's Bluesbreakers Guitarist (1965-66)
Cream Guitarist/Vocalist (1966-68)
Blind Faith Guitarist/Vocalist (1969)
Delaney and Bonnie Guitarist (1969-70)
Derek and the Dominoes Guitarist/Vocalist (1970-71)
Roger Waters Guitarist (1984)
Endorsement of Anheuser-Busch Michelob (1988)
Grammy Album Of The Year, for The Concert For Bangla Desh (with George Harrison, Phil Spector and others) (1972)
Grammy Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male, for Bad Love (1990)
Grammy Best Rock Song, for Layla (1992)
Grammy Best Rock Vocal Performance, Male, for Unplugged (1992)
Grammy Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, for Tears In Heaven (1992)
Grammy Song Of The Year, for Tears In Heaven (1992)
Grammy Album Of The Year, for Unplugged (1992)
Grammy Record Of The Year, for Tears In Heaven (1992)
Grammy Best Traditional Blues Album, for From The Cradle (1994)
Grammy Best Rock Instrumental Performance, for SRV Shuffle (with B. B. King, Dr. John and others) (1996)
Grammy Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, for Change The World (1996)
Grammy Record Of The Year, for Change The World (1996)
Grammy Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, for The Calling (with Santana) (1999)
Grammy Best Traditional Blues Album, for Riding With The King (with B. B. King) (2000)
Grammy Best Pop Instrumental Performance, for Reptile (2001)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1992 (with The Yardbirds)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 1993 (with Cream)
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 2000
Songwriters Hall of Fame
Wedding: Paul McCartney and Heather Mills (2002)
Asteroid Namesake 4305 Clapton
Risk Factors: Alcoholism, Cocaine, Heroin
FILMOGRAPHY AS ACTOR
12-12-12 (1-Nov-2013) · Himself
Beware of Mr. Baker (10-Mar-2012)
George Harrison: Living in the Material World (2-Sep-2011) · Himself
Concert for George (3-Oct-2003) · Himself
Blues Brothers 2000 (6-Feb-1998) · Louisiana Gator Boys
The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (12-Oct-1996) · Himself
Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (18-Sep-1987) · Himself
Live Aid (13-Jul-1985) · Himself
Water (4-Apr-1985) · Band Member
The Secret Policeman's Other Ball (21-May-1982) · Himself
The Last Waltz (26-Apr-1978) · Himself
Jimi Hendrix (10-Oct-1973) · Himself
The Concert for Bangladesh (23-Mar-1972) · Himself
Author of books:
Clapton: The Autobiography (2007)
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