The music industry today is a fucking joke. At a time which is dominated by the Justin Biebers, Eminems, Jay Zs and Katy Perrys of the world, there is not much room left for real rock and roll. While finding the occasional new artist or song on the radio worth listening to, I, like many other people with musical taste, find myself reaching back into music history to find something worth listening to as well as artists worth respecting. This series of posts (which will probably be abandoned after one, if you know my history at all) is a look back into rock and roll history. The intended purpose is to introduce those of you that may not know where rock and roll came from, or the personalities that had shaped it into a respectable business before the return of mindless idiots sucking at the teat of Top 40 radio managed to corrupt virtually two entire generations of youth into thinking that autotuning is the epitome of musical mastery, to the golden age of music.
Damn I missed my run-on sentences…..
The subject of the first article for the series is not credited with starting rock and roll. He’s not in the news for beating his wife this week. Hell, I’m not even sure when is the last time he released an album, although I assume I will know this by the end of the article. In fact, I am not sure why I even chose this artist to start off the series, other than the fact that he has had a long and celebrated past with various incarnations throughout his career. The artist that will introduce you to “Sorta True Music History” is the man his followers refer to simply as ‘God’ – Eric Clapton.
Eric was born in 1945 in Ripley, England. His mother was a 16 year old tramp who liked to hang around army bases, while his father is believed to be a 25 year old soldier from Montreal Canada of all places. Despite being French, this soldier had the brains to get out of town as fast as he could when he heard that he may have knocked up the woman cordially known around the barracks as Promiscuous Patty. Because she was young and stupid, Eric was essentially raised by his grandparents, while living most of his childhood believing that his mother was his slutty older sister.
Young Eric developed a love for the guitar after he was given one on his 13th birthday. His musical tastes centered mostly around the blues, which is a musical genre which was mostly dominated at the time by whiny old black guys crying about how much their life sucked. To put it in today’s terms, Eric was essentially an early cross between what we would now call ‘wiggers’ and ’emo pussies’. Determined to emulate his heroes, Eric shunned his education at the early age of 16, only to immediately settle into a sad educational substitute (i.e. The Kingston College of Art), where he managed to flunk out after only one year. Feeling that he had ‘earned his blues credentials’ by failing at both education and art school, Eric turned to the streets to play guitar on a street corner for whatever few sheckles the passing crowds would toss him. In England, this apparently makes you a hot commodity, so he was soon asked to play along with various local superstars such as ‘The Roosters’ and ‘Casey Jones and The Engineers.
Eric’s first well known rock and roll gig was with the blues-centric band known as The Yardbirds. While The Yardbirds would eventually be known for catapulting other rock guitar legends Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page to superstardom, it was Eric who would first bring this supergroup to the forefront. Clapton’s blues inspired style of guitar playing quickly became popular among the English music scene of the 60s. However, it was with the Yardbirds where some of Eric’s eccentricities would start to surface. One particularly annoying quirk was Clapton’s reaction to breaking a guitar string, a very common occurance when playing a live gig. Most guitarists will finish the current song then quickly switch to a back-up instrument while the band’s houseboy would restring the main guitar, returning it to the artist at the next opportunity. However Clapton was an anally retentive perfectionist, and would immediately stop playing and restring the guitar himself right on stage in full view of the crowd. This usually took in excess of ten minutes, during which time the crowd would give the ‘slow handclap’ in an effort to push Eric along. It was from these frequent breaks that Eric would earn a nickname that he still carries to this day. The crowds started to wonder aloud if Eric was retarded because of the stoned expressionless face he would make as drool ran out of his open mouth while restringing his guitar. Giorgio Gomelsky, owner of the Crawdaddy Club where The Yardbirds were the house band, started calling him ‘Slow Head’. Eric was convinced that everyone was calling him ‘Slow Hand’, referring to how he gently massaged the guitar as he played. Believe what you want, Eric…..
Clapton’s stay with The Yardbirds was short lived. Back in the 60s, bands were able to tour and start to make a living based on the performance of single songs, before a full length LP was ever released. The Yardbirds were riding high off the success of their first two singles “I Wish You Would” and the creepily titled “Good Morning, Little School Girl”. It certainly was a different time back then…. Another common practice back in the 60s was to record and perform songs written by an outside artist or entity specifically for the group. The band’s third single “For Your Love” was written by Graham Gouldman, an early Top 40 hack that would eventually be known for this crime against humanity….
