Clapton finds solace in songwriting
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From Jim Moret
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.
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."
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