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Music / Eric Clapton

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Would you know my name if I saw you in Heaven?
Would it be the same if I saw you in Heaven?
I must be strong, and carry on
'Cause I know I don't belong here in Heaven
— "Tears in Heaven"

The '60s urban graffiti

Eric Patrick Clapton CBE (born in Ripley, England on 30 March 1945) is one of those artists who can find great success in his solo efforts or as part of a band. He ranked second in Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.note  He's played a variety of genres, from blues to psychedelic to pop and even reggae numbers. His influence is felt across pop, blues, and rock, with multiple chart and critical successes.

Clapton has been part of numerous bands throughout his career. His first major band was The Yardbirds. He replaced founding lead guitarist Anthony "Top" Topham and he was with them for 2 years - 1963 to 1965. It was during this time in his career he gained the nickname "Slowhand", coming from his habit of changing the strings on his guitar on-stage in concert whenever they happened to break. While waiting for him finish the process, the audience would engage in a "slow clap," and thus his nickname was born (although other sources suggest a more complimentary story; he got the nickname for his trademark wide, slow vibrato). Clapton quit The Yardbirds because at the time he was a blues purist and he felt that with For Your Love, the band was selling out. Clapton was replaced by Jeff Beck.

After his time with The Yardbirds, he briefly joined John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers but left after a few months. He only recorded one album with them: Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton, also nicknamed Beano, but it was a legendary one. The whole Clapton Is God thing started with the release of this album. How important was it? Judge for yourself, but Jimi Hendrix said it was his biggest inspiration.

It was in 1966 that Clapton formed his first supergroup: Powerhouse. With the likes of Jack Bruce and Steve Winwood, their discography consists of just three officially released songs on an artist compilation called What's Shakin'. This was immediately followed by Cream, with Bruce and Ginger Baker. Cream brought Clapton his first success in America with the songs "Sunshine of Your Love", "White Room" and "Crossroads". They were also legendary for their long jams and high musical capability. Back when they existed, they were the top-selling live act, beating out Hendrix.

Clapton then formed Blind Faith with Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech. A short-lived but critically acclaimed band, they released one album before breaking up, and Clapton joined Delaney and Bonnie and Friends for a short time. After that Clapton and other members of Delaney and Bonnie's band teamed up to form Derek and the Dominos. They released Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs which included the big hit, "Layla". Duane Allman made a guest appearance on that song, and others on the album. After the band's disintegration, Clapton finally went solo. Two of his biggest solo hits, "I Shot the Sheriff" and "Cocaine", were covers.

Massive success, as it often does, took its toll. Clapton fell into substance abuse in the '70s, abusing heroin in particular. He managed to free himself from that particular issue after going into rehab but relapsed into alcohol several times. After this dark episode, he managed to remain in public consciousness with 461 Ocean Boulevard, a laid down, reggae-inspired album including "I Shot the Sheriff" which quickly sold like crazy. His alcohol problems continued at the time to haunt him, and his still-often-brought-up racist rant in Birmingham, 1976 was one of many events that eventually caused him to go into rehab again.

It was thanks to the support of other massive '80s artists — notably Phil Collins but also Tina Turner — that he managed to climb back up the slope. Beginning with Behind the Sun and August, he managed to recapture part of his early meteoric stardom. He continued then to tour and record through to 2000 with few issues. His most notable performances came in the early 90s on MTV's Unplugged series. There he performed acoustic versions of "Layla" and "Tears in Heaven", the latter of which was written in grief after the death of his 4-year-old son in 1991.

Although most people remember the Clapton of the '60s and '70s, he has been lauded for many efforts between 1990 and 2010. Two electric blues essentials, From the Cradle (1994) and Me and Mr. Johnson (2004, a tribute to blues pioneer Robert Johnson). Two hugely successful collaborations, Riding With the King (2000, with B.B. King) and The Road to Escondido (2006, with JJ Cale). As well as the critically acclaimed CLAPTON (2010). He announced his retirement around the middle of the new ten's and his probable last tour (although that was also said of the 2001 tour) will be held in 2015.

Clapton has the distinct accomplishment of having made guest appearances on solo albums released by all four ex-Beatles over the years; John Lennon's Live Peace in Toronto and Sometime in New York City; Paul McCartney's Kisses on the Bottom; Ringo Starr's Ringo Rama, and numerous George Harrison albums, as well as a Beatles group album (The White Album, contributing the solo to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps").