Clapton was not impressed by this poppy direction the band was taking, so he quickly left the group.
After The Yardbirds, Clapton had a short stint in a band led by John Mayall called The Bluesbreakers. It was during this time that he also spent a few months in Greece playing in a band nobody remembers with some guy he flunked out of school with. Clapton’s time with The Bluesbreakers earned him some serious blues cache on the British music scene, even inspiring this now infamous graffiti on a London subway station.
Although this famous picture is the inspiration for Clapton’s fans referring to him as ‘God’, it is not well known that the graffiti had actually been altered. Our crack research team has found the only photo ever taken of the wall before it was altered.
It is rumored that the slag against Eric was written by the aforementioned Graham Gouldman.
Clapton’s next band would be his biggest success to date, and arguably his most influential band of his entire career. Cream was a three piece band featuring Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer / band leader Ginger Baker.
Although the band would be immensely successful, both in England and the highly sought after US market, the band was a pressure cooker / train wreck waiting to happen from the start. When the band was formed by Baker in 1966, he recruited Eric Clapton, known as the premier blues guitarist in England at the time. Clapton agreed to be in the band on the condition that a bassist he played with for a short time in the Bluesbreakers was also included. Unbeknownst to Eric, bassist Jack Bruce was also formerly in the Graham Bond Organization (a British jazz band) with Ginger Baker. During their time in this band, Baker and Bruce spent most of their time fighting, backstabbing and sabotaging eachother’s gear. Baker was once quoted as saying that “Jack Bruce spends his free time kicking puppies and bumming around with women of questionable character.” Bruce responded by fucking Baker’s mother doggie style and filming it on 8mm, then sending the reel to Baker with a note that said “You weren’t kidding about the women, were you….” However, Baker was so set on having Clapton in his band that he agreed to allow Bruce into the trio.
Despite the simmering egos, Cream is considered one of the first ‘supergroups’, where no one member of the band was the lead contributor, writer or performer, but rather all three contributed to all aspects of the band. While Cream remains possibly the best example of this concept of merging music superstars into one band to form a new entity, you need only research just a few years back into current history to find possibly the worst example of this concept. Rockstar Supernova, a television show formed band featuring members of prominent heavy metal bands searching in vein for a no-name singer to front the band and take all of the shit and blame for their inevitable failure, managed to put out all of one album before quittings, firings and general apathy forced them into the depths of obscurity.
Cream managed to last through three albums before deciding that the tension in the band was far too much to handle. They were bribed and coerced to slap together a fourth album in late 1968 after the band had decided to go their separate ways, and a short uninspired tour followed. Cream left quite an impact in it’s wake, with several hits on both sides of the Atlantic that heavily influenced the psychadelic era of the late 60s and early 70s. It also left a lasting impact on the members of the band, both physically and mentally, with bruised egos and damaged eardrums, a result of the ridiculously loud volume the band used to perform at. Another well known loud band, Pink Floyd, somehow took offense to people calling Cream the ‘loudest band in England’. This feud culminated in an argument between Jack Bruce and then lead singer of Pink Floyd, Syd Barrett in a filthy Manchester bar. Their screaming was said to be so loud that several patrons had to be taken to hospital with ear damage, and the constant ringing in his ears from the incident is believed to be the main cause of Barrett going nuts and having to be institutionalized for about 20 years.
