Eric Clapton: Crossroads
A brief history of the life and evolution of Eric Clapton presented by Guitar World magazine.
“I try to find the places I’ve been before,” Eric Clapton told an interviewer in the early Nineties. “To go back and find a phrase which has a meaning, that belongs to some part of my experience, is very valuable to me because it will put me in touch with something that may involve lots of thought processes that I had forgotten, which are still quite valid.”
In this statement is the key to understanding most of Clapton’s output in the past 15 years, a period in which he’s enjoyed his greatest commercial success and highest level of mainstream fame. Having long ago proven everything he needed to as a musician—guitarists were calling him “God” when he was barely into his twenties—the Clapton of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has chosen to delve deep into his own history, reconnecting with the music, and sometimes the musicians, who inspired him in younger years. This is all a roundabout way of saying that to fully grasp the significance of what he’s doing now, you have to be aware of his past. And few pasts are more illustrious than Eric Clapton’s.
Eric Patrick Clapton was born in the southeastern English town of Ripley on March 30, 1945. He was the illegitimate son of a 16-year-old girl and a married Canadian army officer who had hightailed it back across the Atlantic before the boy was born. Clapton’s mother soon vanished from his life in a similar fashion, moving to Germany and leaving him in the care of her parents, Rose and Jack Clapp (Eric’s surname was borrowed from Rose’s first husband, Reginald Clapton). For a time, Clapton believed that his grandparents were actually his parents. When Rose and Jack revealed the truth, he became depressed, withdrawn and a poor performer in school, failing the exams that would have enabled him to progress to university.
In previous eras, a young man in Clapton’s situation would have been drafted into the armed forces. But the U.K.’s then-recent abolition of compulsory national service meant that he was free instead to enter the realm where so many sensitive youths with few career prospects ended up in the early Sixties: art college, the fabled crucible of British rock. Though Clapton had an aptitude for painting and graphic design, his interest in any kind of academics withered as music rapidly became the main focus of his life. He’d begun playing guitar in his early teens, inspired by the American blues of Big Bill Broonzy. By the age of 17, he was devoted to the instrument, and his intensive practicing interfered with his course work to such an extent that the Kingston College of Art expelled him.
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