Studio Discography:

  • 1970 - Eric Clapton
  • 1974 - 461 Ocean Boulevard
  • 1975 - There's One in Every Crowd
  • 1976 - No Reason to Cry
  • 1977 - Slowhand
  • 1978 - Backless
  • 1981 - Another Ticket
  • 1983 - Money and Cigarettes
  • 1985 - Behind the Sun
  • 1985 - Edge of Darkness
  • 1986 - August
  • 1989 - Journeyman
  • 1992 - Rush
  • 1994 - From the Cradle
  • 1998 - Pilgrim
  • 2000 - Riding With the King note 
  • 2001 - Reptile
  • 2004 - Me and Mr. Johnson
  • 2004 - Sessions for Robert J
  • 2005 - Back Home
  • 2006 - The Road to Escondido note 
  • 2010 - Clapton
  • 2013 - Old Sock
  • 2014 - The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale

Live Discography:

  • 1973 - Eric Clapton's Rainbow Concert
  • 1975 - E.C. Was Here
  • 1980 - Just One Night
  • 1983 - Time Pieces Vol. II: Live in the Seventies
  • 1991 - 24 Nights
  • 1992 - Unplugged
  • 1996 - Crossroads 2: Live in the Seventies
  • 2002 - One More Car, One More Rider
  • 2009 - Live From Madison Square Garden note 
  • 2011 - Play the Blues Live From Jazz at Lincoln Center note 
  • 2013 - Crossroads Guitar Festival 2013 note 

Eric Clapton and his work provide examples of:

