Eric Clapton: Time Pieces
Blues purist. Guitar god. Pop star. Eric Clapton has been all these and more. In this exhaustive, wide- ranging interview, rock’s great survivor reflects on his tumultuous journey.
In 1994, after 30 years in the business as a blues-influenced rock and roll electric guitarist, Eric Clapton finally got down to the business of recording a blues album of his own. From the Cradle was a far cry from the fast-and-loose style of blues tribute tossed off by less-reverent players; it was a collection of authentic blues songs played on instruments from the period and constructed with the loving care of a man who has a reputation for nitpicking perfection in everything he does. Ironically, the album was recorded in the very studio where, as a member of the British group the Yardbirds, Clapton had cut the band’s first single, “I Wish You Would.” Located in London, England, Olympic Studios has been the site of numerous recordings he has made throughout his long career. The studio made the perfect setting for Clapton to reflect upon his past and discuss the guitarists whose work is at the heart of his own.
ERIC CLAPTON I’m recording this album as much as I can with everybody on the floor at the same time—horns and everything. We’re trying not to overdub anything at all, so mistakes and everything go in.
GUITAR WORLD A bit like the old Chicago days?
CLAPTON Yes, I suppose so—although I think even they overdubbed sometimes. But for the purpose of getting it the way I want it to feel, I want everything live.
GW In a way, this studio is your old stomping ground, isn’t it?
CLAPTON This is where a lot of the early stuff was done. This is my idea of a recording studio; I came here more than anywhere else, and it’s between where I was born and where I used to hang out. It’s in the middle of all of my stomping grounds, and I think I must have recorded here with just about every outfit I ever played with—although I don’t think John Mayall came here.
GW Can you remember what it was that turned you on to music in the beginning?
CLAPTON Well, the first thing that rang in my head was black music—all black records that were R&B or blues oriented. I remember hearing Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Big Bill Broonzy, Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and not really knowing anything about the geography or culture of the music. But for some reason it did something to me—it resonated. Then I found out later that they were black; they were from the deep South and they were American black men. That started my education.
In fact, the only education I ever really had was finding out about the blues. I took a kind of elementary, fundamental education in art, but it didn’t rivet my attention in the same way as blues did. I mean, I wanted to know everything.
I spent all of my mid-to-late teens and early twenties studying the music; studying the geography of it, the chronology of it. The roots, the different regional influences and how everybody interrelated and how long people lived and how quickly they learned things and how many songs they had of their own and what songs were shared around. I mean, I was just into it, you know? I was learning to play it, as well, and trying to figure out how to apply it to my life. I don’t think I took it that seriously as a potential profession, because when you’re young, you don’t; it was only when other people showed an interest that I realized that I could make a living out of it.