Eric Clapton: Blues Power
GW What’s your view of reunions, in general—like the Who or the Stones?
CLAPTON I think they’re great—if there’s something there that they all want to go through again. I don’t particularly know how Pete [Townshend] feels about it; I know from what I heard that in the last days of the Who when they were working a lot, it was a painful experience for him, and having lost Keith they just felt that they were going through the motions. And if you go through that for a long time, there must be a lot to get over when you do reunite. The Stones, too. Knowing the enmity that’s existed between Keith and Mick for so long, it must be tough—a lot to get over. But that, in a sense, is a great character- building process, too. I’ve been around those guys—most recently when Bill [Wyman, former Stones bassist] got married, I saw them all back together again—and when they’re together, even though they may have their differences, they are such a powerful gang of people. They rise above all kinds of hierarchies when they’re together. They’re strong, strong, strong, and it makes you feel really good to be anywhere near it. So I’d like to see them on tour again, but it doesn’t always work. I think in the case of the Stones, it will work. But with Cream, I don’t think it would.
GW Why not?
CLAPTON Because I don’t think the desire is there. If Ginger’s got a strong desire to get it back again, I think it’s nostalgia more than anything else. I don’t think there’s a desire to create anything new. For me, it would be very difficult to conceive of creating anything new with those guys.
GW When they reunited you and Jack Bruce on the South Bank special, what was great was that, even though it was a special about you, he was playing on your turf—literally on your back porch. He wasn’t going to be denied. His ego was as strong as ever.
CLAPTON To be honest, that’s one thing that prevents me from going back: my ego would have to just disappear altogether. Though I’m sure they would respect my ideas, because those guys are very aggressive and forceful, I know that when it came down to the first day on the floor, they would just be scraggling for the front.
GW Probably more so than before.
CLAPTON Yeah, even more so than they were then. I can’t work with that anymore; I don’t want to work in that anymore. I like a laidback, easy attitude, and that’s what I get when I’m the boss. People that work with me will tell you it’s a very easy situation; I don’t come down hard on anyone, and I don’t give them too many hard things to do. So it’s fun, and I like to keep it that way. It wouldn’t be fun with Cream; it would be fuckin’ hard work. Although it may produce great results, it would just be a very arduous process—something I’m not that keen on.
GW As the one guy who calls the shots, being able to have things your way, do you think there’s an element that’s missing in, say, not having a bass player that challenges you the way Jack did?
CLAPTON I’m sure. But, no, Nathan [East] does that as much as I need him to, and more. You see, as much as I love Jack’s playing, Nathan is more of a blues player than Jack is, you know—and more of a rock and roll player, too. Jack has a much more jazz-oriented slant on the whole thing. So I prefer to play with Nathan.
GW But aside from playing—the personality…
CLAPTON Well, I’m in a position now to choose, man. I mean, if I had to work with Cream because I had no other work, I would do it. But if I’ve got the choice, I’ll play with the band that I select. And I wouldn’t select those guys to be in my band because they are lead musicians. I’d have to get out of the way. And I don’t want to get out of the fuckin’ way; I want to be in the front now. Maybe I didn’t then, but I do now.
GW Could we chronologically run down the various guitars you’ve used in your career? After the hollowbody Kay Jazz II you played in the Roosters, with the Yardbirds you used a Tele, an ES- 335 and a Jazzmaster.
CLAPTON The Kay was the guitar that my grandmother bought me on the “high-purchase” scheme. That got me into the band, and then we started making money, I found I had nothing else to spend it on but guitars, so maybe once a month I bought a guitar. The unfortunate thing was I didn’t keep them. The only one I’ve still got is the 335; it’s the oldest guitar in my collection. Well, not the oldest, but the one I’ve had the longest. It’s beautiful. But I had the Jazzmaster, the Tele, and also at one time I think a Silvertone that looked just like Jimmy Reed’s.
GW Do you remember which of those guitars you used for the Yardbirds’ recordings?
CLAPTON I think the Tele. Or the Gibson, but more likely the Tele, because I remember breaking strings a lot, and that’s why I moved to the Tele.
GW Is the Bluesbreakers-period Les Paul the one that was stolen?
CLAPTON Yes, that one was stolen during rehearsals for Cream.
GW So you didn’t use it on Fresh Cream?
CLAPTON No, I borrowed a guitar for that; it was a borrowed Les Paul. I went through quite a few and until about five years ago never got one that was anywhere near the original one in terms of the neck shape and fingerboard.
GW Both Blues Breakers and Fresh Cream have such classic Les Paul tones. They were both played through Marshall amps. Were they different types of Marshalls?
CLAPTON Yeah, I think on Fresh Cream we had a bigger, 100-watt [a JTM45 rather than the 50-watt 1962 combo].
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