On March 30, 1945, Patricia Molly Clapton, age 16, gave birth out of wedlock to Eric Patrick Clapton. Pat then moved to Germany, leaving her son Ricky, as Eric was known, with his grandparents, Rose and Jack Clapp. Until Eric was nine, he was brought up to believe that his mother was his sister.
Eric's career in music was inspired by a performance by Jerry Lee Lewis ("Great Balls of Fire") he saw on a British TV show. From that moment, Eric knew that he had to express himself with a guitar. He attempted to carve a Stratocaster from a block of wood. That failing, he was given a plastic "Elvis" guitar. That obviously did not satisfy his needs. At age 13, he did finally get an acoustic guitar and began teaching himself the basics.
His devotion to blues music led him to research the lives and music of greats Blind Willie Johnson, B.B King, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson. As Eric tells it, when he first heard Robert Johnson's "King of the Delta Blues" he "just couldn't take it. It was just too much anguish to take on."
Eric was a very creative child. He was enrolled in the Kingston Art College, a town not far from London, where he was supposed to be focused on becoming a stained glass artist. However, he was expelled because of his distraction with music and for playing guitar in class. He was 16. Fortunately, he had persuaded his grandparents to purchase him an electric guitar by this time, and he played pick-up gigs while he was (or was not) working as a manual laborer.
In 1963, he joined a band called The Roosters. This group played a few times at the Marquee in London but this endeavor lasted less than a year. During this time, he continued to immerse himself in the history and recordings of all the great American blues artists.
1964 found Eric playing with The Yardbirds (a group that eventually included Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.) They spent most of that year playing clubs around London, including the Rikky Tik circuit, a number of clubs in which the Gunnell brothers regularly presented shows featuring American blues greats like Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter, etc. Local bands like The Yardbirds usually opened. Eric worked with the Beatles on their Christmas Show in December of that year.
It was with the Yardbirds Eric got the nickname "Slowhand". When he broke a string during stage performances, the audience would clap slowly in unison as Eric fiddled around changing broken strings. "Slowhand" stuck, because it happened so often, usually as a result of extreme string-bending in his solos.
While serving time with The Yardbirds, Eric was still captivated by and completely devoted to blues. However, the Yardies were ever more-disposed toward pop music which was more commercially attractive. Clapton was not interested in this mendacious career move, and his superior attitude towards this decision was not much appreciated by the rest of the band. However, it is generally accepted that Eric's leaving the band was mutually agreeable. In 1965 he joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and Jeff Beck replaced Eric in The Yardbirds. Not much later, Jimmy Page replaced Beck. Page then formed the New Yardbirds who were later renamed Led Zeppelin.
It was during Eric's stint with the Bluesbreakers that fans added graffiti to the walls of the underground station in Islington in north London, proclaiming "Clapton is God". Contrary to popular belief, this slogan was not plastered all over London's underground stations. Yet it was this that helped elevate the recognition of Clapton. Certainly, his association with John Mayall pushed Eric into even further technical accomplishments but, ultimately, the controlling style of bandleader John Mayall would not allow Eric to expand into the type of performance for which he felt he was destined. However, in 1966, in apparent recognition of his superior talents, Eric was featured on an album released by John Mayall entitled John Mayall With Eric Clapton: Bluesbreakers.
In 1966, Eric had already left John Mayall, as had Bluesbreaker bassist Jack Bruce. The two got together with Ginger Baker of the Graham Bond Organization. All were escapees from taskmasters Bond and Mayall, and determined to forge their own brand on the blues scene. Despite a more than volatile relationship between Baker and Bruce,which had resulted in actual fisticuffs on more than one occasion, Cream toured extensively both in the U.K. and in the U.S. and released their first album, Fresh Cream in the winter of 1966. Clapton, while recognising the extraordinary musical blend of three maestros, was caught in the middle of the scrapping Baker and Bruce, and had to fight for his emotional survival on an almost daily basis. Cream was unique in that it was made up of three solo performers who musically bounced off each other during performance and had unprecedented talent. The more they improvised during their concerts, the more they fed off of each others techniques and the music soared beyond anything that any group before them had exhibited. Their appearances on stage would turn into virtual battlegrounds of ear-shattering blues-rock, with Ginger Baker almost throwing the kit around in an excess of performance.
In 1967, Disraeli Gears was released, followed in 1968 by the double album (one a studio recording and the other live performances) Wheels of Fire. Finally succumbing to internal strife, the group disbanded in the winter of 1968. A final album, Goodbye, was released in March 1969.
During the Cream period, Clapton formed many significant friendships, including George Harrison and the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend. Of Hendrix, Clapton says only that, "It's all over in terms of guitar heroes. Jimi had everything!"
