arts and entertainment
The guitar legend has long been unfathomable, but his desirous twist has captivated friends and fans like never before.
November 11, 2021 at 8:53 am EST
Robert Cray was amazed when he first heard: "stay and deliver.” Eric Clapton, his former musical hero-turned-mentor-turned-friend, has released his first protest song in 56 years of recording. Except it wasn't about George Floyd or global warming. Clapton's mid-tempo shuffle, a Van Morrison collaboration released in December, went all out against lockdown, targeting the government for trying to control a global pandemic by temporarily shutting down restaurants, gyms and concert halls .
What caught Cray's attention was the second stanza.
Do you want to be a free man?
Or do you want to be a slave?
Do you want to be a free man?
Or do you want to be a slave?
Would you like to wear these chains?
until you're in the grave
Cray — one of the great blues guitarists of his generation, five-time Grammy winner, and black man from segregated Georgia — immediately emailed Clapton. The 76-year-old guitarist did sing the words of Morrison, who likened the blockade to slavery?
"His reaction to me was that he was referring to slaves, you know, from England a long time ago," says Cray.
That didn't satisfy Cray. Not the next email exchange. Then Cray didn't respond at all. He next wrote weeks later to politely tell Clapton that he couldn't, in good conscience, open for him on an upcoming tour as planned.
After that, Cray watched as Clapton released two more blocking songs, which were governed bya long interviewwith vaccine skeptics and vowed to only perform where fans do not need to be vaccinated or, as Clapton put it in a statement, not "where a discriminatory audience is present".
After a September show in Austin,Clapton posed backstage with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Abbott recently signed the country's most restrictive abortion law and a Republican-backed measure to limit voting rights in the state. That ended a 35-year friendship.
"There's a great photo [from 2013] in Madison Square Garden after the show, with B.B. King is in a chair, Jimmie Vaughan, me and Eric are behind him,” Cray says. "And I was looking at the photo of Governor Abbott, Jimmie Vaughan and Eric Clapton in this similar pose and I was like, what's wrong with this photo? Why are you doing this?"
Many of Clapton's friends and fans are asking the same question. Before the pandemic, the guitarist and singer was one of rock's oldest untouchables, a cross-generational hitmaker with the same name and reputation as Billy Joel, James Taylor and Elton John. Their 1992 album Unplugged remains their best-selling live release of all time, selling over 25 million copies. He is the only artist to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times.
In an increasingly polarized world, Clapton stayed out of politics. He was never one to show up at rallies or marches. So hearing him polled by scientists on anti-vaccine websites was more than a joke.
"I've talked to other musicians, old friends of mine, these great musicians who, you know, remain anonymous in our conversation, who are like, 'What the hell is he doing?'" says producer Russ Titelman, whose credits include Unplugged and a new Clapton album due out this month, Lady in the Balcony: Lockdown Sessions.
"He's the anti-Bono," says Bill Oakes, who ran Clapton's record label in the 1970s.
Interviews with more than 20 musicians and acquaintances who have known Clapton over the years, from his Yardbirds days to his last September shows, shed light on why he may have been involved in the Covid debate. There is hope among friends and associates that Clapton can undo the damage he has done to his reputation. But her frustration is obvious.
"No one I've spoken to knows Eric has an answer," says drummer Jim Keltner, who has known Clapton for 51 years. "We're all in the same boat. We all thought, 'I can't understand this.' ”
Earlier this year, when he heard Clapton complain that his friends were abandoning him, Keltner wrote to him that many of them were just confused.
"He brought it on himself," says Keltner. "And so I really hope and pray that he finds a way, I'm not saying get out, but kind of make it go away so it doesn't interfere with the music. ”
It's unclear how much Clapton cares about the criticism. He turned down several interview requests for this article, and his executive director, Michael Eaton, explained that decision in an email to The Washington Post. Eaton wrote: "Given the depressing standard of journalism reflected in some recent articles, Eric Clapton has no desire to deal with the US press at this time. Any public figure should expect and accept negative comments, but there should be a balance.”
