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Eric Clapton Biography: Life and Career of the 'Layla' Singer

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Born March 30th, 1945 in Surrey, England, Eric Clapton became interested in the blues at a young age and learned to play guitar as a teen. After joining several bands, he made a name for his guitar playing with The Yardbirds and John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. But Clapton found his first taste of international success with the supergroup Cream. Problems caused them to disband and soon he formed Blind Faith. Following their breakup, Clapton released his solo debut and formed Derek and the Dominos. Despite success with "Layla," depression and substance abuse took over. He made his comeback in the early 70s and has been steadily releasing Grammy-winning material ever since. In this video, we take a look at the life and career of Eric Clapton.

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He’s Slowhand. Welcome to, and today we’re taking a look at the life and career of Eric Clapton.

Growing Up

Eric Patrick Clapton was born March 30th, 1945 in Surrey, England. After his father left his teenage mother, he was raised as his grandmother’s and her second husband’s son. Intrigued by the blues, he learned guitar in his teens. After being kicked out of the Kingston College of Art, he started building his name by performing with local bands.

The Yardbirds

Between 1963-1965, Clapton cultivated his style as part of The Yardbirds, but quit the blues rock group once they embraced a more pop sound following their first top ten hit.

John Mayall

Slowhand solidified his status as an English guitar god with the highly influential Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton, which resulted from his short-lived stint with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.


After parting ways with that outfit, Clapton merged his fast, bluesy guitar style with Jack Bruce’s unforgettable bass and Ginger Baker’s flamboyant, jazz-inspired drums in Cream. Within two years, the trio became the first successful supergroup and introduced Clapton to an American audience. Their live shows were particularly notable thanks to lengthy guitar solos and jam sessions.

First Successful Supergroup

Throughout the late-‘60s, Cream’s blues and psychedelic rock earned them four top forty U.S. records, including Disraeli Gears. That album featured the single “Sunshine of Your Love,” which exemplified Clapton’s distorted and muted guitar sound dubbed the “woman tone.” Wheels of Fire became the first ever platinum-selling double album and contained the hit, “White Room.” However, despite international fame, Cream disintegrated following member clashes and substance abuse problems.

Blind Faith

During his time with Cream, Clapton discovered the innovative sounds of rising guitarist, Jimi Hendrix, and collaborated with The Beatles’ George Harrison. He soon formed the supergroup Blind Faith with Traffic’s Steve Winwood, Cream’s Ginger Baker and Family’s Ric Grech; however after just one chart-topping eponymous album, they disbanded.

Solo Debut

It was in 1970 that Clapton unveiled his self-titled, solo debut. He also assumed guitar duties alongside vocalist and keyboardist Bobby Whitlock, bassist Carl Radle and drummer Jim Gordon in the newly-formed Derek and the Dominos.

Derek and the Dominos

Their only album was the blues rock classic, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which also featured Duane Allman’s dynamic slide guitar abilities. Though initially unsuccessful, that record is now considered Clapton’s magnum opus. In the standout track, “Layla,” Clapton revealed his unrequited love for Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd.


Soon, Boyd’s rejection, the demise of Derek and the Dominos and the deaths of Hendrix and Allman, left Clapton depressed. With only heroin to sustain him, he isolated himself from the world.


Slowhand made his comeback at The Who’s Pete Townshend’s Rainbow Concert in 1973. Free from heroin, he earned his first and only number one hit the next year with the Bob Marley cover, “I Shot The Sheriff,” from 461 Ocean Boulevard.

Solo Albums

Clapton produced four more albums in the 1970s, with Slowhand and Backless generating several top tens. He married Boyd in 1979; but the union was soon tainted by his alcoholism and infidelity.

More Music

After 1981’s Another Ticket, Clapton worked with Jeff Beck and Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters. The ‘80s also saw him enter rehab and release four studio albums, including the Phil Collins’-produced August which returned him to UK prominence, and the double platinum Journeyman which found him at the top of his game, and Grammy-worthy, thanks to “Bad Love.”

Family Tragedy

Sadly, in 1991 tragedy struck when his four-year-old son died accidentally. That heartbreak inspired Clapton’s top 2 hit, “Tears in Heaven,” from the “Rush” movie soundtrack, which earned him three Grammys and appeared on the chart-topping live album, Unplugged.

Grammy Wins

Clapton spent the remainder of the decade producing Grammy-winning songs, like “Change the World” from the “Phenomenon” soundtrack and “My Father’s Eyes” off his 1998 solo disc, Pilgrim.


After the millennium, Clapton remarried, but kept touring and recording: he collaborated with B.B. King and J.J. Cale, reunited with his Cream and Blind Faith bandmates, paid tribute to the late Harrison and Robert Johnson, and released top 20 solo albums like Reptile, Back Home and Clapton. In 2013, he dropped the star-studded Old Sock.

Musical Legacy

With an incomparable style and untouchable ear for melody, Eric Clapton is undoubtedly one of history’s most significant guitarists.

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