Later in 1969, after the breakup of Cream, Eric, Ginger Baker and Stevie Winwood formed Blind Faith. After only one album, one year and a monster tour in the U.S., Blind Faith went their separate ways.
1969 and 1970 were years of collaboration for Eric Clapton. During that time, he appeared with John Lennon and Yoko Ono in the Plastic Ono Band in Toronto. With Delaney & Bonnie and Friends he toured Europe as well as the U.S. and says of that tour that it was the best he's ever been on. The group got along fantastically and had a great time. They released a live album in 1970 called Delaney & Bonnie & Friends - On Tour With Eric Clapton.
In 1970, Eric Clapton, his first solo album, was released. It was also the year that Derek and the Dominoes formed. It was their album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs that Eric proclaims as being his finest. Of the song "Layla," Clapton says, "To have ownership of something that powerful is something I'll never be able to get used to. It still knocks me out when I play it." It is rock history that the song was inspired by Clapton's romance with Patti Harrison, the then-wife of Clapton's friend George Harrison.
Clapton's addiction to heroin overcame him in 1971 and he spent the next three years both indulging in and battling to overcome it. In 1973, Pete Townshend organized a "comeback" for Clapton in London. Eric did some sessions with Duane Allman, Stevie Wonder, Stephen Stills, Howlin' Wolf and Dr. John during this time as well. He appeared on The Concert for Bangla-desh and by the end of the year recorded Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert marking his comeback.
In 1974, he released 461 Ocean Boulevard which featured the Bob Marley tune "I Shot The Sheriff," and appeared in the film version of the Who's Tommy.
In 1975 he released There's One In Every Crowd, followed by the live EC Was Here. This album was a successful effort to return Clapton to the featured role of guitarist which had been played down in the Crowd release of the previous year.
No Reason to Cry was also released in 1976, and during the 40th Birthday celebration of rock legend Buddy Holly, Clapton composed one of his most popular songs, "Wonderful Tonight." Slowhand was released in 1977, and though Clapton considers it one of his poorest offerings, it was a huge commercial success and contained the hits "Lay Down, Sally," and "Cocaine, " as well as "Wonderful Tonight." In 1978, Clapton released Backless, and toured with Muddy Waters as his opening act.
On March 29, 1979, Eric Clapton and Patti Harrison were finally married. The live album Just One Night was released in late 1979, followed by Another Ticket in 1981, featuring "I Can't Stand It." During the Another Ticket tour Clapton was rushed to hospital, which led to treatment for addiction, this time to alcohol. Just as he had in the fight against heroin addiction, Eric won. In 1983, Money and Cigarettes was released as well as Timepieces. "Rock 'n' Roll Heart" was a hit single, and Timepieces sold 7 million copies. Then in 1984, Eric recorded with Roger Water's on Pros and Cons of Hitch-Hiking and then toured with Waters.
In 1985, Clapton was fully back in the groove. He released Behind the Sun and Timepieces II. Singles "She's Waiting." Clapton became a father to son Conor, in August 1985.
The ensuing years saw Clapton working with a large number of popular musicians including The Rolling Stones, Dire Straits, Lionel Ritchie, Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck, Sting and Prince. He wrote soundtracks for The Color of Money, Lethal Weapon and Buster. From 1986 to 1989, Clapton went from strength to strength.
Then, in 1990 tragedy struck. Eric was touring with Texas blues guitar great Stevie Ray Vaughan. An after-show helicopter crash took the lives of Stevie Ray and road crew members Colin Smythe and Nigel Browne. All were close friends of Eric's. After deliberation among the survivors, the tour was continued as a tribute to those lost. In 1991 Conor, Eric's young son, fell from a highrise window to his death.
In 1991, Clapton toured in Japan with old friend George Harrison, during which tour he composed "Tears In Heaven" a heartfelt and moving song to his lost son . The Unplugged album was released in 1992 and won several Grammy awards, notably for the acoustic version of "Layla."
In 1992, the Yardbirds were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 1993, Cream was inducted.
After two personally horrific years, 1993 marked Clapton's redemption. He walked away with six Grammys for Record of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Performance (Male), and Song of the Year, all for "Tears in Heaven," as well as Best Rock Vocal Performance (Male) (Unplugged) and Best Rock Song (songwriter) for the 20-year old "Layla."
In 2000, Eric Clapton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his solo work. During his acceptance speech he said, "For me, its all about the music. I'm the messenger and play the message."
Eric is currently featured in The Concert for George, a DVD concert tribute to his late friend George Harrison, also starring Paul McCartney, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.