Eaton clarified that Clapton's photo with Abbott should not be interpreted as supporting an abortion ban, noting that "he is a big believer in freedom of choice, which informs his stance on vaccines, and his views on other issues." would reflect this belief in "freedom of choice."
Clapton's general silence allowed people to interpret his views through brief, rare statements, his anti-lockdown songs and a 24-minute video interview released in June.
In the interview, Clapton talks about how he's been attacked since releasing Stand and Deliver.
"The moment I started speaking out about the lockdown, I was branded a Trump supporter of America," he said.
He called Morrison "fearless" and mentioned that he'd tried to get in touch with his own musician friends, "but I haven't heard from anyone. My phone doesn't ring very often. I don't get as many texts and emails anymore. It's quite noticeable.”
Bassist Nathan East, who remains loyal to Clapton after decades in his band and is one of the cast members on "Lady in the Balcony," said his wife and manager urged him not to speak about politics unless he could avoid it to discuss.
"I've done interviews for the last 40 years, but I think from a press perspective, that's the most unpredictable position we've seen," says East. "For me, the beauty of music is that it really transcends language, color and politics."
For most of Clapton's career, this was true.
He appeared as lead guitarist for the blues-inspired Yardbirds in 1963, playing Telecaster. According to legend, spray-painted messages were soon appearing all over London with one simple message: "Clapton is God". When Clapton felt the Yardbirds were moving in an overly commercial direction, he quit.
He joined John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, promising bluesy purity, then went to Cream, grew an afro and pocketed a wah-wah pedal. He formed and left British supergroup Blind Faith and then turned to southern soul and toured as a member of Delaney & Bonnie. Obsessed with the band's organic sound, Clapton next formed Derek and the Dominos. They lasted a critically acclaimed album.
"A chameleon in every way, not just in his looks and his reshaping and reshaping of his person and his music somewhere else," says keyboardist and vocalist Bobby Whitlock, who wrote or co-wrote seven songs on the lone Derek and the Dominos album. 1970
This was the era of politically conscious popular music, from Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Ohio" to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On". But Clapton's worldview didn't extend beyond his fretboard.
He really only had one reason back then: to court Pattie Boyd, a model who happened to be married to his best friend, former Beatle George Harrison. The centerpiece of the Derek and the Dominos record, "Layla" would be a melancholy plea for their love and remains a staple of Clapton's concert repertoire.
"There's an obsessive part that also made him really sit down and learn guitar the way he did," says Chris O'Dell, who was Harrison's assistant at the time and later Clapton's assistant. "He might be after Pattie in the same way. Maybe obsessed is the wrong word, but you're single-minded. You only have one thing on your mind, and that's all you can really focus on.
Eric Clapton, like so many, had a plan for 2020. He intended to make his biannual residency at London's Royal Albert Hall and record performances. Then the lockdown came and the shows were cancelled.
"Which is devastating from a selfish perspective because I'm at an age where I don't know how long my skills will last," Clapton said in the June interview.
Around this time, Clapton signed up for a Zoom chat with Jamie Oldaker, the Tulsa drummer who played on eight of his albums, beginning with 1974's "461 Ocean Boulevard." Oldaker had cancer; he would die in July. Richard Feldman, a mutual friend who co-wrote Clapton's 1978 hit "Promises," was also on the phone.
"At one point I said, 'Eric, how are you?'" says Feldman. "And he looked like a 17-year-old, if you will. He says, "I just don't have anyone to play with." It was kind of real and heartfelt.
This has emerged as the leading theory as to why Clapton reacted so strongly to Covid disruptions. At 76 and with a long list of health issues - from nerve problems in his hands and legs to hearing loss - he can feel the clock ticking and is dying to play as much as possible.
"That's what he lives for," says Keltner. “You can't take [the] shows away from him. It's like breathing for him.”
Clapton was vaccinated in February. But he was skeptical of government policies and always afraid of needles. A heroin addict in the early 1970s, he simply snorted the drug.