  • The Alcoholic: He was a huge drinker from the 1970s until he got clean in 1987. Clapton related in his autobiography how he once played an entire concert on his back with the microphone lying next to him because he was too drunk to stand.
  • Always Someone Better: In London during the late '60s, a young man fresh off the boat from America made the audacious request to jam with Cream... and ended up upstaging Clapton. The young man's name? Jimi Hendrix. (Oh, and you know how the intro mentioned Clapton being the second greatest guitarist of all time? Guess who's number one?)
  • Big Rock Ending: You know the famous ending of "Layla"? It's not in the version on Clapton's Unplugged album. In fact, the whole song on Unplugged has a completely different feel to it, though that doesn't mean it's not as good as the original.
  • Blasphemous Praise: Clapton was a subject of this, with some graffiti in London saying "Clapton is God."
  • The Casanova: He is a rock star, after all. In addition to romancing the wives of other rock stars, some of his more notable relationships include Janis Joplin and supermodel (and former French First Lady) Carla Bruni. Sheryl Crow's "My Favourite Mistake" is allegedly about him.
  • Cool Car: Owns a custom one-off Ferrari.
  • The Cover Changes the Gender: Some King and Queen-swapping goes on in "Change the World", originally sung by Wynonna.
  • Defeat Equals Friendship: Blind Faith spent its entire tour under-performing expectations, blown away at every stop by opening act Delaney and Bonnie. Clapton responded by disbanding the group and joining the undercard as a backing guitarist for their subsequent tour, even recruiting George Harrison into the fold. The ensuing Live Album, On Tour with Eric Clapton, effectively broke the latter into the mainstream.
    • Clapton became very close friends with Jimi Hendrix after he found out about Hendrix's outstanding talent. He reportedly about said Hendrix, "Nobody told me he was that damn good!" and a Friendly Rivalry began between the two. When Hendrix died in 1970, Clapton was devastated and took a brief hiatus from his career.
  • Disappeared Dad: Clapton never met his father, a Canadian serviceman who was stationed in England during World War II, and who died in 1985 without ever knowing that he had a son. Clapton would write the song "My Father's Eyes" about the fact that he had never known his father.
  • The Diss Track: Promises charts the end of a marriage where the two people involved have not only fallen out of love, they cannot stand each other any more.
    I got a problem, can you relate?
    I got a woman, call it love-hate;
    We made a vow we'd always be friends,
    How could we know that promises end!
  • Drugs Are Bad: "Cocaine"
    If your day is gone and you want to ride on, cocaine
    Don't forget this fact, you can't get it back, cocaine
  • Epic Rocking: "Layla" and Cream as a whole.
  • Evolving Music: "Layla." First, he performed it with Derek and the Dominos. Then, when he did a solo unplugged performance for MTV, he did a much slower and soulful rendition of it. Later, he and Wynton Marsalis performed it in a New Orleans-styled jazz-blues style.
    • "After Midnight" went through the same evolution: uptempo original, then a slower re-recording that became popular in its own right. Clapton may have taken a cue from the song's composer, J. J. Cale, who did a bluesier re-recording of it after Clapton's first version became a hit.
  • Fake Band: The Louisiana Gator Boys, which Eric Clapton was a part of in Blues Brothers 2000.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "I Can't Stand It".
  • Friendly Rival: To Jimi Hendrix.
  • Grief Song: Try listening to "Tears In Heaven" without crying.
  • Gun Nut: Downplayed. He enjoys shooting for recreation and being a rich rock star he can afford to indulge it as a hobby, but his interest in guns is secondary to his passion for music.
  • I Call It "Vera": He tends to name his guitars, and has both a "Blackie" and a "Brownie." Guess what colour they are.
  • Ironic Nickname: While he likely gained it for a different reason, his nickname "Slowhand" is this in contrast to how blazingly fast-paced his lead guitar work, especially in the 60s, is.
  • Lead Singer Plays Lead Guitar: Clapton Zig Zags the lead singer part while keeping the role of lead guitarist constant. In Cream he occasionally sang but mostly let Lead Bassist Jack Bruce handle lead vocals. In Derek and the Dominos and his solo career, however, he plays both roles.
  • Love Triangle: He was in love with George Harrison's wife Pattie Boyd, and eventually ran off with her, though the relationship didn't last. Surprisingly, the two men's friendship survived the drama.
  • Obsession Song: A whole slew of 'em, and they're all about Pattie Boyd. "Layla" is the most famous example.
  • Older Than They Look: He was until around his 70th birthday. Nowadays, he definitely looks his age.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: "Tears In Heaven" is about Connor Clapton, his son, who died at the age of four after falling to his death from an apartment building.
  • Raised by Grandparents: Clapton was born to a teenage mother and a Canadian soldier who shipped off to war before Eric's birth, and returned to Canada afterward. He was raised by his grandmother and her second husband, and grew up believing they were his parents and that his mother was his sister.
  • Rearrange the Song: On his Unplugged album, he did a soulful rendition of his hit with Derek and the Dominos, "Layla". His version of "Crossroads" has been covered many times.
  • Repurposed Pop Song: His second version of "After Midnight" was used in a late '80s commercial for Michelob beer.
    • "Wonderful Tonight" has been used in a Super Bowl advertisement.
  • Self-Deprecation: He does this a lot in his autobiography, e.g. recalling how reluctant he was to sing "Rambling On My Mind" on the Blues Breakers album because he disliked his "thin, high" voice so much, compared to the voices of his favourite blues singers. He's also pretty unsparing about his younger self's attitude towards women.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Clapton struggled for years with heroin addiction and alcoholism. His drying out was so prolonged and painful he had to learn how to play the guitar all over again.
  • Signature Instrument: Clapton has had several: the sunburst Gibson Les Paul he played on the "Beano" album; the psychedelic Gibson SG he used in Cream; and two Fender Stratocasters- "Brownie" which he used on Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs and "Blackie" that he assembled out of the best bits of three Strats, and used throughout the 70s and 80s. He now uses his actual signature instrument, the Fender Eric Clapton Stratocaster.
  • Something Blues: "Bell Bottom Blues", with Derek and the Dominos.
  • Spiritual Successor/Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Clapton at least considers Derek Trucks as one for the late Duane Allman, to the point where touring with Trucks as a sideman drove him to play the entire Layla And Other Love Songs album most nights.
  • Truck Driver's Gear Change: Toward the end of "It's In The Way That You Use It".
  • Unplugged Version: As mentioned in the description, one of Clapton's best-known performances was for MTV Unplugged, where he recorded acoustic versions of "Layla" and "Tears in Heaven," both of which ended up almost as well-known as the originals. See Adaptation Displacement for more on "Layla."
  • Unrequited Love: The theme of the entire Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs album. Patti Boyd did not return his feelings for four years. This contributed to his heroin addiction and career hiatus during the same period.
    • There's also "Next Time You See Her" from Slowhand.
  • Wait for Your Date: The first verse "Wonderful Tonight" is about this, with the subtext of "Yes, baby, you look wonderful. Now can we PLEASE get going?":
    It's late in the evening; she's wondering what clothes to wear
    She puts on her make-up and brushes her long blonde hair
    And then she asks me, Do I look all right?
    And I say, "Yes, you look wonderful tonight."
  • What the Hell, Hero?: "Layla" is a love song to Patti Boyd...while she was still married to George Harrison.


Video Example(s):


Tears in Heaven

Eric Clapton premieres his new song, "Tears in Heaven", about the death of his son.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / GriefSong

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