Vintage Guitar - July 2018 - open - 109
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mother Rose Clapp was
previously married to
Rex Clapton, whose
surname Eric took.)
W h e n h e h e a rd
Muddy Waters via a
children's radio show,
Clapton t houg ht,
"Man, this is for me."
As he says, "Something
about it stirred me. It
took all the pain away."
His artistic bent was
impressive - with sophisticated drawings
of race cars, guitar
designs, and blues musicians - even before
he entered Kingston
School of Art. After
short-lived bands like
the Roosters, he got
the lead guitar spot in
the Yardbirds, where,
atypically, his playing
stole the spotlight from
the lead singer.
There's always been
a romantic, Robert
about Clapton hiding out after quitting
the band for becoming too commercial,
then emerging a blues virtuoso. But A)
Clapton's playing with the Yardbirds was
nothing to sneeze at, and B) his disappearance was but two weeks, staying at
Rooster Ben Palmer's house, deciding
what to do next. It was cut short when
John Mayall called.
During Mayall's Bluesbreakers, "Clapton Is God" graffiti appeared around
England. A big part of the idolatry was
the tone Clapton got from his sunburst
Les Paul and Marshall amp, along with
inf luences he cites from the Indian reed
instruments of Bismillah Khan and Little
Walter's amplified harmonica. I've interviewed Clapton seven times, and he never
mentioned those inf luences, although I
suspected the latter.
Clapton talks about cranking the Marshall in the studio with Mayall and placing
the mic 10 feet away, and the photographs
of Cream recording Disraeli Gears (and
Clapton's triumphant cameo with Aretha
Franklin on Lady Soul) in New York reveal
that he was playing a three-pickup black
STORY ON FILM
By Dan Forte
David Wedgbury/Courtesy of Showtime
aster jazz guitarist Ted Greene once
said, "Michael Bloomfield and Eric
Clapton, in 1966 and '67, shattered
all notions for my generation as to what an
electric guitar should be doing in the field
of electric blues and more."
Clapton's rocky but fascinating life is put
under the microscope in the documentary
Life In 12 Bars. In a radio interview prior
to its premiere, he said, "Be prepared for a
heavy ride. It was very difficult for me to sit
through, because it goes on so long about
the difficult part of my life."
Fully half of its two-plus hours deals with
his addictions, extra-marital affairs, rejection, and feelings of inferiority growing up.
It was directed by Lili Fini Zanuck, widow
of Richard D. Zanuck and co-producer of
Driving Miss Daisy and Cocoon.
While more ardent fans know the basics,
the documentary digs deeper in some areas.
Clapton was raised by his grandparents after
his mother got pregnant at 16. He wasn't
informed that the woman he believed to
be his sister was actually his mother until
age 9. (The film doesn't explain that grand-
Les Paul Custom, circa '58, prior to his
early-'60s SG-shaped Les Paul Standard
known as "The Fool."
The biggest problem I have with the film
isn't the prolonged discussion of Clapton the
addict (heroin, cocaine, alcohol); it reminds
me of Clint Eastwood's Bird, largely about
Charlie Parker's excesses. In both cases,
would an outsider get a feel for just how
truly different and special these immense
In a press conference at the Toronto Film
Festival, Clapton said, "Right up to the time
I stopped drinking, everything I said is absolute blather." Not the times I interviewed
him, and I calculate that the first two were
during his coke and booze periods. He was
thoughtful, interesting, and articulate -
maybe because we were talking about music!
And even at a '78 concert at the Oakland
Coliseum, when his T-shirt proclaimed
"No Snow, No Show," he's never failed to
do things live that reminded me why some
chalked up his gifts to divine intervention.
There are some surprising omissions in
the flickering tale, like the fact that he and
Pattie Boyd, his inspiration for "Layla,"
whom he attempted to woo away from
husband/Beatle George Harrison, did in fact
marry. No mention is made of his self-titled
solo debut or its producer, Delaney Bramlett;
worse, major inspiration J.J. Cale is seen
for a nanosecond but not ID'ed. And of all
the tragedies that have befallen him (the
deaths of Jimi Hendrix and, a week later, the
stepfather who raised him, as well as Duane
Allman, and of course his four-year-old
son, Conor, inspiring "Tears In Heaven"),
the Alpine Valley helicopter crash that took
the lives of Stevie Ray Vaughan and three
members of Clapton's team isn't mentioned.
(Also, there's an unforgivable blunder where
Harrison's voice is misidentified as that of
Paul McCartney in an interview regarding
the Beatles' 1964 Christmas show.)
The happy ending - meeting his wife
Melia and fathering three daughters - comes
barely five minutes before the credits roll.
On Facebook, I recently asked people
to name their favorite Clapton solo, and it
speaks to his stature that 39 songs comprising his entire career were listed. "The last
solo on the live 'Crossroads,' which kicks in
around 2:30," wrote my former boss, prolific
guitar chronicler Tom Wheeler, on February
9, two days before his sudden death at age 70.
© 2018 Dan Forte; all rights reserved.