"I felt so alone," Clapton said in the June interview. "I really couldn't talk to my family or my kids. My teenage children seemed to have been brainwashed.”
The first photo put him off for a week and delayed the "Lady" project. The second shot was worse.
"My hands and feet were frozen, numb or burned and were practically useless for two weeks," he said. "I was afraid I would never play again."
Upon hearing this, singer Bonnie Bramlett, who first worked with Clapton when she was one half of Delaney & Bonnie, said her response to vaccination orders made perfect sense.
"He can't feel his goddamn hands anymore and he doesn't want that to happen to anyone else," she says. "And why is everyone afraid of it? I think he's a hero for that."
But medical experts say Clapton is more than a man who shares his opinions. He is a major public figure with considerable influence.
"It could help us end this pandemic, especially with a vulnerable population," says Joshua Barocas, associate professor of medicine specializing in infectious diseases at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “We look at millions and millions of people around the world. He could have been a global ambassador and instead chose the pro-Covid, anti-public health path.”
Clapton's hands eventually recovered enough to play again. That's when he got in touch with Nathan East.
"He said, 'If I put something together, we would, you know, create a little bubble and we could just play around and feel safe. Would you be willing to do this? East remembers.
So they ended up at Cowdray House, a stately mansion set in the heart of a polo club in West Sussex, England, and recorded what became Lady in the Balcony. It was the height of the pandemic and East had to contact police upon arrival to let them know he was in quarantine.
Titelman flew in to produce his first Clapton album since 1994's From the Cradle. The band was flawless, featuring East, keyboardist Chris Stainton and drummer Steve Gadd.
Clapton didn't appear shrunken. The largely acoustic performance showcased his still-intact guitars and understated voice, which still allows him to sing his favorite songs — "Layla," "After Midnight," and "Tears in Heaven" — in the same key they were written in became. . For East, the highlight of the performance was an intense, nearly eight-minute rendition of "River of Tears" from 1998's Pilgrim.
"He sings his heart out and I'll never forget the chills I got," says East.
They didn't talk politics at Cowdray House, and "Lady" wouldn't include any inter-song conversations about vaccines or lockdowns. But behind the scenes, Titelman found himself in an awkward position. Clapton wanted to record "Stand and Deliver" alongside his classics. Musically, Titelman didn't think much of the song. The matter worried him more. He figured it would distract from "Lady" and even prepared a speech to give to Clapton if he insisted on recording it.
"It's about music, performance and live music while we're in the middle of this terrible pandemic," Titelman planned to say. "So that's all you want to tell people. And when that thing is in there, it's gonna explode.
In the end, the label solved the problem. Titelman was told he didn't want the song.
In the months after recording "Lady," Clapton continued to make headlines with his covetous ramblings. He released another song with Morrison entitled "The Rebels" and later "This Has Gotta Stop". Clapton wrote the latter himself and had an animated video showing a zombie-like populace being manipulated by politicians and marching into mindless factory jobs. "I can't get this B.S. for longer,” he sang in the chorus. The message wasn't subtle.
The anti-lockdown campaign has undoubtedly damaged Clapton's reputation. In October, Rolling Stone magazine, which had featured him on its cover eight times in the past in largely flattering terms, reportedcreated a searing attackThis not only called him out for his pandemic behavior, but also highlighted a 45-year-old incident that remains an inevitable bruise in his career.
Racist remarks during a concert in Birmingham, England in 1976 were not new. Clapton addressed this in the 2017 documentary Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, and it has been regularly used as ammunition against him online. As #BlackLivesMatter was ramping up last year, acclaimed songwriter Phoebe Bridgers slammed Clapton for making "extremely mediocre music" and being "a famous racist" in an interview. In 2019, Living Color guitarist Vernon Reid tweeted about his love for Clapton, who plays in Cream, with the caveat that it's "important not to sidestep Racist With The Blues' odd phenomena."
Clapton's comments came during an immigration wave in the 1970s and a far-right campaign to stem the flow of South Africans to Britain. On stage, Clapton told the audience that it was important to "keep England white" and that "black people, grumpy people, Arabs and Jamaicans don't belong here". At "12 Bars," Clapton apologized and said he was embarrassed about what he said. He blamed it on a drinking problem so severe that he often considered suicide.