The aftermath of Cream featured another very short lived supergroup called Blind Faith. This band included Clapton, Baker, future 80s top 40 star Steve Winwood and some guy from a band called Family. This band imploded after one album, with Winwood going back to Traffic, Baker doing his own thing, and Clapton hooking up with a husband and wife duo called Delaney and Bonnie. It was also somewhere during the Cream years that Clapton forged a lifelong friendship with Beatles guitarist George Harrison. The two would guest on eachother’s projects (often times uncredited due to legal bullshit) many times throughout the 70s. The Delaney and Bonnie stint and Eric’s relationship with Harrison meshed together to create his next major project……
Derek and the Dominoes
Sick of the limelight as a rock and roll ‘God’, Clapton created an alternate personality by the name of Derek Gaines. ‘Derek’ formed his band with the help of most of the backup band for Delaney and Bonnie, as well as some uncredited contributions from redneck rocker Duane Allman of The Allman Brothers. Through his relationship with George Harrison, Clapton had met and become infatuated with George’s wife Pattie Boyd. Not wanting to be seen by the public as a cad, writing a series of love songs to his best friends wife, Clapton decided to use his newly developed alter ego Derek Gaines to write, record and perform an entire album in tribute to Pattie. Derek and The Dominoes one and only album, “I Want To Fuck George Harrison’s Wife”, was released in 1971.
Somewhere between Cream and Derek and the Dominoes, Clapton had befriended a young colored gentleman from the US by the name of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi had traveled to the UK to try to peddle his special brand of music to the vast and lucrative European market, since he was as of yet not successful in the States. Being guitar virtuosos and music geeks, the two became fond of eachother’s work and admired eachother from afar before finally meeting and becoming the rock and roll friends they were destined to be. Had they been superstars in the modern age, I am positive you would have seen crappy iPhone video of their many karaoke appearances in London clubs singing Ebony and Ivory together. On September 17th 1970, Clapton purchased a left handed Stratocaster that he had planned to give to Hendrix because he was said to be “Sick and tired of seeing him play a normal guitar upside down like a fucking retard”. Clapton and Hendrix liked to joke around with eachother quite a bit, so Eric had the guitar taken to a shop to get the following inscription: “So help me God, if you burn this one I will whip your nigger ass like I own you!” Sadly, Hendrix died the very next day when some hooker fed him some bad smack, and he never received that heartfelt gift.
One of the many reasons Clapton had been friends with Hendrix was heroin. After Jimi’s death, as well as the death of friend and anonymous collaborator Duane Allman, Clapton sunk into a deep drug induced depression. He stopped touring as well as recording, except for a brief appearance at George Harrison’s ode to self righteous hippie benefit festivals, The Concert for Bangladesh. During the show, Clapton passed out on stage and had to be revived at least once, but like a trooper he managed to finish his set. It’s a good thing he never broke a string, or he would have never been able to restring it in that condition. It was over a year after this incident that Who guitarist Pete Townsend arranged a big comeback show for Eric, a la The Krusty Komeback Special from The Simpsons. This directly led to Clapton’s appearance in the film version of the rock opera Tommy as a preacher. Clapton assures us that no nubile young boys were harmed in his performance.
By the time 1974 rolled around, Clapton had ditched heroin for booze, as well as having ditched his right hand for George Harrisons wife. This is the era where his sound evolved to a mellower adult contemporary like sound. The next few years produced mellow Clapton staples Wonderful Tonight and I Shot the Sheriff, a song stolen from relative unknown Bob Marley. He even managed to make cocaine addiction sound boring and uneventful, in the uninspiringly titled ‘Cocaine’. This song being another stolen song from country / blues legendary nobody JJ Cale. If you research into Cale, you’ll find many people you’ve actually heard of that consider some sort of musical genius. During this era, Clapton even managed to mute his own sense of self importance, deciding at the last minute to change an album title from “The Greatest Guitar Player in the World” to “There’s One in Every Crowd”.
Although his music had become more sedated, Clapton did still know how to create some controversy. At a concert in Birmingham on August 5th 1976, a drunken Clapton gave his support to a controversial politician advocating the limitation or elimination of immigration from certain countries. Clapton said that he feared the UK was becoming a black colony, and insisted that the government should “throw the wogs out”. In this day of Youtube, I had a look there and tried to find if there was possibly footage of this, and instead found this wonderful recording…
Clapton later downplayed the incident, but never apologized for it. He viewed it as funny, similar to a David Bowie concept piece. As recent as 2007, Clapton has somewhat stood behind his remarks, claiming that he would still support Enoch Powell if he were running today.
