Eric Clapton: Biography, Songs & Albums

Instructor: Maura Valentino

Maura has taught college information literacy and has a master's degree in library and information science.

Learn about the life and music one of the world's most successful rock and blues guitarists, Eric Clapton. Discover the albums and songs he has recorded during a career that spans more than 50 years.

Welcome to the Spotlight: Eric Clapton

On a rainy night in 1967, Eric Clapton strolls down a London street. As he takes a drag of his cigarette, he notices three words graffitied on an old brick wall: 'Clapton is God.' He cringes and shakes his head. He knows he's one of the best guitarists and singers in the realm of rock and blues. He also knows he's a long way from the top, but this only fuels his desire to improve. For the rest of his life, Clapton will continue climbing to the top of the charts to the delight of millions of fans.

Eric Clapton performing in 2010
Image of Eric Clapton

Early Life

Eric Patrick Clapton was born in Ripley, England, on March 30, 1945. His father was a married Canadian soldier. His mother, Patricia Clapton, was just 16 years old. Eric's father abandoned Eric's mother, and the young Clapton was raised by his maternal grandparents. As a young boy, Clapton listened to rock and roll, but he also loved art. In fact, he gave up trying to play his first guitar at the age of 13 because he found it too difficult and went off to study at the Kingston College of Art. Then, while attending art school, Clapton discovered American blues music. He fell in love with the soulful tunes, purchased an electric guitar, and soon flunked out of art school after neglecting his studies in favor of exploring the rock roots of American blues.

The Making of a Guitar God

In 1963, Clapton joined his first band, The Roosters. Later that year, he became a member of The Yardbirds, a group that would become one of the top bands of the 1960s. It was at this time that Clapton, one of the fastest guitar players around, was given the ironic nickname, 'Slowhand.' In 1964, the band recorded its first album, Five Live Yardbirds, and just one year later, the band had its first hit single with 'For Your Love.'

Clapton left The Yardbirds and, in 1965, joined John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. The album Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton (1966) reached the Top 10 chart in the United Kingdom. Clapton was now one of the most famous guitar players in England. His next band would make him a worldwide superstar.

In 1966, Clapton joined forces with renowned drummer Ginger Baker and bassist Jack Bruce (Clapton had worked with Bruce in the Bluesbreakers). The high stature of these three artists gave them the name for this band: Cream, as in 'the cream of the crop.'

Cream's blend of psychedelic rock and blues gave birth to three classic albums: Fresh Cream (1966), Disraeli Gears (1967), and Wheels of Fire (1968). These albums spawned numerous hits including 'Sunshine of Your Love' and 'White Room,' and they marked Clapton's debut as a lead vocalist on classics such as 'Crossroads' and 'Badge.'

Cream (Clapton on right)
Image of the band Cream

Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

After Cream's breakup in 1968, Clapton pressed on. With his new band Derek and the Dominos, he recorded the album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). The album was elevated by the guitar playing of southern rock legend Duane Allman. The song 'Layla,' which was partly inspired by Clapton's unrequited love for the wife of friend and Beatles member George Harrison, became one of rock's most famous recordings.

However, 'Layla' marked another turning point for Clapton. Struggling with his feelings for Harrison's wife, Pattie Boyd, and a debilitating heroin addition, Clapton dropped out of public life for three years. He kicked his heroin habit and emerged from seclusion in 1974. Over the next two decades, he released several hits, including a cover of Bob Marley's 'I Shot the Sheriff' (1974) which helped introduce reggae music to a wider U.S. audience. He married Pattie Boyd in 1979.

Derek and the Dominos (Clapton on right)
Image of Derek and the Dominos

Clapton had kicked his heroin habit, but his addiction to alcohol worsened. In 1985, he sought treatment, and by the end of the decade he was free of drugs and alcohol. However, he and Boyd divorced in 1989.

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