Clapton's supporters say it's worth noting that he's never said anything like those comments before or since. Albhy Galuten, who played with Clapton in the 1970s before becoming the production brains behind the Bee Gees, wonders if part of the mess he's in is due to the naïve and careless way he plays his career is always concerned.
"Most people have a kind of Jiminy Cricket on their shoulders all the time and they're like, 'You know, don't do that, do that,'" he says. "In my experience with Eric, he is the most genuine person I have ever met. What he feels is what he does and that's what makes the music so great and that's what makes the band members love him and the band members love him. He does not see the world as a path to blaze your way to specific achievements.
Although Clapton studied blues music, he doesn't seem to have read about it, which fueled the work of many of his heroes. In a 1999 60 Minutes interview with Ed Bradley, Clapton talks about listening to the blues on the radio as a teenager in Ripley, a white working-class town north of London.
"To me, it felt like they were in a fantasy land," Clapton said. “For you, Ed, the cotton plantations and fields might have been places of extreme misery and suffering. For me it was paradise. I couldn't think of anything I'd rather be doing than picking cotton and listening to this music around me.”
To many who know Clapton, calling him a racist seems wrong. They talk about their support of black artists, whether it's helping a virtually unknown Gary Clark Jr.
Greg Phillinganes, a former Clapton keyboardist who also thinks vaccinations shouldn't be mandatory, says the racism allegations are politically motivated.
"We all make mistakes, but I guarantee you, if Eric hadn't had the [covetous] attitude he has, these things wouldn't have been unearthed," he says.
East, who has starred with Clapton since 1985's 'Behind the Sun,' prefers to dismiss the Birmingham incident as an inexplicable aberration.
"At the Olympics, they throw the best and the worst result," he says. "You don't measure a person on the day they did their best and not on the day they did their worst."
Reid of Living Color continued to reflect on the tirade. He feels this mainly because his parents immigrated to London from the West Indies, where Reid was born in 1958 before moving to Brooklyn in 1960.
"If I hadn't gone, he would have spoken directly to me and my people," says Reid. "So it's not just abstract and it's not just politically correct."
Lately, Reid has been reflecting on Lee Atwater, the late Republican agent who ran the infamous Willie Horton ad in the George H.W. Bush's 1988 presidential campaign. Horton, a black man who raped a woman while working in Massachusetts, was used to demonize Democratic candidate Michael S. Dukakis, then Massachusetts governor. Bush won, and Atwater, who played guitar and loved the blues, threw a housewarming party with the likes of Bo Diddley and Percy Sledge.
"People put racism in the hate box," says Reid. “Well, racism is a lot more complicated than mere hatred. It's patronizing. Lee Atwater claimed to love black people. Well, he invented Willie Horton and shagged African Americans, but when his contestant won, he threw the biggest party in the blues. Then again, no blues artist turned down this Lee Atwater show. And what should we do with it? Am I judging her?”
As the controversy rages, Clapton remains at the center and separate from it all. Past contributors like East, Whitlock, Bramlett, Keltner and Titelman say they don't really know their politics. It's not something they discuss when they're together, and it's not something they'll foist on you over email or over the phone. What they want to talk about is the magic of making music with him.
"He's one of my favorite musicians in the world," says Keltner, who has played with George Harrison, Fiona Apple, Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Linda Ronstadt over the course of his long career. "You can only imagine a drummer playing with Eric Clapton."
Others who didn't get along with him also find his behavior disturbing. Yardbirds drummer Jim McCarty said that even in the early days, Clapton remained a mystery.
"Have you ever met people like that? Does it really never fit anywhere and you can't understand what they're thinking or what they're doing? he says.
And singer Rita Coolidge also questions his motivation. In 1970, with her then-boyfriend Derek and Dominos drummer Jim Gordon, she helped write the piano tune that became the coda of "Layla." But when the song was released, Gordon single-handedly took credit for the section. Clapton's manager at the time, Robert Stigwood, ignored Coolidge. And she found Clapton unapproachable.
