Eric Clapton is a strange figure. In terms of his ability and contributions to music, he is gargantuan, but some of his offstage antics have threatened to diminish this status, eroding his legacy via some rather questionable and outright disgusting opinions.
Clapton first made his foray into music as a devotee of the blues and R&B with bands such as The Roosters, The Yardbirds and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, and during the early-mid 1960s, he was perhaps the hottest guitarist on the London club circuit.
He then formed what is ostensibly hailed as the first supergroup, Cream, alongside Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce in 1966. With Cream, he would make his first truly pioneering steps on the guitar, and help to establish what quickly became known as psychedelic rock.
After Cream imploded in 1968, due to the notorious infighting between perennial enemies Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, Clapton would then form Blind Faith alongside Baker, Steve Winwood and Jeck Grech in 1969. The band were short-lived and wouldn’t make it into 1970, but in that brief period of existence, they debuted to 100,000 people in London’s Hyde Park and released their sole album, Blind Faith, to widespread acclaim in August that year.
After Blind Faith, Clapton had a brief stint with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends before forming another short-lived project, Derek and the Dominos, in spring 1970. They released their lauded only album, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, in November that year, and featuring the iconic axeman, Duane Allman, who would tragically pass away in October in 1971, the album passed into the mythological realms.
Concurrently, Clapton’s self-titled debut solo album was released in 1970, only a few months before Layla. Although it wasn’t until 1974 when he released its follow-up, 461 Ocean Boulevard, the ’70s would be the decade where Clapton truly established himself as a solo artist. By 1978’s Backless, he had released six full-length studio albums.
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Clapton though, the ’70s would also be the decade where he experienced a great deal of strife. His drug and alcohol addictions really came to the fore over the decade. This period also witnessed his disgustingly racist outburst at a Birmingham show in 1976, in which he said: “Get the w*gs out. Get the c**ns out. Keep Britain white”. This is frequently cited, of course, as the lowest point of his career.
Ironically, these comments and his generally excessive behaviour drew the ire of a movement that was in full swing in 1976, punk. This massive groundswell had risen thanks to the likes of Eric Clapton, and were a reaction to everything he represented. Enraged by his racist vitriol, Rock Against Racism was formed in part as a response to Clapton’s outburst.
Clapton knew he was hated by the punks, and in 2016, he told Louder Sound: “I felt threatened because I was frightened. I thought these guys were scary, you know?”.
Clapton had every reason to be scared of the punks. They were here to topple him and his ilk from their thrones, and they did. Punk annihilated the era of Clapton and Co. and helped to bring about a new epoch in culture. This new era went on to have a great deal more significance than anything Clapton has ever undertaken.
Listen to Clapton ‘confront’ his racist past below.