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CNN Showbiz Today's Jim Moret talks with Eric Clapton
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Clapton finds solace in songwriting

Web posted on:
Tuesday, March 16, 1999 12:12:37 PM EST

From Jim Moret
CNN Showbiz Today Anchor

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- With guitar in hand, Eric Clapton has helped define the sound of popular music for more than 30 years.

Clapton moves seamlessly from blues to rock to pop with a signature style -- one that almost never came together for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, who says he almost gave up the guitar as a child.

"I tried when I was 13, when my grandparents gave me an acoustic guitar, and I tried for a year," Clapton says. "It hurt so much to play. I mean, the fingertips hurt so much, I gave up.

"And then a year later, I started again, and when I knew I'd got it was when I learned to play something that Muddy (Waters) did on a song called 'Honey Bee.' I got my fingers in the right place and I hit the shape and it sounded just like the record," he says.

Though his career was shaped by the blues, his Grammy-winning works of the 1990s have been reactions to true personal tragedy: the 1990 death of his young son, Conor.


Early 1963: Joins first band, the Roosters

1963: Post-Roosters, spends one month in Casey Jones and The Engineers

October 1963: Recruited to the Yardbirds

April 1965: Joins John Mayall's Bluesbreakers

Late 1966: Forms Cream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker

1968: Founded Blind Faith with Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech

Summer 1970: Formed Derek and the Dominos; band would record "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs"

January 1973: Begins solo career, starts years of struggle with addiction to heroin, alcohol and painkillers

January 1982: Enters rehab center Hazelden Foundation. He has remained sober since 1987 through membership in Alcoholics Anonymous

1992: Releases "Tears In Heaven" after son Conor's death

1998: Clapton releases "Pilgrim," first album of all-new material in nine years

His most recent Grammy for "My Father's Eyes," a song from the album "Pilgrim," was written during the same period as his last Grammy winner, "Tears in Heaven." Both songs are extremely personal compositions reflecting on the boy's death.

For Clapton, performing those songs is difficult, but ultimately affirming.

"It is painful to relive things that have caused emotional crises or whatever and find ways to express that musically," he says. "And like then to have someone say, 'Well done' or to recognize it ... I identify with that feeling through music. Then it gives me an affirmative feeling that I'm doing the right thing."

While grateful for his enormous success, Clapton feels uncomfortable with the adulation and guitar hero status fans have bestowed upon him for more than a generation.

"I like solitude. I like the anomalous life. I like a quiet life. And all of this can be very disruptive to that," he says. "I mean, either I can embrace that and become part of it and go looking for it, but then I will have no life or no time of my own."

Nonetheless, Clapton is willing to use his fame for good, turning to charity work in recent years. In June, he will auction off the bulk of his personal guitar collection -- more than 100 instruments -- to raise money for the Crossroads Foundation, the drug treatment center he began in Antigua.

Among them is the guitar that he used to record Derek and the Dominos' "Layla." Clapton's 1956 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster is expected to fetch as much as $120,000 on the block.

"They're all great guitars, but that thing is, I want everyone to know that I'm willing to put my money where my mouth is."

Clapton live -- on 'Larry King'
February 13, 1998
Clapton to auction guitars at Christie's
February 18, 1999

Eric Clapton's 'Pilgrim' on Reprise Records
Extensive Eric Clapton links
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