At the start of the 80s, Clapton appeared at the charity concert, The Secret Policeman’s Other Ball, organized by Monty Python comedian John Cleese. At the shows he teamed up with (for the first time ever) Yardbirds alumnus Jeff Beck. This collaboration of guitar gods brought both back into the limelight and cemented their iconic status with a new generation. However his life was still ruled by alcohol. Clapton says that his turning point was a morning fishing trip he was invited on with a bunch of pro anglers. Clapton was so wasted that when the boat stopped at the spot they were going to cast their lines, he dropped his pants, leaned out of the boat and dangled his pecker into the water, screaming “COME ON FISHIES!!! COME GET THE WORM!!!!” at the top of his lungs. He then fell backwards into the boat and broke his rod. Luckily it was just his fishing rod. That morning he decided that it was time to seek help. His manager flew him to a rehab facility in Minnesota. On the flight over, Clapton cleared out the entire supply of alcohol on the plane, fearing that it would be the last time he would ever be able to drink again. Clapton admitted years later that he had considered killing himself, but decided against it because he wouldn’t be able to get wasted if he was dead. Man, does that sound familiar….. After a couple of months in the clinic, Clapton was released, with the warning that he stay away from anything that might trigger his former lifestyle. He ignored this advice and went back to the recording studio to put out a mediocre album called Money and Cigarettes. The only song that made it to the singles charts was the awfully mundane I’ve Got a Rock n Roll Heart.
Clapton went through the 80s making tame music and collaborating with a shit ton of fading stars and B-listers, from Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and Phil Collins, right down to late night television band reject David Sanborn. Perhaps the most memorable musical production from him in the remainder of the decade was the remake of the song After Midnight, which was created for the specific purpose of pitching Michelob beer. Perhaps they had decided that the youth market was not right for their crappy swill, so the mellow and sedate mid 40s crowd would be their target. Clapton’s brand of generic adult contemporary rock would be just the hook to bring in the pre-viagra gray haired set.
Eric apparently didn’t need the yet-to-be-invented Viagra, as he managed to father two kids with two different women (neither of which was his wife). The first, a daughter born in 1985, was hidden from the public world and not revealed to be his until 1991. The second, a son, was born in 1986. Because he was not of the inferior gender, Clapton let it be well known that he had knocked up some Italian model and sired a bastard.
As the 1990’s started, Clapton started a new job as the Angel of Death. His first assignment was in August of 1990, when he was tasked with taking out his tour companion Stevie Ray Vaughn as well as some of his roadies. Clapton arranged to have Vaughn’s chopper slam into the side of a mountain. Having successfully completed this mission, he was then tasked with ridding the world of his bastard son. Over several months, Clapton taught the boy how to unlock and crawl through a screen door without being detected, knowing that his mother lived on the 53rd floor of a slum in New York. In March of 1991, Connor put all of his new found skills to work and performed a dive so fine that the likes of it weren’t seen until over 10 years later in lower Manhattan. Clapton was able to profit off of this incident by writing the sappy tribute song Tears in Heaven, helping him win a half dozen Grammys for an album that really didn’t deserve it.
Clapton rounded out the 90s making a few albums full of remakes and soundtrack albums. He finally managed to slap together some new material together in 1998 (although nobody can remember what it was called) before hooking up with BB King and perennial remake artist Carlos Santana. The early part of the new millennium saw Clapton playing more and more benefits, tributes and collaboration efforts. At least he was getting a little fresh tang on the side, having hooked with some nobody in her 20s. She has since spit out three kids, all girls.
The new Millennium has found Clapton doing more of the same. There are a couple of albums, including an upcoming one called “Clapton”, a real stretch for him. He still continues to delve into his past to tour with old friends such as the living members of The Allman Brothers Band, Steve Winwood and many other musicians you might see playing the local casino circuit.
While he may still not have that ‘cool factor’ to the youth of today like many other performers of the past (such as BETTY FUCKING WHITE?????? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE???????), the list of accomplished and well respected musicians clamoring to work with him is a testament to just what he has meant to the music industry. Maybe he has stuck around a little long, but for over a decade in the 60s and 70s he was on top of the world. And after a life of alcohol and drug abuse, womanizing and racist rants, not only is he still alive, but is regarded as the kindly elder statesman of the rock and roll world. Who wants to wager that Justin Timberlake will hold the same respect in 2030…..
Disco Dave – Don’t hold your breath for another one of these…