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Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
Humble student
Joined: 06/12/05
Posts: 1,579
04/26/2008 12:34 am
A Brief History Of The Blues #11
Eric Clapton / Part #1
By Hunter60

“It's been up to me to inspire me.”
Eric Clapton

One of the difficulties faced when trying to write about a musician like Eric Clapton with a forty plus year career is that one of two things can happen. Either you try to cover his career highlights to the point where it reads like a one-sheet for a radio interview and hit the high points in a flash not really looking at the artist himself but rather his rather impressive list of accomplishments. Or you try to concentrate on every detail of his life to the point where we would still be reading about him next Christmas.

Or perhaps not. It's more likely that the reader would stop reading somewhere along the line, crashing under the weight of the detritus of details, some vital to understanding the artist and others nothing more than debris from a life of soaring heights and terrifying lows. It all depends on where you fall on the time line of Claptons career. For some, you may remember him as the guitar playing wunderkind, a fresh scrubbed English schoolboy who could play the blues like there was no tomorrow when he was with The Yardbirds. Others may recall his time with John Mayall, England's premier purveyor of the blues, when news of the graffiti in Britain proclaimed him "God" reached America. He may have made an impression on you as the wild haired, psychedelic dashiki sporting, extended jamming rock and roller of the first true power trio, Cream. Maybe it was the first time you heard the opening strains of "Layla" pumping out of your radio that caught your ear.

Perhaps he popped on your aural radar with his initial solo work. Was his reggae / rock treatment of "I shot the Sheriff" the one that made you sit up and notice? Or was it when he moved into the pop arena and solidified his reach as a multi-talented guitarist and vocalist? Maybe you’re new to Clapton, knowing him only as the grand old man of British blues players. Regardless of where you step into the story, it's been quite a ride for Clapton, and it's not over yet.

Born in Ripley, Surrey in the U.K. on March 30th, 1945 to Patricia Clapton and Edward Fryer (a Canadian soldier stationed in the U.K.), Eric Clapton was at times, very quiet and shy and at other times, mischievous and ornery. Due to the unmarried status of his parents and the age of his mother, Eric was raised by his grandparents, Rose and Jack Clapp. The truth of his parentage was not revealed to him for quite some time, although Eric had his suspicions while growing up.

He was raised in a musical household with Rose playing a harmonium (a reed organ) and later a small piano that the family had acquired. In his autobiography, Clapton said that "A good proportion of any musical genes that I may inherited came from Rose's family, the Mitchell's. Her dad, Granddad Mitchell, a great big man who was a bit of a drinker and womanizer, played not only the accordion but also the violin … he used to hang out with a celebrated local busker named Jack Townsend, who played guitar, fiddle, spoons and they would play traditional music together". It was from visiting with Granddad Mitchell that Clapton got the idea of trying the violin. According to him, the only thing he could get out of it "was a screeching noise" and he quickly gave it up.

Once he learned the truth of his parentage, the already quiet and withdrawn Clapton became very moody and difficult to deal with. He stopped applying himself in school and he failed his all-important 11 Plus Exams. He was sent to St. Bede's Secondary Modern School and two years later, entered the art branch of the Holyfield Road School.

His first guitar a gift for his 13th birthday, was a Hoyer, a German acoustic that looked like a Spanish classical guitar but with steel strings. Once he had it, he set about teaching himself to play, which turned out to be quite a difficult task. The neck of the guitar was bowed and the action was so high that it was almost impossible to play. But Clapton played along with records while recording himself on a small Grundig reel-to-reel tape recorder, playing the songs over and over again until he thought he had them right. By the age of 16, Eric was studying at the Kingston College of Art. When he failed to submit the required amount of work, he was expelled.

In 1962, with the help of his grandparents, he purchased a Kay double cutaway AL100 (a Gibson ES-335 clone) after becoming infatuated with the blues of Freddie King, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Jimmy Reed. His early career was spent busking in and around the Richmond and Kingston areas as well as spending time in London and The West End.

In the early part of 1963, at the age of 17, Clapton joined his first band, The Roosters. The band dissolved by August of that same year and Clapton jumped aboard Casey Jones and the Engineers for a month. While he was playing gigs at night, he was working during the day on various constructions sites with his grandfather, a master mason, carpenter and plasterer.

By October, Clapton was recruited by Keith Relf to play guitar for The Yardbirds when their own guitarist resigned to concentrate on his academic studies. This was Clapton's first gig as a professional musician as The Yardbirds had recently been tapped to take over the vacated Sunday night gig at The Crawdaddy Club, which had "belonged" to The Rolling Stones until they had left to beginning to tour in support of their first single.

Shortly after joining the Yardbirds, their manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, arranged for the band to open for Sonny Boy Williamson (not the original Sonny Boy, but Rice Miller who had commandeered the name after the original Sonny Boy had met his death at the end of an ice pick) on a U.K. and European tour. Trying to show off his knowledge of the blues, when Clapton first met Williamson, he asked, "Isn't your real name Rice Miller?" According to his biography, Clapton claims that Williamson "pulled out a small penknife and glared at me". Although in awe of this genuine bluesman from the States, Clapton found himself somewhat disappointed by the experience. Apparently Williamson felt the same. Although he had an affection for the band, Williamson said "Those English kids want to play the blues so bad – and they play the blues so bad".

Gromelsky got the band signed to Columbia Records and after releasing a few lackluster singles; the band hit it big with the release of the LP "Five Live Yardbirds" which turned out to be a groundbreaking record in group dynamics and improvisation. While other bands were playing 3-minute songs, The Yardbirds were going six and seven minutes long with extended improvisational solos in the middle of the track. Clapton was using very thin gauge strings on his guitar at the time to facilitate his string bending and it was not uncommon for him to snap strings within a few minutes into the song. While he would be changing strings, it became almost standard practice for the audience to begin a slow handclap during the pause. This led Gromelsky to nickname him "Slowhand", a moniker that has stuck with him since. During his tenure with The Yardbirds, Clapton had begun to develop a rather critical and judgmental attitude toward pop music and anyone who was not playing just pure blues. When the band opted to record "For your love", a psychedelic rock track, Clapton felt that was the beginning of the end of his time with The Yardbirds. Shortly after the song hit number 3 in the U.K. and number 6 in the U.S., Clapton decided to leave the band.

Not long after leaving The Yardbirds, John Mayall of the Bluesbreakers contacted Clapton and asked him if would be interested in joining up with the band. The Bluesbreakers were a solid blues band and Clapton felt at once that the fit was right, as they were as pure about the blues as he was at that time. His time with the Bluesbreakers allowed Clapton to refine his already phenomenal guitar work playing the hard sound of the Chicago blues of Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Elmore James and Hubert Sumlin. The line up at time that Clapton joined up had Mayall playing piano, organ and rhythm guitar, Tom McGuinness on drums and John McVie on bass (later of Fleetwood Mac) and Clapton taking the reins of lead guitar. Mayall's Bluesbreakers toured extensively through Europe during Claptons time and the album they recorded "Blues Breakers: John Mayall with Eric Clapton" brought him critics notice and a sizable international fan base. But his time with Mayall brought about a seminal event in his life and in the history of rock and roll. It was where he met Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker.

It wasn't long before the three formed one of the Sixties most powerful bands: Cream. All of this by the time he was not quite twenty-two years old.

In the next installment: Cream, Blind Faith, Derek and the Dominos and then….
[FONT=Tahoma]"All I can do is be me ... whoever that is". Bob Dylan [/FONT]