Robert Cray has told The Washington Post (opens in new tab) that he recently felt compelled to end his 35-year friendship with Eric Clapton.
Cray revealed he made the decision after directly questioning Clapton’s decision to sing certain lines written by Van Morrison on their anti-lockdown protest song, Stand And Deliver.
The blues great took particular issue with the passage, “Do you wanna be a free man/ Or do you wanna be a slave? Do you wanna wear these chains/ Until you’re lying in the grave?”
“His reaction back to me was that he was referring to slaves from, you know, England from way back,” Cray told The WP.
Cray, who was born in Georgia during the era of segregation, was reportedly unsatisfied with the response. However, he was further saddened by images of Clapton with Texas’ Republican gov. Greg Abbott in September 2021 – a man who, as The WP phrase it, had “recently signed the country’s most restrictive abortion law and a Republican-backed measure to limit who can vote in the state.”
“There’s this great photo [from 2013] at Madison Square Garden after the show, with B.B. King sitting in a chair, Jimmie Vaughan, myself and Eric sitting behind him,” explains Cray.
“And I looked at that picture of Gov. Abbott, Jimmie Vaughan and Eric Clapton in that similar pose, and I’m going, what’s wrong with this picture? Why are you doing this?”
Backstage tonight with Eric Clapton and Jimmie Vaughan after a concert in Austin. pic.twitter.com/2hhziNxtAmSeptember 16, 2021
Clapton’s business manager Michael Eaton notes that the picture does not mean Clapton endorses the abortion ban. Abbott is also known to oppose vaccine mandates in Texas businesses and organisations.
“[Clapton] is a great believer in freedom of choice which drives his position on vaccinations,” said Eaton. “And his views on other matters would reflect that belief in freedom of choice.”
The WP goes much further than reporting simply on Cray’s experiences. Entitled What Happened to Eric Clapton?, the piece nails a question that many of the British guitar icon’s fellow musicians and fans have been asking themselves for some time.
At times, it paints an unflattering picture, suggesting Clapton is an “obsessive” struggling with the approach of his final years. All against a backdrop in which lockdowns have denied him the opportunity to follow his most consistent passion: performance.
Later, the article also tries to draw a more nuanced portrait of the guitarist than we’ve perhaps seen in recent months. One that considers events like Clapton's notorious racist rant at a show in Birmingham, UK in 1976, alongside the vast sums (an estimated $20 million) raised by his charitable work and spontaneous acts of kindness.
Notable in his absence is Clapton himself, who reportedly declined several requests for an interview, leaving it to Eaton to correspond with The WP.
“Given the depressingly bad standard of journalism reflected in certain recent articles, Eric Clapton has no desire at the moment to engage with the US Press,” says Eaton. “Anyone in the public eye has to expect and accept negative comment, but it should be balanced.”
The piece offers Cray the last word, though. “I’d just rather not associate with somebody who’s on the extreme and being so selfish,” says the bluesman. “We started playing a music that wasn’t particularly popular to start off with at the time we started playing. We’ve gained some notoriety, and I’m fine with that, but I surely don’t need to hang out with Eric Clapton for that to continue.”
Head to The Washington Post (opens in new tab) to read the full article.