Introduction to “Slowhand”
Eric Clapton has been considered one of the greatest axemen of all time. He had been with the Yardbirds and Cream before he formed his own act Derek and the Dominos.
The Dominos recorded their only studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The album yielded one of Clapton’s famous songs, “Layla”, which was to have a lasting impact on the world of rock and roll.
Clapton continued his success with his 1977 LP Slowhand, named after his famous monicker. As he was making full recovery from his addictions, he continued to be active in performing charity concerts (including the famous Live Aid concert in 1985) and recording prolifically. His son Conor’s death in 1991 triggered Clapton into writing one of his finest compositions, the elegiac “Tears In Heaven”, along with the help of Will Jennings. The track was a global hit — it peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the UK charts.
As the millenium entered, Clapton was still actively engaging in touring and recording. Clapton has achieved the rarest feat in showbusiness when he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times: one as a solo artist (2000) and as a member of the Yardbirds (1992) and Cream (1993)Clapton was ranked No. 53 by Rolling Stone in its list of “100 Greatest Artists Of All Time” and No. 2 on the music magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time”. In 2004, he also received the Commander of the British Empire honors from Queen Elizabeth II.
The guitarist and singer-songwriter’s career has been troubled with problems of alcohol and drug addiction as well as personal tragedies. Nevertheless, Clapton’s natural musical gifts and talents earned him numerous awards and citations, including three times as an inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and an honor given to him by Queen Elizabeth in 2004.
Clapton was born in Surrey, England in 1945. On his thirteenth birthday he received his first guitar, an acoustic Hoyer, but as his young fingers couldn’t take to the steel strings, he abandoned playing it. However, he picked the guitar again two years later and started to practice steadily. As he grew older Clapton was enrolled into an art school but his interests lay more on music. He was profoundly influenced by the sound of blues from an early age. By the time he was 16, Clapton was proficient enough to perform publicly. At first he was a busker around Kingston upon Thames in London, and at 17 he joined his first band where he stayed until 1963.
In October that same year Clapton joined the blues-rock band the Yardbirds. His advanced skills in playing the guitar got him a lot of buzz around British music circles. The Yardbirds scored a major hit with “For Your Love” in which Clapton took on guitar duties. It peaked at #3 on the UK charts (and #6 on the Billboard Hot 100, the group’s most successful single in their career). When the Yardbirds decided to move to a more pop-oriented sound, blues-loving Clapton was against it and so he left the band. He continued his rise to become one of the premiere guitarists in his native Britain, but still was unknown to American audiences.
Clapton joined in several other groups for short a while before joining the supergroup Cream in 1966, at the invitation by drummer Ginger Baker. Jimi Hendrix’s emergence made a lot of buzz among British music fans and Clapton found himself in a tight rivalry with the rock guitar virtuoso. However, Hendrix became Clapton’s influence and inspiration. Hendrix’s incredible talent had a lasting effect on Clapton.
He and Cream went on their first American tour in the mid-1960s. In New York, Cream recorded their second album Disreaeli Gears, which displayed the supergroup’s diverse repertoire from hard-driving rock to blues. The album rose to become one of the best-selling albums in the United States and Europe at that time, and that catapulted Cream into major superstars. Along with this, Clapton was now hailed and admired as a guitar genius.
Despite the major successes Cream were achieving, the band soon broke up mainly due to personal strifes between his bandmates, Baker and Jack Bruce. Besides, Clapton was soon growing tired of the band’s superstardom status and the commerically-fueled music that he was obliged to play. He wanted to play straight, pure blues.
Following the breakup of Cream, Clapton formed the blues-rock band Blind Faith, along with Baker, Steve Winwood, and Ric Grech. Another successful group, the band produced one full-length album and had several sold-out shows in London, parts of Scandinavia and the United States. Blind Faith was also short-lived, and broke up after being together for less than seven months. Clapton was getting frustrated by the superstardom hype that he was getting.
Clapton ventured in other musical opportunities with other groups and other projects. He had played for Delaney and Bonnie and Friends, performed with John Lennon and his Plastic Ono band, as well as with his closest friend George Harrison. At that time Clapton was also developing his singing and songwriting skills.
