Whether performing solo or in a band setting, Eric Clapton has never failed to make an impact as a musician. The man they call “Slowhand” has always been considered one of the world’s finest guitarists, dating back to his emergence with the Yardbirds and the infamous “Clapton is God” graffiti on the walls of the London Underground that followed a few years later.
Born to 16-year-old Patricia Clapton and a Canadian soldier named Edward Fryer, Eric Clapton entered the world on March 30, 1945. After Fryer abandoned the family, young Eric was made to believe that his mother was his sister and his grandparents were his biological parents. Fryer would pass away in 1985 in his native Canada, never aware that he had sired a future rock star. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Clapton officially took up the guitar at age 15, as he became one of the many British youths captivated by the American blues mini-invasion of the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. At 18, he joined the decidedly blues-oriented Yardbirds, only to quit a year and a half later following their first major hit, “For Your Love.” Clapton then joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers in April 1965, quit after a few months, then rejoined in November of that year. In March of 1966, the Bluesbreakers recorded what would become a landmark album in the blues genre – Bluesbreakers – John Mayall with Eric Clapton.
Following the Bluesbreakers stints, Clapton began a two-year run with Cream, a power trio which also featured bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. This was the band that would make Clapton a household name in the American market, but drugs, booze and egos would cause the band to implode right after their farewell tour of the United States. Clapton joined another supergroup, Blind Faith (with Baker on drums, Steve Winwood on vocals and Ric Grech on bass), followed by more short-lived tours of duty with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends and Derek and the Dominos. The latter band provided Clapton with one of his most enduring singles, “Layla”, a song dedicated to George Harrison’s soon-to-be ex-wife Pattie Boyd. Clapton and Boyd would eventually marry in 1979, though they divorced a decade later on the grounds of infidelity.
The 1970s were a very successful period for Clapton (thanks to hits like “Wonderful Tonight” and “I Shot the Sheriff”), although one marred by heroin addiction, then later on alcoholism. By 1982, he had finally cleaned up his act, though by this time, commercial and critical success was harder to come by. On a bittersweet note, it would be the accidental death of Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor that would lead to his greatest commercial triumph – the song “Tears in Heaven”, released in 1992, peaked at #2 on the Billboard Singles charts and won six Grammy awards in 1993. No longer the blues purist he was as a younger man, Clapton’s 1990s and 2000s output was decidedly more pop-oriented, with the sole exception being his 2004 tribute album to Robert Johnson, entitled Me and Mr. Johnson.
Despite mellowing with age and achieving mainstream success several times over, Clapton has never been one to forsake his blues roots. As such, he deserves his recognition as one of the most talented and successful products of the British Invasion. Clapton has to be admired, not just as a musician, but as someone who had emerged better for it following years of substance abuse and the later tragedy of losing his son.