Monday, February 1, 2010

#8 His Holiness..... Eric Clapton

"Clapton is God!" That legendary phrase originated from a scrawled graffiti, spray-painted by an admirer on a wall in an Islington subway station in the late autumn of 1967. At the time, it left the young 22 year old guitarist feeling quite embarrassed but it was a fairly accurate statement even then, in regards to Clapton's ability with the guitar. The man plays with such passion and complexity at a speed most guitarists only dream of. It is arguably said that Clapton is the greatest guitarist of all time (though some argue that Hendrix deserves that title). Although he has greatly varied his musical style over the years, it has always remained grounded in the Blues. Yet, in spite of this focus, he is credited as an innovator in a wide variety of genres including Blues-Rock and Psychedelic Rock. After Leaving John Mayall's band, he formed one of the worlds first super-groups 'Cream' and established his legendary skills with the high-volume blues jamming and extended solos of their live shows. In 1974 on his '461 Ocean Boulevard' album, he scored his first solo number one with the cover of Bob Marley's reggae hit 'I Shot The Sheriff' and is largely credited with helping reggae music break through to North American and European audiences.

One of the most interesting things about Eric is that he has always been as troubled in his life as he was gifted. This is a man who knows what pain and suffering is. When ever some one makes the blanket statement that 'No white guy can ever do the blues justice' I have to throw out the rebut "Umm, what about Clapton?".

Why does Eric sing the blues? Well for starters, he was born to a 16 year old mother who was impregnated by a Canadian soldier at the end of the war. His father then promptly left, returning to Canada and never knowing he had fathered a child. Eric was raised by his grandparents believing they were his parents and his mother was his older sister. Years later, his mother married another Canadian soldier, moved to Canada and left young Eric with his grandparents. At age 17 he was kicked out of art college and lived for a time as a busker before being able to get into a band that would have paying gigs. Around this time he began to indulge in alcohol and drugs, a past time that would turn to full blown substance abuse for the better part of the next twenty years. His drug taking and the fanatical devotion of his fans would cause him many personal problems over the years. Just after starting the super-group 'Derek and the Dominoes' with guitarist Duane Allman, he was devastated to learn of the accidental drug overdoes and death of Jimi Hendrix. Soon after this, when drugs and their clashing egos caused Duane Allman to leave 'Derek and the Dominoes' Clapton was devastated yet again when he heard of Allman's death in a motor cycle accident just a short time after exiting the group.

Clapton tried to keep busy for the next few years but began to decline due to the immense amount of heroin and other drugs and alcohol. With the help of Pete Townshend, Clapton underwent a controversial Electro-Acupuncture treatment which successfully rehabilitated him. This rehab was also due in part to Clapton finding God and converting to Christianity. It appeared that things were beginning to go better for Clapton and he eventually married his long time lover Pattie (who was George Harrison's wife... long story). Although clean from drugs, Clapton was beginning to become a serious alcoholic which plagued him for years to come. A few years later he had a daughter with his then mistress and was notorious for his womanizing. He finally admitted he was an alcoholic in early 1982 and on the flight to the treatment center, he helped himself to a great amount of drinks, for fear he may never be able to drink again. Clapton is quoted as saying from his autobiography, "In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn't commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn't be able to drink anymore if I was dead. It was the only thing I thought was worth living for, and the idea that people were about to try and remove me from alcohol was so terrible that I drank and drank and drank, and they had to practically carry me into the clinic."

The drinking rehab was successful and things started to gradually improve for Clapton. He was clean from the years of substance abuse and had new love in his life (in 1986 his new girlfriend gave birth to his first son, Connor Clapton) and he was enjoying himself and his music again. Then in 1990 tragedy struck again, his new friend Stevie Ray Vaughan who was touring with Clapton, died in a helicopter crash between shows. The very next year, Clapton lost his son Connor when the child died after he fell out of a 53rd story window of a friends apartment building. If anyone has the rights to play the blues, it is Eric Clapton.

The Facts:

- Clapton is the only person ever to be inducted three times into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (for the Yardbirds, Cream, and as a solo performer).

- 19 solo albums, 5 with the 'Yardbirds', 1 with John Mayall, 4 with 'Cream', 1 with 'Derek and the Dominoes', and a ton of other albums with many different artists over the years. For the full discography check out (Eric Clapton discography).

-Has played live with pretty much every huge musical figure of the last 50 years.

-Clapton is currently working on an album with former 'The Band' guitarist Robbie Robertson

Fave Album:

How do you pick a fave album from a guy who has had a career this gigantic? I love so much of it that I would have a hard time narrowing it down. I really enjoy his late 60's early 70's period (Cream and Derek and the Dominoes). I would have to say I probably enjoy Derek and the Dominoes' album 'Layla and other Assorted Love Songs' the most.

Layla is a fantastic album in my opinion. Most of the album's material is prompted from Clapton's unrequited affections for his close friend George Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd. This album also contains the song 'Layla' which is one of the greatest Rock and Roll tracks of all time. The song is inspired by Pattie and also from a persian story 'The story of Layla and Majnun' which is the tale of a young man who fell hopelessly in love with a beautiful, unavailable woman and who went crazy because he could not marry her which was pretty much the story for Clapton and his love for Pattie... or at least at the start (he eventually married her, and George had no hard feelings, he even played at their wedding). This album is so full of rich sounds you will wonder how you have lived so long without hearing it. The participation of Duane Allman on this record gave Clapton the chance to really bring some power to the record without unnecessarily calling attention to it. These two power houses of Rock battle neck to neck on this record (sometimes its hard to keep track of who is who) and the sessions bring out the best in them both, with Clapton's rumbling leads perfectly segueing into Allman's Lightning runs. The guitar battles on 'Why does love got to be so sad' alone make this one of the premiere guitar albums in all of rock. Dig this album my friends, it is a treat for your ears.

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