The Many Incarnations of Eric Clapton

At 78 years old, Eric Clapton has lived many lives. Some good, some not so good.

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Here we will dive into the past, present, and even a little of the future.

The Beginnings

The British-born artist rose up in the ’60s as one of the most beloved electric guitar players in the U.K., performing in bands like The Yardbirds and Cream. When he left the former to eventually start the latter, Clapton recommended Jimmy Page take over. But that never worked out. Instead, Jeff Beck got the job.

Clapton’s influences were the great American blues artists like Buddy Guy, B.B. King, and, before them, Robert Johnson. Clapton would later release the album, Me and Mr. Johnson, as a tribute.

In 1970, Clapton founded Derek and the Dominos. That group produced perhaps Clapton’s most famous song to date, “Layla,” about the now notorious relationship between Clapton, George Harrison, and Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, whom Clapton was in love with.

Things Begin to Unravel, No. 1 Hit

As Clapton’s star rose, so did his drug and alcohol use.

His love for Boyd kept him from recording and writing. He became addicted to heroin. Things got so bad, he passed out at a show (Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh benefit), had to be revived, and later even finished. The Who’s Pete Townshend had to create a benefit show for Clapton to help his friend.

In 1974, however, Clapton earned his first No. 1 hit, a cover of Bob Marley’s, “I Shot the Sheriff.” More hits began to come, including “Wonderful Tonight,” and a cover of the J. J. Cale song, “Cocaine,” both of which have become signatures of the rock artist.


In 1990, guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who was on tour with Clapton at the time, was killed in a helicopter crash between shows, along with three members of the tour’s road crew. Less than a year later, Clapton’s four-year-old son, Conor, died after falling from the 53rd-story window of his mother’s friend’s apartment in New York City. His sadness from this was the subject matter for another one of his beloved songs, “Tears in Heaven.”

(Recent) Controversies

In the age of the internet, a drunken rant from the singer in 1976 has continued to plague him and, many would claim, rightfully so. In the diatribe, Clapton says, “Do we have any foreigners in the audience tonight? If so, please put up your hands. So where are you? Well, wherever you all are, I think you should all just leave. Not just leave the hall, leave our country. I don’t want you here, in the room, or in my country.

He went on to utter more horrible things in support of voting for Enoch Powell, a British politician who served as a Conservative Member of Parliament. While Clapton has apologized for this, saying he’s not sure what came over him, many believe he can’t live this down. In an apology, he said, “I sabotaged everything I got involved with. I was so ashamed of who I was, a kind of semi-racist, which didn’t make sense. Half of my friends were black, I dated a black woman, and I championed black music.”

More recently, Clapton has been vocal about his COVID-19 vaccination positions, even releasing songs, including one with Van Morrison, about what he perceived was pharmaceutical fascism. Clapton was largely ridiculed for his positions, seeming to lose credibility with many of his fans for speaking out against vaccinations recommended by the CDC and other bodies.

His reason for this, he said, in part at least, was due to a “disastrous” reaction to the original COVID-19 vaccine he took. But as NBC News pointed out, that may have been overstated by the guitar player. NBC wrote, “He claimed that he was experiencing temporary adverse reactions to the AstraZeneca vaccine, but detailed symptoms that he had  disclosed as early as 2013 and previously blamed on neurological problems.”

Either way, the artist they call “Slowhand,” received backlash.


Today, Clapton recently gave his endorsement to a cover band, Cream of Clapton Band, that features his nephew. He recently performed a residency in Tokyo and plans to bring his Crossroads Guitar Festival, featuring artists like Buddy Guy and the War on Drugs, to L.A. soon. Clapton will also release The Definitive 24 Nightswhich chronicles the 24 shows he hosted at the historic Royal Albert Hall in London.

And days before his 78th birthday on March 30, Clapton revealed a five-date tour kicking off on September 8 in Pittsburgh and wrapping on September 16 in Denver. He says the shows will be his only dates in North America in 2023.

What will come next for Slowhand remains to be seen.

Photo by Jeremy Chan/Getty Images

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