Eric Clapton: Time Pieces
GW Looking back now, are you able to put your history into context objectively? Are you able to look back at the player you were then and actually think, Yeah, that was okay, or, That was a bit shaky?
CLAPTON Yes, fairly. I think all of it was okay until drugs and drink got involved. I don’t think my facility as a player has really gotten much better or worse. I mean, I just finished doing a blues in there, a Freddie King song, and it doesn’t sound that much stiffer or that much faster than when I was with John Mayall or Cream— a bit more fluent, a bit more confident maybe. But what’s clear to me is that then I was much more in touch with the actual making of music, as I am again now. There was this long bit in between where I was more inclined to just get out of it. At some point toward the end of the Sixties and all the way through the Seventies, I was out, you know? I was on holiday, and being a musician was my way of making the money to be on holiday.
GW That whole thing started with Jimi Hendrix’s death, in a way. The dates are almost coincidental, aren’t they?
CLAPTON Yeah. It was funny how that all picked up. The Sixties were great and we were all doing drugs recreationally. We were all under the impression that we could take it or leave it. It was more like weekend binging: you’d do whatever you were doing, and then you’d get stoned one night or you’d take acid, and then you wouldn’t do it again for a while. Then it got to the point where those of us who were addicts by nature just carried on doing it, and we’d do it all the time.
I think we lost the thread then, but—and I suppose this may be a bit presumptuous—it kind of opened the door for punk, because there was no continuity from the musical pattern that evolved in the Sixties. It kind of got scrambled and lost with all the drugs and opened the door for all the anarchy, bitterness and anger. The musicians of the Seventies didn’t really have a very clear legacy. The legacy got very fucked and very self-indulgent. I think that the whole thing about the Sex Pistols was that there were really pissed off at our indulgence—the indulgence and that self-righteous stance of the Sixties.
GW Jimi actually jammed with Cream, didn’t he?
CLAPTON Yes. First time I ever met him, we were playing at the Central London Polytechnic, and Jimi came along with [his manager] Chas Chandler. I don’t know how long he’d been in England, maybe a couple of days, but he got up and played. He was doing Howlin’ Wolf songs, and I couldn’t believe this guy. I couldn’t believe it. Part of me wanted to run away and say, “Oh, now this is what I want to be—I can’t handle this.” And part of me just fell in love. It was a really difficult thing for me to deal with, but I just had to surrender and say, “This is fantastic.”
GW You became good friends, didn’t you?
CLAPTON Oh yeah, instantly, instantly.
GW I don’t think people realize how much of a blues player Hendrix was. In a lot of ways it’s obvious now, but in those days it didn’t seem to come into it.
CLAPTON No, I know. I think a lot of people thought, Oh yeah, the Band of Gypsys thing was the best. Or they look at different eras of his music making in terms of his “peak” or his “most prolific” or his “most creative” periods. But the core of all his playing was blues, and what really used to upset him the most was that he got this fixation about selling out. He got very down on himself and very cynical about his acceptance. He thought he was going commercial all the time, and yet he couldn’t stop himself, in a way.
GW You’ve recorded Jimi’s “Stone Free” and “Little Wing” in the past. Why haven’t you recorded more of his songs, seeing as you were so close?
CLAPTON I got very jealous of Jimi. I was very possessive about him when he was alive, and when he died I was very angry and got even more possessive. If people talked to me about Hendrix, I would just turn away; I wasn’t interested in their perception of Hendrix because I felt like they were talking about an ex-girlfriend or a brother who had died. I just thought, I’m not talking to you about it; I knew him and he was very dear to me, and it’s very painful to hear you talk about him as if you knew him—you fucking didn’t!
I didn’t want anything to do with it. It’s taken me all of this time to heal. I don’t know how long the grieving process is, but in my experience, it’s a fucking long time. It’s taken me this long to be able to pick up a guitar and play a Hendrix song.
GW Why did you choose to record “Stone Free” for the 1993 Hendrix tribute album, Stone Free?
CLAPTON Well, the thing with “Stone Free” is that when Jimi first played it to me, he told me that it was the one he wanted as the A-side instead of “Hey Joe.” To me, it was better than “Hey Joe.” When I heard “Stone Free,” it blew my fucking mind! And I thought, They’re going to put “Hey Joe” out because it’s commercial, but he wanted “Stone Free.” And it was the first recorded thing that I’d heard of his, and so that was the connection to our friendship.
GW Was your switching to Strats around the time of Jimi’s death a conscious tribute to him on your part?
CLAPTON Yes, I think it was. Once he wasn’t there any more, I felt like there was room to pick it up. Then I saw Steve Winwood playing one, and something about that really did it for me. I’d always worshipped Steve, and whenever he made a move, I would be right on it. I gave great weight to his decisions, because to me he was one of the few people in England who had his finger on some kind of universal musical pulse. I went to see him at the Marquee, and he was playing a white-necked Strat, and there was something about it…
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