Skip to main content

Eric Clapton Struggling to Play Guitar Due to Nerve System Damage

(Image credit: Brian Rasic/Getty Images)

Eric Clapton—who graces the cover of the July 2016 issue of Guitar World—has revealed he is suffering incurable damage to his nervous system. The condition apparently leaves him struggling to play guitar.

Clapton, 71, who—in decades past—publicly fought addictions to cocaine, heroin, alcohol and prescription drugs, added that although he's grateful to be alive, he has been debilitated by his illness.

"I’ve had quite a lot of pain over the last year," he told Classic Guitar magazine. "It started with lower back pain and turned into what they call peripheral neuropathy, which is where you feel like you have electric shocks going down your leg. And I’ve had to figure out how to deal with some other things from getting old. Because I’m in recovery from alcoholism and addiction to substances, I consider it a great thing to be alive at all. By rights I should have kicked the bucket a long time ago. For some reason, I was plucked from the jaws of hell and given another chance.”

‘I can still play. I mean, it’s hard work sometimes, the physical side of it—just getting old, man, is hard.’

According to the Mayo Clinic, peripheral neuropathy can be inherited or caused by injury, infection and/or exposure to toxins.

As evidenced by our latest cover story, Clapton can still play guitar—and quite well. His latest album, I Still Do, was released May 20. If features several new compostions (two of which were composed by Clapton), plus covers of tunes by Bob Dylan, JJ Cale, Robert Johnson, Leroy Carr, Skip James and more.

"Robert Johnson and JJ Cale is it," he told Guitar World. "What more do you need, really? There's a lot of other stuff in between, like Muddy Waters, Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf. And there's the dance band legacy, with those beautifully crafted songs that still haunt me—and there will always be room for them."

Two years ago, Clapton hinted at retiring from touring, telling Rolling Stone, "When I'm 70, I'll stop. I won't stop playing or doing one-offs, but I'll stop touring, I think. The bit onstage, that's easy. If I could do that around my neighborhood, that would be great. You have guys in Texas that play their circuit, and it keeps them alive. But for me, the struggle is the travel. And the only way you can beat that is by throwing so much money at it that you make a loss."

Here's a close-up video from Clapton's April 15, 2016, show at Tokyo's Budokan Hall, which is among the latest-available footage of the guitarist in concert:

Damian Fanelli

Damian is editor-in-chief of Guitar World magazine. From 1998 to 2014, he was one third of Mister Neutron, an instrumental rock act that toured the universe and elsewhere and released three albums via Austin-based Deep Eddy Records. These days he performs with several New York City-area bands and can often be spotted with one of his many, many, many B-bender-equipped guitars. In past lives he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor – and he still can’t believe he got to write the liner notes for the latest SRV box set.