Eric Clapton is a British rock guitarist, one of the best ever. He is white, not black. As far as I know no one has ever thought he was black, not even when they heard him on the radio and did not know what he looked like.
And yet, like Elvis and Madonna, he was one of the main white musicians through which black music has affected white music in the English-speaking world.
He grew up in a white town in the middle of England, so how in the world did that come about?
When he was little he felt there was something different about him. By piecing together things he overheard his aunts say he found out the truth: his parents were his grandparents and his sister was his mother!
His mother had him in 1945 by a Canadian airman who was passing through England on the way to war. They never married. So Clapton was born in secret and in shame. His mother left town.
When he found out the truth he withdrew into himself. When his mother came to town he asked, “Can I call you Mummy now?” She said no. His own mother did not want him!
He turned to music to deal with the pain:
Music became a healer for me, and I learned to listen with all my being, I found that it could wipe away all the emotions of fear and confusion relating to my family.
The music that spoke to his heart the most was the blues:
It’s very difficult to explain the effect the first blues record I heard had on me, except to say that I recognized it immediately. It was as if I were being reintroduced to something that I already knew, maybe from another, earlier life. For me there is something primitively soothing about this music, and it went straight to my nervous system, making me feel ten feet tall.
He especially loved the electric guitar blues of Chicago. People like Otis Rush, Muddy Waters and Freddie King were his heroes. But above them all was the Delta bluesman Robert Johnson.
He taught himself guitar by listening to his blues records and copying them till he got it right. But it seems he copied the form – in his own way – more than he did the substance.
In time playing the blues on his guitar became the only thing he cared about:
- So much so that he got kicked out of art school.
- So much so that when the pop music of Beatlemania took hold he still stuck to the blues.
- So much so that he quit the Yardbirds just when they had their first hit song: because they had turned their back on the blues.
By the late 1960s he had become one of the great guitar players of rock music along with Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and others who also loved the blues. Together they changed the course of rock music.
- And, while we are at it, compare: I Can’t Quit You Baby
- The blackness of:
- white American music