Eric Clapton: Time Pieces
GW It has been said of those days that nobody could actually predict what any given Eric Clapton concert was going to be like.
CLAPTON It would depend very much on who I’d bumped into that day—who had managed to corner my attention— because then I’d just go off with them. I was just like a grass in the wind: I went anywhere. I was literally anybody’s, depending on what they were holding— you know, what drug or what drink they were on. Then there’d be the gig in the evening, and I’d be wherever that was, wherever I’d been taken.
GW That period ended dramatically around 1984-1985. Suddenly, there were projects like Edge of Darkness and the Roger Waters album The Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking, which saw you playing with much more fire and power. But it was probably Live Aid that was responsible for reestablishing you in many people’s minds. Did the reaction you received surprise you?
CLAPTON Yeah! I’m not sure I was even able to take it all in. I’ve always been a very, very self-effacing or low-self-worth sort of person. When they told me where I was going to be on the bill, I didn’t get it. I thought, What? Really? And that really did a lot for me. And that reception—it was mind blowing! From that point on, I stared to give myself a bit more of a pat on the back and to be kind to myself.
GW Did the multiple Grammys for Unplugged take you by surprise?
CLAPTON Yeah, I must admit I found it all a bit overblown. I mean, I thought the album was quite rough, to say the least. I think most of the recognition and applause was wrapped up in another gesture—which is beautiful and I don’t want to put that down at all. I appreciate all of it, but I felt it was all a little bit blown out of proportion. And frightening. If I’d taken it too seriously, it could have done me in.
GW There have been lots of books written about you. What do you think of them?
CLAPTON I think they all take it far too seriously. It’s a bit like the “Clapton is God” thing; they all follow on from that. Survivor [Ray Coleman’s 1993 authorized biography] has got a hint of that. It’s all a bit reverent, isn’t it? I don’t really see myself as being that heroic. I was just lucky to be in the right place at the right time and very fortunate to have survived. So I am a survivor, but it all ought to be taken a little less seriously, I feel.
I think if it’s due to anything, it’s just the fact that I’m fairly honest about what I do. I just try to do the best and carry on working, and do it as simply and unaffectedly as possible. I’m not bullshitting people: all I really want to do is to play with dignity and self-respect. I’m making a blues album because things have come full circle. It’s been 30 years and I’m doing what I’ve always wanted to do. I’m fulfilling myself for other people too, because I’ve always been badgered about this. People are always saying, “When are you going to do this blues album that you’re always on about?” And I’m doing it! It then frees me up, opens the door for whatever’s next, and it will be interesting to see what that is going to be,
GW At the Albert Hall this year, not only were you using a Les Paul again, you were playing a great many vintage Gibsons. Are you using them on the blues album?
CLAPTON Yeah. This album is paying respect to the records the way I heard and felt about them, as much as possible. And so, when I’m singing and playing, I’m trying to be me being Freddie King. Of course, that doesn’t happen, because it still comes out as me, but I’m doing it as much as I can: in the way we record it, for instance, all on the floor at the same time; with the instruments I play and the way I sing it—everything to try and be as true to my recollection of the experience as possible. Not that I want to copy the original record that closely, but the experience— the emotional way it felt to me.
GW Singing “Tears in Heaven” and “The Circus Left Town” must be extremely difficult for you.
CLAPTON It’s been close on occasions where I could choke and not be able to do it, but then what would happen? We’d have to stop and it would get mawkish and embarrassing. At the same time, to back off and pretend that it’s about nothing and just play it as if it was a song that had no meaning would be pointless, so there’s a thin line you have to tread, somewhere in the middle. It does require a fair amount of discipline, concentration and focus to stay in the right place and not step off the tightrope either way.
GW Are you going to record “The Circus Left Town”?
CLAPTON Yeah. I wanted to talk to the record company about recording another album alongside this one and putting it out as a double album, but at the moment it seems that they’re not in agreement. It’s not just “The Circus Left Town”; there’s another one that I wrote about my son called “My Father’s Eyes,” which was part of the Unplugged program but didn’t get in there. There are a handful of songs that are in that mold, and some other stuff, too, which is more rock and roll, so that will be on perhaps the next studio rock album, if that’s what’s going to happen. But at the moment, all I can see is this blues thing and being true to that.
GW How did you go about choosing the track for this record?
CLAPTON Well, they’re just the songs that I’ve always loved out of my record collection: blues masterpieces that have had some kind of profound effect on me, like the Jimmy Rogers song “Blues All Day Long.” There’s something about that: the balance of the instruments and the way it’s recorded. The beauty and the strength of it have always taken my breath away and always will. I don’t do it quite the same way, but what I’m trying to recreate is the emotional experience that I got when I heard it. There was something about all of those songs that took me to some beautiful place and made me feel better or gave me cold chills when I heard them, so I’d try to make that happen again by playing them.
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