Eric Clapton, original name Eric Patrick Clapp, (born March 30, 1945, Ripley, Surrey, England), a British rock musician who was a highly influential guitarist in the late 1960s and early ’70s and later became a major singer-songwriter.
Clapton was born to a teenage mother and a Canadian soldier who was stationed in England during World War II and returned to his wife before Clapton was born. Clapton was raised largely by his grandparents. He began playing the guitar as a teenager and studied briefly at Kingston College of Art. After playing lead guitar in two small bands, he joined the Yardbirds in 1963, a rhythm-and-blues group where his blues-influenced playing and commanding technique began to attract attention. Clapton left the Yardbirds in 1965 as they pursued commercial success with a pop-oriented style. That same year he joined John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and his guitar playing soon became the group’s main attraction, drawing a fanatical following on the London club scene.
In 1966, Clapton left the Bluesbreakers to form a new band with two other virtuoso rock musicians, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker. This group, Cream, gained international popularity with their sophisticated, high-volume fusion of rock and blues with improvisational solos. Clapton’s mastery of blues form and phrasing, his fast runs, and his plaintive vibrato were widely imitated by other rock guitarists. The high energy and emotional intensity of his playing on songs like “Crossroads” and “White Room” set the standard for the rock guitar solo. Cream disbanded in late 1968 after recording albums such as Disraeli Gears (1967), Wheels of Fire (1968) and Goodbye (1969).
In 1969, Clapton and Baker formed the group, Blind Faith, with keyboardist-singer Steve Winwood and bassist Rick Grech, but the group disbanded after recording only one album. Clapton emerged as a capable vocalist on his first solo album, the
was released in 1970. He soon assembled a trio of strong session musicians (bassist Carl Radle, drummer Jim Gordon and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock) into a new band called Derek and the Dominos, with Clapton as lead guitarist, and singer and songwriter. Guitarist Duane Allman joined the group to record the classic double album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970), considered Clapton’s masterpiece and a milestone among rock recordings. Disappointed by Layla’s lackluster sales and addicted to heroin, Clapton retired for two years. He overcame his addiction and made a successful comeback with the album 461 Ocean Boulevard (1974), which included his hit remake of Bob Marley’s “I Shot the Sheriff.” On the album, Clapton took a more relaxed approach, emphasizing his songwriting and vocal abilities rather than his guitar playing.
Clapton, an autobiography, was published in 2007, and the documentary Clapton: Life in 12 Bars was released in 2017. Clapton was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992 as a member of the Yardbirds and in 1993 as a member of Cream , and as a solo artist in 2000.
Over the next 20 years, Clapton produced a series of albums, including “Slowhand” (1977), “Backless” (1978), “Money and Cigarettes” (1983), “August” (1986), “Unplugged” (1992) – with the chart hit “Tears in Heaven, ” written after the death of his son – and From the Cradle (1994). At the 1993 Grammy Awards, “Tears in Heaven” won both Song and Record of the Year, and Unplugged was named Album of the Year. Clapton also explored his musical influences with two Grammy-winning collaborations: Riding with the King (2000) with blues legend B.B. King and The Road to Escondido (2006) with roots guitarist J.J. Kal. The critical and commercial success of these albums solidified his status as one of the world’s greatest rock musicians, and subsequent releases such as Clapton (2010), Old Sock (2013) and I Still Do (2016) kept his leisurely end fine -career form. In 2018, Clapton released his first Christmas album, Happy Xmas. During the COVID-19 pandemic (declared in 2020), Clapton became known for his criticism of safety regulations and the vaccine. In particular, he collaborated with Van Morrison on the single “Stand and Deliver” (2020) and refused to play in places where vaccinations were required. Clapton’s stance proved controversial to some and led to a re-examination of his past behavior. In a 1999 interview, he admitted
raped his former wife Pattie Boyd in the 1970s, when he was addicted to drugs and alcohol. In other interviews and in his memoirs, Clapton also faulted his addiction for his racist tirade at a 1976 concert in Birmingham, England. It was documented at the time that he had used racial slurs and told immigrants that England was “a white country” made “for white people.” However, many fans felt that Clapton did not take full responsibility, blaming drugs and alcohol for his actions.