Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 30 March '45, Ripley, Surrey, UK) Rock guitarist. Played in local R&B bands early '60s: Roosters, Casey Jones and the Engineers, then Yardbirds: LP Five Live Yardbirds '64; single 'For Your Love' UK no. 2/USA no. 6 '65; 15 months with John Mayall and Bluesbreakers; mid-'60s London graffiti said 'CLAPTON IS GOD'. The unwanted deification was completed in the success of the power trio Cream '66--8; he tried a shortlived supergroup Blind Faith, then sought anonymity (with George Harrison) in Delaney and Bonnie (see Bramlett). A further futile attempt to avoid the limelight, two-disc set Derek And The Dominos '70 with Duane Allman became a rock classic incl. 'Layla', written for Harrison's wife Patti (Derek And The Dominos In Concert commercially issued '73). The warm sound from his Stratocaster guitar was dubbed 'woman tone', instantly recognizable. Debut solo LP Eric Clapton '70 incl. J. J. Cale song 'After Midnight' (no. 18 USA hit), revealed a mellow side and strong Cale infl. which would soon prevail. Meanwhile he was in demand as a guest: the new rock elite played when and where they pleased; he contributed to Beatles' 'White Album' '68, LPs by Stephen Stills, Aretha Franklin, Frank Zappa (We're Only In It For The Money '67), many others; also John Lennon's Plastic Ono Band (Live Peace In Toronto '69), Harrison's '71 Bangladesh charity concert. A shy man, denying superstardom, he had became a heroin addict and retired to southern England; Pete Townshend talked him into a comeback: Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert '73 was disappointing despite help from Townshend, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Lane and Ron Wood. Had acupuncture treatment in London, worked on farm in Wales and beat the drug. Album 461 Ocean Boulevard '74 was named after the Miami house where he stayed while recording (same studio where 'Layla' was made) and revived the laid-back style to which he's stuck since, incl. no. 1 hit with Bob Marley's 'I Shot The Sheriff'. Plays low-key guitar; relies on singing, good sidemen: allows guest guitars to compete (e.g. Albert Lee; Ry Cooder on Money And Cigarettes '83); critics carp, wanting him to be someone else, while the public rewards him with steady sales. Appeared in the Band's film/three-disc set Last Waltz '76; played at Bob Dylan's Blackbushe Aerodrome concert near London '78. Married Patti Harrison '79. Other LPs incl. There's One In Every Crowd '75 (incl. Jimmy Byfleet's 'Little Rachel'), No Reason To Cry '76, Slowhand '77, Backless '78, Just One Night '80, Another Ticket '81, Behind The Sun '85; E.C. Was Here '75 and Another Ticket '81 were live sets; Best Of E.C. '75 and two-disc Timepieces '82 compilations. Wrote and performed title music for The Hit '84, film with John Hurt. Other top 40 singles in USA incl. own songs 'Lay Down Sally', 'Wonderful Tonight', 'Promises', all '78; two-sided hit 'Tulsa Time'/Cale's 'Cocaine' (which itself came from '68 Cream hit 'Sunshine Of Your Love'); 'I Can't Stand It' '81, 'I've Got A Rock'n'Roll Heart' '83. Had his own Duck label; August '86 said to be his best in years, prod. by Phil Collins, incl. Robert Cray's 'Bad Influence', with guests Collins, Tina Turner, Gary Brooker, Brecker Bros, etc. He guested onstage with Cray in London late '86 (soundpage flexi-disc incl. in May '87 Guitar Player magazine). Crossroads '88 incl. 73 tracks, dozens not previously available, a top 40 album and only the fourth box of four or more discs to make the Billboard Top 100 albums (after Elvis Aron Presley, the Springsteen live box and Bob Dylan's Biograph). Journeyman '89 had guests Cray and George Harrison and Clapton in good form, but modern recording had him sounding laid-back and over-produced at the same time. In August '90 three of his crew members were killed in a helicopter crash along with Stevie Ray Vaughan; the following March his four-year-old son by Lori Del Santo was killed in New York, falling out of an open window. He played on Buddy Guy's Damn Right I Got The Blues '91 and taped an MTV Unplugged album early '92, an all-acoustic set incl. new songs 'The Circus Left Town' and 'Tears In Heaven'. He also played on tribute albums Two Rooms (songs of Elton John and Bernie Taupin), Barcelona Gold (the Olympics), Stone Free (Jimi Hendrix, playing the title track). His annual series of concerts early each year filled the Albert Hall for six nights '87, became 24 by '91; in '94 his 100th performance there was for the Children in Crisis charity, but in mid-'96 he cancelled the '97 dates. His first album of new material in nine years, Pilgrim '97 was once again hailed by some as one of his best, by others as still too laid- back. Meanwhile he established a treatment centre for substance abusers and worked himself as a counsellor.