He formed Derek and the Dominos in the early 1970s. Through his friendship with Harrison, Clapton met the latter’s wife Pattie Boyd, to whom Clapton eventually feel hard for. This provided most of the material for the Domino’s only studio album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. The unexpected arrival of Duane Allman (of the Allman Brothers Band) added support for the band in their recording sessions. Allman and Clapton also jammed together and became close friends.
The album yielded one of Clapton’s most famous songs, “Layla”, which he wrote with drummer Jim Gordon. It peaked at #7 on the UK charts, and #51 on the Hot 100. More importantly, the song has had a lasting impact on the world of rock and roll, and the magazine Rolling Stone has cited “Layla” as one of the 500 greatest songs.
Clapton severed ties with his Domino bandmates when clashes took place within the band. He had also had a string of other tragedies in his life. Aside from being terribly heartbroken as a result of his love for Pattie Boyd, he was also addicted to alcohol and drugs, especially heroin. The death of his idol Jimi Hendrix devastated him, as did the death of his friend Duane Allman from a motorcycle accident.
Once he kicked his heroin addiction and was now living together with Boyd, Clapton returned to recording. He assembled a group of backing musicians and together they recorded his second LP 461 Ocean Boulevard, which was released in July 1974. It contained his cover of Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff” which helped reggae music gain mainstream acceptance; it went to #1 on the Hot 100, and #9 on the UK charts. 461 Ocean Boulevard itself went to #1 on the Billboard 200 album charts, and #3 on the UK album charts. He followed the 461 trend with his next album There’s One In Every Crowd, but it didn’t enjoy as much commercial success as its predecessor did. He also released his live album E.C. Was Here, recorded from his gig at the Long Beach Arena in California, which did well on the Billboard 200 album chart at #20.
Clapton continued his success with his 1977 LP Slowhand, named after his famous monicker. It produced two Top 20 singles, “Lay Down Sally” and “Wonderful Tonight”. It peaked at #2 on the Billboard 200 album rankings, and has become one of Clapton’s most important and influential works. Its 1978 follow-upBackless was also successful on the album charts (at #8); it yielded the top 10 single “Promises”. His next studio album was 1981’s Another Ticket, which also fared equally well. Its single “I Can’t Stand It” just made it to the Billboard Top 10.
As he was making full recovery from his addictions, he continued to be active in performing charity concerts (including the famous Live Aid concert in 1985) and recording at a fast pace. He collaborated with Phil Collins who produced two of his 1980s releases, Behind The Sun, and August (which was to become Clapton’s most successful album in the UK).
In 1991, his son Conor fell to his death from the 53d-floor window of his mother’s friend’s apartment in New York City. This grief triggered Clapton into writing one of his finest compositions, the soulful “Tears In Heaven”, along with the help of Will Jennings. The track was a global hit — it peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #5 on the UK charts. It topped the charts in other countries such as Canada, Ireland, and New Zealand. This was accompanied by a soundtrack album to the 1992 film Rush, and the very successful Unplugged live album in the same year. “Tears In Heaven” was awarded Song of the Year and Record of the Year in 1993 at the Grammy’s.
Clapton went on to win more Grammy’s. His popular blues song “Change The World” was named “Song of The Year” in 1997. And in 1999, he received another Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for his song “My Father’s Eyes”.
As the millenium entered, Clapton was still actively engaging in touring and recording. In 2002 he performed and served as musical director (along with ELO’s Jeff Lyne) for The Concert For George, a memorial to his friend George Harrison on the latter’s first death anniversary. He performed alongside Lynne, Tom Petty, Jools Holland, Billy Preston, George’s son Dhani and surviving Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
He reunited with his former Blind Faith mate Steve Winwood and teamed up with him for a series of tours around the US in the summer of 2009.
Clapton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times: one as a solo artist (2000) and as a member of the Yardbirds (1992) and Cream (1993) – a truly amazing feat.
Clapton was ranked No. 53 by Rolling Stone in its list of “100 Greatest Artists Of All Time” and No. 2 on the music magazine’s “100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time”. In 2004, he also received the Commander of the British Empire honors from Queen Elizabeth II.
Recently, Clapton just released his latest studio album Old Sock in March of 2013 which features new material as well as his personal favorite songs. Prominent collaborators included Steve Winwood and Paul McCartney.
Eric Clapton, with all his trials, successes and achievements, is truly a well-weathered guitar legend, and a rock royalty. But he is still active in making music and “Slowhand” isn’t going to slow down, just yet.