Eric Patrick Clapp was born in Ripley, Surrey (UK) on 30 March 1945 and raised to believe his maternal grandparents – Rose and Jack Clapp – were actually his mother and father, that his uncle was his brother, and that his mother, Patricia, was his sister.
Patricia had become pregnant with Eric at the age of 16 to a visiting Canadian soldier during WWII. Eric finally learned the truth aged nine, but his grandparents’ remained his legal guardians until he was 18.
Eric’s biological father, Edward Walter Fryer, was given a dishonourable discharge after going AWOL at the end of WWII and spent his life as a travelling musician, marrying many times and latterly living on a boat. He died of leukaemia in 1985 without ever knowing his son.
He was educated at St Bede’s Secondary Modern and was given his first guitar on his 14th birthday by his grandparents. In 1963, after playing guitar in a number of unsuccessful local bands, Clapton was asked to join R&B group The Yardbirds who had just taken over The Rolling Stones‘ residency at the Crawdaddy Club in Richmond, Surrey.
With his playing ability and his suitably sharp dressing style, Clapton became the band’s focal point and was given the nickname “slowhand” by the group’s manager Giorgio Gomelsky. But by March 1965, opposing The Yardbirds shift from R&B to pop, Clapton had left the band.
After a brief spell with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, he set off in a large American car with a group of musicians known variously as The Glands and The Greek Loon Band with the intention to play their way around the world.
By the time they reached Athens, the band had splintered with some members returning home to England. Clapton persevered for a while, filling in with a Greek club band before a blackmail attempt from the club owner (who wanted Eric to stay in Greece) saw Clapton leave the country without his clothes or his new Marshal amp and, in November, he was back with the Bluesbreakers.
By July 1966, Clapton had his own new band rehearsed, signed to a record label and ready to gig. The new three-piece group was called Cream . . . but at the close of 1968 he broke up the band, explaining that musically they had gone as far as they could go.
Clapton and Ginger Baker then teamed up with Steve Winwood to form a new group, eventually named Blind Faith, who made their debut on 7 June 1969 in a free concert in London’s Hyde Park before an audience of 36,000.
Once again Clapton rapidly lost interest, and by the end of the decade Blind Faith were gone and he was concentrating on a series of cameo appearances with John Lennon, Delaney and Bonnie, George Harrison and Rita Coolidge.
He recorded his first solo album, Eric Clapton in March 1970, concurrently playing live shows with his new backing band, performing as Derek and the Dominoes. The album Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs was credited to Derek & The Dominoes, and Clapton refused to have his name on the sleeve in an attempt to escape his guitar-hero image.
As Clapton’s drug dependency worsened, he retired to his Surrey home and stayed a virtual recluse for much of the early 70s. It was Pete Townshend of The Who who enticed Clapton back on stage after his heroin addiction, organising an all-star comeback concert for him at London’s Rainbow Theatre in January 1973.
The concert was recorded and released as Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert, with Steve Winwood, Ron Wood, Jim Capaldi and others all making guest appearances, but despite these efforts, Clapton retreated once again and began electro-acupuncture treatment for his drug addiction.
By 1974 he was ready for a return and recorded 461 Ocean Boulevard in Miami, USA. The first fruit of his comeback was a rock/reggae version of Bob Marley‘s I Shot The Sheriff which topped the US charts and reached Number 3 in the UK, and for the next six years Clapton continued to record and tour the world, having put together an awesome – and large – backing band.
The 80s began with a series of unfortunate incidents when, in 1981, Clapton was hospitalised in the US for bleeding ulcers causing the cancellation of a 60-date tour. A month later he was hospitalised again, this time with injuries sustained in a car accident.
For the remainder of the 80s, Clapton primarily busied himself with cameo appearances at charity events (such as the Prince’s Trust Rock Gala and benefit gigs for the ARMS charity) and movie and TV soundtrack composition – His score for the UK TV series Edge Of Darkness earned him an Ivor Novello award in 1986.
The new decade started terribly with Clapton losing his driving license for speeding early in 1990. Later that year, three members of his tour entourage (including his agent and his tour manager) were killed in a helicopter crash in the US which also took the life of guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan.
A year later, Clapton’s four-year-old son Conor climbed out of an open window and plunged 700 feet to his death from the 53rd floor of an East 57th Street apartment in New York.
His popularity and success continued throughout the 90s, with a series of sell-out concerts, critically acclaimed albums and soundtracks, and a string of awards including, in November 1995, an OBE at Buckingham Palace.