"I've probably never spoken to Eric about anything," says Coolidge. "He always made me feel ... like I was under him."
Others commend Clapton for unexpected and often unmentioned acts of kindness, which largely benefit his musical collaborators. Upon learning that Whitlock had sold his publishing rights to Derek and the Dominos material, Clapton bought them back and gave them to his former bandmate. Hearing then-bandmate Albert Lee grumble about selling one of his guitars, he brought a prized Les Paul—one he'd used in Cream—to the next rehearsal and gave it to him.
And then there's his dedication to the Crossroads Center, the Antigua drug and rehabilitation center that Clapton helped build in 1998 after he quit drinking. Eaton estimates that Clapton has given at least $20 million to the center over the past decade through donations, fundraising concerts, and guitar auctions.
Soul music legend Sam Moore recounts an experience he had with Clapton in 2005. Billy Preston, the keyboardist who played with the Beatles and Clapton, was dying and in a coma in an Arizona hospital. One morning, Moore looked up to see Clapton arriving as an unannounced visitor. He asked Moore for a hairbrush.
"He went to Billy, got the brush and brushed his hair. He took that thing and made the mustache," says Moore. "When he had to leave, he leaned down and kissed Billy on the forehead."
Joyce Moore, wife of Sam Moore and manager of the late Preston, is furious when asked about the racism allegations.
"Let me tell you, Eric Clapton got on a plane to kiss Billy Preston on the forehead when Billy Preston was in a coma," she says. "Really racist. Hm. There is a heart, and that heart saw no color.”
One of Clapton's relationships seems hopeless. This is Crays.
Cray's tone changes when he talks about when they became friends. In 1986 the mean fiddler Clapton appeared at a London show and climbed onto the stage to join the younger guitarist. They would record together and Cray and his band would open up for several tours. Clapton organized Cray's bachelor party at the Royal Albert Hall in 1990. That same year, the two met tragedy while playing with Stevie Ray Vaughan just hours before the Texan bluesman was killed in a helicopter crash.
But Cray says Clapton has changed over the years. He rarely mixes. Once known for his pranks, he has lost his sense of humor. A few years ago, Cray couldn't believe it when he heard Clapton talk about his support of fox hunting.
While Clapton toured the South this fall, Cray played his own shows at smaller venues. He deleted his email exchanges with Clapton because it hurt to look at him.
"I said to myself, I don't need a conversation," says Cray. "I'd rather not associate with someone who is extreme and so selfish. We started playing a song that wasn't very popular at the time we started. We've gained some notoriety and I'm OK with that, but I certainly don't need to date Eric Clapton for this to continue."
Alice Crites contributed to this report.
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John Lennon's guitar fetches $2.4 million at auction
An acoustic guitar which once belonged to John Lennon, has sold for a record $2.41 million over the weekend, beating original estimates of $600,000 to $800,000.
The guitar's current owner is Kevin “King” Dugan, Van Halen's guitar tech and crew chief for over 25 years, who worked with the band from 1980 until 2007. Van Halen signed and gifted Dugan the guitar after the band's “5150″ tour in 1986.Where does Eric Clapton rank as a guitarist? ›
He's three-times inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (with the Yardbirds, Cream and as a solo artist). The 2003 Rolling Stone list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, voted on by critics and musicians, ranked Mr. Clapton No. 4 behind Mr.What guitar has sold the most? ›
- PRS SE Silver Sky.
- Fender Player Stratocaster.
- Fender American Professional II Stratocaster.
- PRS Silver Sky John Mayer Signature.
- Fender Player Telecaster.
- Gibson Les Paul Standard '60s.
- Gibson Les Paul Standard '50s.
- Fender American Professional II Telecaster.
- Edward Van Halen. ...
- Brian May (Queen) ...
- Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath) ...
- Yngwie Malmsteen. ...
- Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) 1959 Les Paul Standard.
- Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) 1979 Tiger.
