Happy 70th birthday Eric Clapton, the 'slowhand' guitar god

  • Rezaul H Laskar, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: May 02, 2015 14:49 IST

Eric Clapton celebrates his 70th birthday on Monday, music still throbbing in his veins. HT takes a look at the life and career of the master musician who has melded the blues and rock over the decades to win over generations of fans.

In fact, Clapton has meant many things for four generations of music lovers. For the Noughties, he has largely been an elder statesman straddling the worlds of rock and blues.

In the 1990s, he was the guy who rode the unplugged wave with tracks like "Tears In Heaven" and a reworking of his classic "Layla".

In the 1970s and 1980s, he produced a series of laidback albums that wove together rock, reggae, blues and country to produce nuggets such as "Wonderful Tonight", "Cocaine" and "I Shot The Sheriff".

In the 1960s, when it all began, Clapton was god - or so thought a die-hard fan who spray-painted the legend on the wall of a Tube station in the London borough of Islington.

Clapton has shown over the past few decades that he isn't a god, but more an ordinary man grappling with a host of demons. But he is also someone who is more than capable of mining his personal losses and struggles to produce some of his best-known music.

For decades, Clapton struggled with the knowledge that he was the illegitimate son a Canadian soldier and was brought up by his grandparents. After finding success with the supergroup Cream, Clapton turned away from it all because of tension between band-mates Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce and yearned to make laidback music that didn't have him playing flashy guitar solos.

The 1970s brought the turmoil of an affair with model Pattie Boyd, the wife of Clapton's close friend George Harrison of The Beatles. His relationship with Boyd would produce two of his best-known songs - "Layla", which was inspired by Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi's "The Story of Layla and Majnun", and "Wonderful Tonight", which was written a few years before Clapton married her.

The stormy relationship with Boyd also fuelled a heroin addiction that affected Clapton's studio albums and live performances. Though he kicked his drug habit, he became addicted to alcohol and didn't clean up his act till the early 1980s, when he began a slow return to form that would culminate with 1989's "Journeyman", widely considered one of his best solo albums.

It would be another personal tragedy - the accidental death of his four-year-old son Conor in 1991 after falling out the window of a 53rd floor apartment in New York - that would be the inspiration for "Tears In Heaven", one of his most successful songs.

Since then, Clapton has experimented with hip-hop rhythms and drum machines on the album "Pilgrim", dipped into the blues for albums such as "From The Cradle" and "Me And Mr Johnson", a tribute to blues legend Robert Johnson, and recorded collaborations with two greats who inspired him - B B King, "Riding With The King", and J J Cale, "The Road To Escondido".

While he remains a potent performer on stage, whether reuniting with Cream for a string of concerts in 2005 or organising his Crossroads Guitar Festival to raise funds for his drug treatment centre in Antigua, his latest albums haven't exactly set the charts on fire.

But then the man who makes the guitar weep really has nothing left to prove, either to his fans or his peers.

Happy 70th 'Slowhand' Eric Clapton. And thanks for all the wonderful music.

Enjoy the Eric Clapton playlist:

Hideaway – John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers featuring Eric Clapton

Cream – Sunshine Of Your Love

Blind Faith – Can’t Find My Way Home

Derek & The Dominos – Layla

Let It Grow

I Shot The Sheriff

Wonderful Tonight

Tears In Heaven

Bad Love


Five lesser-known Eric Clapton tracks

Eric Clapton & Peter Tosh – Whatcha Gonna Do

Wanna Make Love To You

Eric Clapton with Buddy Guy & Robert Cray – Watch Yourself

Eric Clapton & B B King – Marry You

Eric Clapton & J J Cale – Missing Person?

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