Eric Clapton is best regarded as a pioneer of rock and roll. A pivotal figure in preaching the gospel of rock, Slowhand had stints in a myriad of iconic bands before pursuing a solo career that saw him take his craft to another level entirely.
Clapton first appeared on the scene during the 1960s, a time when he swiftly rose to become London’s finest axeman, and the most in-demand. During this time, he became friends with a pair of other stellar guitarists Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck, who played in The Bluesbreakers and The Yardbirds, which was all before he joined Cream. Alongside Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in the supergroup, he pioneered psychedelic rock, helping to usher in the dawn of the counterculture and the Summer of Love.
Although he is one of music’s most controversial figures, delivering a string of rightly condemned statements over the years, you cannot doubt that Clapton is one of the finest guitar players in history. His wailing guitar style took influence from the American bluesmen of old, and modified the formula, turning up the volume, and playing with more impetus than ever before. It was Clapton who laid the foundations for modern rock guitar playing to develop, paving the way for the likes of Mike McCready and Kirk Hammett to carry the baton in the future.
Whilst there have been many talking points in Clapton’s career, perhaps the most crushing was losing his four-year-old son, Conor, in 1991. In response to this immense tragedy, he wrote what became one of his most iconic songs, the forlorn lament ‘Tears in Heaven’.
Released in 1992, it remains one of Clapton’s best-loved hits and a literal representation of triumph in the face of adversity. Famously, the song was recorded in 1992 as part of Clapton’s MTV Unplugged appearance and has been etched into the history books ever since.
In an interview with BBC Radio, Clapton discussed how he wrote ‘Tears in Heaven’, and revealed that writing songs helped him process his son’s death. Clapton said: “I had, I brought him home from New York with the Italian side of his mother’s family. We went through the process of the funeral, and when they left. And I had this little Spanish guitar, I became attached to that. And I went away. I went off to Antigua, and I rented a little cottage there, in a sort of a community.”
“I just swatted mosquitoes all day and played this guitar and stayed there for almost a whole year without much contact with the outside world. So I tried to heal myself. All I could do was play and write these songs. I rewrote and re-performed them again and again and again. Until I felt like I’d made some sort of move towards the surface of my being.”
The legendary guitarist concluded: “And then I was able to come out. It was so deep, and I had thought that I had taken care of it until I saw (the 2017 movie) Life in 12 Bars. It’s very disturbing for me, but beautiful at the same time, the way it’s handled in the film. The footage I haven’t seen of him before, which is difficult to watch, with the underlying music. And playing ‘Tears in Heaven,’ I mean, it’s overwhelming, and I’ve got to go and do it again in a few days’ time.”