- Carlos Santana. 1968 Les Paul Custom.
- Tom Morello (Rage Against the Machine) 1986 Arm The Homeless guitar.
In 1970, Clapton switched from Gibson electric guitars to Fender Stratocasters, largely due to the influences of Jimi Hendrix and Blind Faith bandmate Steve Winwood.How much is Blackie Strat worth? ›
#4 Eric Clapton's Stratocaster “Blackie”: $959,500
He dubbed the hybrid guitar “Blackie”. Considering he bought all six Stratocasters for $100 each, the $959,500 his Blackie guitar made at an auction was not bad at all.
Net Worth: Art, Cars, and Album Sales
Today, it's estimated that Clapton's career has earned him vast riches and that his net worth is about $450 million. He's sold more than 100 million albums—indeed, he's one of the best-selling musicians of all time.
In an interview with Classic Rock Magazine, the 71-year-old musician revealed that he was diagnosed with peripheral neuropathy in 2013 and that playing guitar, which once came so easy to him, is now “hard work.”When did Clapton leave blind? ›
|Labels||Polydor, Atco, RSO, Island|
|Past members||Steve Winwood Eric Clapton Ginger Baker Ric Grech|
In 1991, Eric Clapton's four-year-old son Conor tragically fell out of a New York City apartment window and died. Conor had been in the care of his mother's friend when he accidentally fell out of the 53rd-floor apartment window, which had been left open.Does Eric Clapton have hearing loss? ›
Eric Clapton Admits Hearing Loss. Musicians are at a higher risk for hearing loss and tinnitus than their non-musical counterparts. Eric Clapton recently announced what could be described as every musician's nightmare: he is experiencing hearing loss, along with persistent ringing in the ears (tinnitus).Is neuropathy a life long condition? ›
But for most patients, neuropathy will become a chronic condition that requires lifelong management. While general painkillers can be used to treat neuropathy, frequent and prolonged use of opioids can lead to unwanted side effects and addiction.Is neuropathy life long? ›
How long it lasts depends on what caused it, the extent of the damage — if any — that it caused, the treatments and more. Peripheral neuropathy is most likely to be permanent with chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, autoimmune diseases and genetic conditions.Can nerves regenerate from neuropathy? ›
If the injury is large or close to the cell body, it can induce neuronal death. However, if the nerve section or the crush injury is distant from the neuron cell body, nerve fibers can regenerate.Who was the first blind singer? ›
|Born||Ray Charles RobinsonSeptember 23, 1930 Albany, Georgia, U.S.|
|Died||June 10, 2004 (aged 73) Beverly Hills, California, U.S.|
|Resting place||Inglewood Park Cemetery|
|Occupations||Singer pianist songwriter composer|
The first musician mentioned in Chinese sources, Shi Kuang, was a blind performer in the 6th century BC.What does having Blind Faith mean? ›
Meaning. unquestioning belief in something, even when it's unreasonable or wrong.What did Eric Clapton say about his son? › How old was Conor Clapton when he died? ›
It has been nine years since Lory and rock legend Eric Clapton's four year-old son, Conor, fell 53 floors to his death through the open window of a New York skyscraper. For Lory, the memory is so raw, it still seems like it happened only yesterday.Is Halle Berry hearing impaired? ›
4 – Halle Berry
Halle Berry, the first black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress, lost nearly 80% of her hearing in her left resulting from a blow to the head during a domestic violence incident in a previous abusive relationship. Berry is now an outspoken advocate for raising awareness about domestic violence.
Beethoven began losing his hearing in his mid-20s, after already building a reputation as a musician and composer. The cause of his deafness remains a mystery, though modern analysis of his DNA revealed health issues including large amounts of lead in his system.What famous musician lost their hearing? ›
Ludwig van Beethoven
(Photo: Wikipedia) Beethoven began to lose his hearing in his mid-20s, yet went on to compose some of the greatest symphonies of all time. The most famous of the musicians with hearing loss, Beethoven was just 26 years old when his severe tinnitus began in 1796.