Eric Clapton: Time Pieces
GW What about your choice of instrument? When did you first hear the guitar and think, That’s what I want to play?
CLAPTON I think that when I heard early Elvis records and Buddy Holly—when it became clear to me that I was hearing an electric guitar— then I think I wanted to get near it. I was interested in the white rock and rollers until I heard Freddie King; then I was over the moon! I knew that was where I belonged, finally. That was serious, proper guitar playing, and I haven’t changed my mind ever since. I still listen to his music in my car, when I’m at home, and I get the same boost from it that I did then.
GW The first guitar of yours was a Hoyer, wasn’t it?
CLAPTON Yeah, it was a Hoyer acoustic.
GW Did it have nylon strings or metal?
CLAPTON Funnily enough, it looked like a gut-stringed guitar, but it was steel-stringed. An odd combination.
GW But it wasn’t too long before you got your first electric?
CLAPTON I got a Kay doublecutaway. I got one because Alexis Korner had one.
GW That can’t have lasted too long either, because by the time you were in the Yardbirds, you were using Telecasters and Gretsches.
CLAPTON It didn’t stand up too well. I think the neck bowed, and it didn’t seem to me that you could do much about it. It had a truss rod, but it wasn’t that effective, and the action ended up being incredibly high. I remember at some point I didn’t want it to look like it looked any more, and so I covered it in black Fablon [vinyl adhesive shelf paper]! Can you imagine what it sounded like after that? Let alone what it looked like?
I ended up with the ES - 335TD C and then I got into Fenders. I had a Telecaster and a Jazzmaster.
GW What was it like for you when you started playing in the clubs?
CLAPTON Well, anybody that had any idea of how to play any instrument could just about hold their own, because there was no competition—there was no one around. There was only a handful of bands, and anyone that could play Sam and Dave, Stax and Motown was a master. I came from the blues, and so I had a grasp of that kind of thing; to my reckoning, R&B came from the blues, so I felt I was in some kind of inner sanctum, mentally or spiritually or whatever. If you could play anything in a halfway convincing fashion, you were the boss. If you were pretty good, you could work all the time and you’d get fairly well paid and be successful. It was easy to be successful if you had what was necessary, which was the right musical taste.
GW It’s a historical fact that, in the early part of the Sixties, it was practically impossible to get the electric guitar sounds heard on blues records using Britishmade amps. How did you overcome that?
CLAPTON Just by turning them flat out! I though the obvious solution was to get an amp and play it as loud as it would go, until it was just about to burst. When I was doing that album with John Mayall, it was obvious that if you miked the amp too close, it would sound awful. So you had to put the mic a long way away and get the room sound of that amp breaking up.
GW That was when you discovered Marshalls, wasn’t it?
GW What were you using prior to joining the Bluesbreakers?
CLAPTON I was using Vox AC30s and things like that, but they didn’t do it for me. They were too “toppy”; they didn’t have any midrange at all.
GW Did you use anything to drive the front end, or did you just crank them right up?
CLAPTON Cranked them right up and still they didn’t distort, as far as I can remember. They may have distorted, but I can’t remember that they did so in an attractive way. It didn’t really get thick; it just got edgy.
GW Did you harbor any romantic feelings for that period at all? I think it was Mark Knopfler who said that in some ways he misses the old days, where you could show up at a club with an amp and a guitar and just do a gig.
CLAPTON Well, yeah, that’s true. Although I don’t picture myself doing that these days. It’s funny for me now to think of walking into a club and seeing another band play. I do it every now and then and it all comes back to me, and I feel like this is where I belong. I mean, I grew up playing in clubs; that is my spiritual stomping ground. And every time I walk into a club, I feel like I’m going to be asked to play, but I don’t get asked to play.
Back in the Sixties, if you did go into a club to see someone play, you already knew those people; there was no intimidation, no inhibitions at all. It was just that you hung out with these people and you played with them all the time, so in that respect I miss that camaraderie. There was competition, but it was friendly; now I think it’s much more aggressive. I went through that [being a] “dinosaur” thing 10 years ago, so God knows what it’s like for me to show up somewhere now! I don’t know what they think of me now if I walk into a club. What do I represent to young players? I have no idea. I don’t know where they’ve gone in their heads now, what they think, what their influences are. It probably has nothing to do with what my contribution was. I have no idea.
GW Let’s talk about the whole “Clapton is God” thing. Were you uncomfortable with it?
CLAPTON I thought it was quite justified, to be honest with you! [laughs] I suppose I felt that I deserved it for the amount of seriousness that I’d put into it. I was so deadly serious about what I was doing. I thought everyone else was either in it just to be on Top of the Pops or to score girls or for some dodgy reason. I was in it to save the fucking world! I wanted to tell the world about blues and to get it right. Even then I thought that I was on some kind of mission, so in a way I thought, Yes, I am God; quite right. My head was huge! I was unbearably arrogant and not a fun person to be around most of the time, because I was just so superior and very judgmental. I didn’t have any time for anything that didn’t fit into my pattern or scheme of things.
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