The Eric Clapton story: the life and times of 'sold out' Slowhand
One of the most talented men to ever pick up a guitar performs classic hits in Dubai, at Media City, on March 6. Here’s how his story unfolded…
Eric Patrick Clapton is born in Surrey, England, the son of 16-year-old Patricia Molly Clapton and a 25-year-old Canadian pilot, Edward Walter Fryer. Clapton only discovered his father’s identity when he was 53. Clapton is raised by his maternal grandparents, believing they are his parents and that his mother is actually his older sister.
Clapton is given his first guitar – an acoustic Hoyer – for his 13th birthday, but finds it difficult to play and loses interest. Two years later he picks it up again and teaches himself by playing along to blues records.
After leaving Hollyfield School in Surbiton, Clapton studies at the Kingston College of Art, but is dismissed because his focus is on music rather than art. He begins busking around London, before moving to performing in pubs the following year.
Clapton joins The Yardbirds and rapidly becomes one of the most talked-about guitarists in British music. The rock ‘n’ roll-blues band attract a large cult following when they take over the Rolling Stones’ residency at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond.
The Yardbirds have their first big hit with For Your Love. It’s during his time with The Yardbirds that Clapton gets his nickname, Slowhand. Whenever he broke a guitar string during a concert (which was often because he liked to use thin strings), he would stay on stage and replace it. The audiences would do a slow handclap as they waited.
Clapton forms Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, and release their first album, Fresh Cream. They are known as music’s first ever supergroup.
Clapton buys his first Fender Stratocaster guitar – a used 1956 model, which became known as Brownie – from a music shop in London.
The Beatles guitarist George Harrison is nervous about his ability to play on his self-penned love song While My Guitar Gently Weeps, and asks best friend Clapton to record it with the band instead. “It made them all try a bit harder,” Harrison said of their temporary fifth member.
Cream perform for the final time, at the Royal Albert Hall in London.
Clapton forms blues rock band Derek And The Dominos. They release only one album, which contains the classic track Layla – Clapton’s ode to Pattie Boyd, the wife of his friend, George Harrison. Boyd eventually leaves him for Clapton. “I have regrets, obviously,” says Clapton. “Countless. One of the great regrets was getting involved with George Harrison’s marriage.”
Clapton makes a cameo in rock opera movie Tommy, written by The Who.
Clapton marries Boyd during a concert stop in Tucson, Arizona. Harrison is not bitter about the divorce and attends the wedding with Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. During their relationship, Clapton writes another love song for Boyd, Wonderful Tonight.
Clapton and Boyd try unsuccessfully to have children and attempt IVF.
Clapton and Boyd divorce.
His second child Conor, with Italian model Lory Del Santo, is born.
Tragically, Conor dies, when he falls out of an open bedroom window on the 53rd floor of a Manhattan apartment building. The death of his son is the inspiration for Clapton’s hit song, Tears In Heaven, released in 1992.
Cream are inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Clapton, himself a long-time alcohol and drug addict, opens the Crossroads rehab centre in Antigua.
Clapton auctions off some of his classic guitars at Christie’s in London, including his beloved Brownie, a 1956 Fender Stratocaster. He said later, “It was traumatic. It still chokes me up now. They meant a lot and they still do.”
Clapton marries his second wife, Melia McEnery. His daughter Julie Rose is born the same year, followed by Ella May in 2003 and Sophie Belle two years after that.
Having already been awarded an OBE, Clapton gets a CBE at Buckingham Palace. “As a kid I wouldn’t have been able to accept this,” he says at the time. “I was against the establishment. Now I’ve grown up, I think it’s important to set an example.”
He’s awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys.
He releases solo album, Old Sock, and performs at the Royal Albert Hall to mark his 50th year in music. After performing more than 200 gigs at the London venue, Clapton describes it as like “playing in my front room”.
Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, Dubai, 9pm. SOLD OUT. Tel: (04) 4273000. Metro: Nakheel.