Eric Clapton: Time Pieces
GW When did you start playing slide?
CLAPTON I’ve always played slide—not electric—but I played slide when I was playing acoustic in the pubs. I tried to play like Furry Lewis and the more primitive rural blues musicians, and I also tried to be a little bit like Muddy. Then it sort of went to one side, but it’s always come and gone; I’ve never really stuck very hard at it. I do love it, but somehow or another it doesn’t have the madness. When I got into Buddy Guy, there was something about the madness of his playing that I fell in love with. It was like someone jabbing you with their forefinger. It was the staccato madness of it, which you can’t do on slide.
GW Was Duane Allman an influence on your slide playing?
CLAPTON Yes, very much so.
GW The story of your meeting has it that you just went to see him in concert.
CLAPTON Well, we’d started the Derek and the Dominos album and we hadn’t really got very far. I’d written some songs and we had played gigs—some touring in England—and we’d got a kind of persona. But in the studio, it was very one-dimensional, and it didn’t feel like we were getting anywhere. There was a bit of frustration in the air. [Producer] Tom Dowd has always been a very clever mixer of people; he’s always been a great one for being a catalyst and putting different combinations of musicians together to get an effect. I don’t know whether he saw an end result or not, but I think he just wanted me to see Duane. In fact, I’d been talking about Duane, because I’d heard him play on Wilson Pickett’s recording of “Hey Jude,” and I kept asking people who he was. So Tom took me and all the rest of the Dominos to see the Allman Brothers play in Coconut Grove and introduced us.
I said, “Let’s hang out. Come back to the studio.” I wanted Duane to hear what we’d done. We just jammed and hung out, got drunk and did a few drugs. He just came in the studio and I kept him there! I kept thinking up ways to keep him in the room: “We could do this. Do you know this one?” Of course he knew everything that I would say, and we’d just do it. A lot of those things, like “Key to the Highway” or “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” are first or second takes. Then I’d quickly think of something else to keep him there. I knew that sooner or later he was going to go back to the Allmans, but I wanted to steal him! I tried, and he actually came on a few gigs, too. But then he had to say, almost like a woman, “Well, you know, I am actually married to this band and I can’t stay with you.” I was really quite heartbroken! I’d got really used to him, and after that I felt like I had to have another guitar player. I had Neal Schon come in for a little while, having met him through Carlos Santana, but by that time we were getting really fucked up and the band was on its way out.
GW That was the beginning of your dark period, wasn’t it?
CLAPTON I don’t know whether it can be fairly placed at the door of drugs or relationships or life issues as much as I just had to get away. I had been doing so much. I’d been out there for a long time, playing and playing, with no break. I do that a lot; I work quite hard—I always have. And at that point, for some reason, a combination of things put me into a kind of retirement that I needed.
I remember at the end of that period that I was starting to fall back in love with music. I remember listening to music very hard and wanting to play very much, but I had to get off the scene to get that enthusiasm back. Because I’d lost it.
Derek and the Dominos were recording in here when we broke up and I went into that dark place. I didn’t give a shit about the music anymore. We’d come in and just argue all day and have a go at one another, and then one of us would blow up and split. The music didn’t matter. I didn’t like the sound of my guitar, I didn’t like the way I played, and it took me a while to go away and come back to it. When I came back, it was with a different point of view, a fresh enthusiasm and a kind of open-mindedness to learn about new music, because that’s when I heard reggae. I was just like a kid in a sweet shop again.
GW You toured a hell of a lot throughout the Seventies.
CLAPTON Toured and recorded and got out of it! I had a great time, but it was all fairly directionless. I mean, I don’t regret any of it, to be honest; I think there was no other way for me to go, in a way. I’m just very grateful that I survived it and didn’t die, because I was often in some very seriously dangerous situations with booze and drugs. I used to do crazy things that people would bail me out of, where I was risking life and limb in cars or in different life-threatening situations. And I’m just grateful that I survived. But the music got very lost; I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t really care. I was more into just having a good time, and I think it showed. I think I got fairly irresponsible, and there were some people that liked it and other people that got very pissed off.
And my guitar playing took a back seat. I’d gotten fed up with that thing about “The Legend”—I wanted to be something else and I wasn’t really sure what that was. I was just latching onto people and trying to be like them, to see if something else would emerge. And all that did emerge, in the long run, is what I am now. I don’t really know what that is as a definition except it’s more in tune with what I was at the beginning— which is a blues musician.
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