By 1958, Rock and Roll had exploded onto the world. For his 13th birthday, Eric asked for a guitar. Finding the inexpensive German-made Hoyer difficult to play - it had steel strings - he put it aside. In 1961, when he was 16, Eric began studying at the Kingston College of Art on a one-year probation. He was expelled at the end of that time for lack of progress as he had not submitted enough work. The reason? Guitar playing and listening to the blues dominated his waking hours.
Typical of his introspective nature, Eric looked beneath the surface and explored the roots of rock in American Blues. The blues also meshed perfectly with his self-perception as an outsider and of being "different" from other people. Sometime in 1962, he asked for his grandparents' help in purchasing a Â£100 electric double cutaway Kay (a Gibson ES-335 clone) after hearing the electric blues of Freddie King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and others.
Eric spent his early days in music busking around Richmond and Kingston, he also began spending time in London and the West End. In early 1963, 17 year-old Eric joined his first band, The Roosters. Following the band's demise in August 1963, he spent one month in the pop-oriented Casey Jones and The Engineers. Before turning to music as a full-time career, he supported himself as a laborer at building sites, working alongside his grandfather, a master bricklayer and plasterer.
In October 1963, Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith recruited him to become a member of The Yardbirds because Clapton was the most talked about guitar player on the R&B pub circuit. During his 18-month tenure with The Yardbirds, he earned his nickname, Slowhand, and recorded his first albums: Five Live Yardbirds and Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds. The band also recorded the single, "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl". But, Eric had not abandoned his serious research into the American Blues. When The Yardbirds began moving towards a more commercial sound with "For Your Love", he quit. His path in music was the blues.
In April 1965, John Mayall invited Eric to join his band, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers. With this group, Clapton established his reputation as a guitarist and earned his second nickname: "God". It came from an admirer's graffiti on the wall of London's Islington Tube Station that boldly proclaimed "Clapton is God." Eric's time with the band was turbulent and he left for a while to tour Greece with friends. Upon his return from Greece, Eric rejoined the Bluesbreakers. It was during this time that the now classic Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton was recorded. While with the Bluesbreakers, Eric also recorded a one-off four-track session with a band dubbed "The Powerhouse". This studio band included John Paul Jones, Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce.
After leaving the Bluesbreakers for a second and final time in July 1966, Eric teamed up with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker to form Cream. Extensive touring in the U.S. and three solid albums - Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, and Wheels of Fire - brought the band worldwide acclaim. While a member of Cream, he cemented his reputation as rock's premier guitarist and was elevated to superstar status. Although Cream was together for only two years, they are considered one of the most influential rock groups of the modern era. Clapton was unique because he did not simply replicate the blues riffs he heard on records. He incorporated the emotion of the original performances into his own style of playing, thus expanding the vocabulary of blues guitar. Cream crumbled beneath the weight of the member's egos and constant arguing. They disbanded after two final performances at London's Royal Albert Hall on 26 November 1968.
Following Cream's break-up, Clapton founded Blind Faith - rock's first "supergroup" - with Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech. Disbanding after one album and a disastrous American tour, Eric tried to hide from his growing fame by touring as a sideman with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. While with this outfit, Eric was encouraged to sing by Delaney Bramlett. He also began composing more. A live album from the Delaney & Bonnie tour was released in 1970. Clapton's self-titled debut was released that same year.
In the summer of 1970, Eric formed Derek and the Dominos with Jim Gordon, Carl Radle and Bobby Whitlock from Delaney & Bonnie's band . The Dominos would go on to record the seminal rock album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. A concept album, its theme revolved around Clapton's unrequited love for George Harrison's wife, Patti. The band would drift apart following an American tour and a failed attempt at recording a second album.
Hit hard by the break up of The Dominos, the commercial failure of the Layla album and his unrequited love, Eric sunk into three years of heroin addiction. Although he rarely emerged from his Surrey Estate, he filled box upon box with tapes of songs. He kicked his drug addiction and re-launched his career in January 1973 with two concerts at London's Rainbow Theater organized by his friend, Pete Townshend (The Who). The concerts represented a turning point in his career. In 1974, he reappeared with a new style and sound with 461 Ocean Boulevard. Eric had become an assured vocalist and composer in addition to a guitar hero.
With each album after 461 Ocean Boulevard, Eric reinvented himself musically. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, albums and tours would follow year in and year out. In 1985, Clapton found a new audience following his performance at the worldwide charity concert, Live Aid. Annual stands at the Royal Albert Hall and successful albums like August, Journeyman and the Crossroads box set kept him well in the public mind. In the late 80s, he carved out a second career as the composer of film scores. His career went from strength to strength and reached new heights in 1992 with the release of Unplugged and the Grammy winning single, "Tears In Heaven."
In 1994, Eric returned to his blues roots with the release of From The Cradle. The album was Clapton's tribute to his musical heroes and contained cover versions of blues classics. 1997 brought an excursion into electronica with the release of TDF's Retail Therapy . Eric posed as X-Sample in the studio "band" TDF. In 1998, he released the soul-influenced Pilgrim, his first album of all new material in nine years. In 2000, he continued his love affair with the blues when he recorded an album with American blues legend, B.B. King. Riding With The King was released in June and within three weeks of release, was certified gold.
Shortly after the release of Riding With The King, Clapton was back in the studio recording his next solo project. Reptile was released in March 2001. In late 2002, he began to record a new studio album. Work continued through the summer of 2003 and enough material was recorded for two albums. In addition to new solo material, Eric recorded covers of Robert Johnson songs during these sessions. The Johnson songs were assembled and in March 2004, Eric's tribute album, Me and Mr. Johnson was released. The solo material recorded during these sessions was released in 2005 on Back Home.
In 2005, Eric also revisted the past. He, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce re-formed Cream for four very special reunion shows at London's Royal Albert Hall. The concerts took place at the venue where their farewell shows took place 37 years earlier, in November 1968. In October 2005, the men performed three further concerts at New York's Madison Square Garden. The London shows were released on CD and DVD in late 2005.
Eric's next recording project was to be produced by one of the architects of the "Tulsa Sound," J.J. Cale. Eric had long admired Cale's work, having recorded cover versions of "After Midnight," "Cocaine," and "Travelin' Light." After working in the studio a short time, it turned into a collaborative effort. The Road To Escondido was released on 7 November 2006 to critical acclaim.