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Eric Clapton On Revisiting "Layla," Sobriety and Reflecting on His Life

February 22, 2010 12:00 AM ET

In Rolling Stone's new issue, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton sit down for the first time to discuss old rivalries, blues heroes and the secrets of their craft. Here's more from David Fricke's conversation with Clapton: the guitarist on revisiting the Layla album, his sober years and documenting his life.

Check out all of Rolling Stone's guitar coverage and join the debate: who's the best of all time?

What did you get out of returning to all of those Derek and the Dominos songs on your 2007-2008 tour? Was it a matter of revisiting more unfinished business? It was the lineup that suggested it, the guitarists. Doyle [Bramhall II] and Derek [Trucks] both expressed so much interest in this stuff that I thought was dead and buried. I had never run into many people who were that enthusiastic about it — other than music fans.

Did the Layla songs represent a period of your life that you wanted to leave behind? No. But it was raw music — to a certain extent, pretty primitive. Derek and the Dominos was a quartet. The Layla album had Duane Allman on it, but the life of the Dominos didn't have Duane in it. It was two bands. I did try and entice Duane. He strayed for a little while. But then we were back to me being the only guitar player.

It's a difficult thing to revisit the Dominos thing. It isn't an emotional thing. It's how do you make that work with a bigger band — two keyboards, girl singers. It doesn't quite sound right. But it was infectious from Doyle and Derek: "They really want to do this stuff." So I thought, "This is the perfect opportunity. Because they can do it."

It was a great thing for me to do that tour with them. It was a little like the Crossroads festivals — I could play a little bit, then sit back and listen, play rhythm.

How much does going back to these relationships you have with Jeff Beck, Steve Winwood and the Dominos period have to do with being sober? The first time around, you were not. Do you feel you are looking back because you can see more clearly? I think that is true. My sobriety now is getting to be longer than my drinking period. I almost forget that the way I think and act now is different — a hundred percent different. So yeah, there was a lot of unfinished business that needs to be resolved, cleared up, made amends for. But it is a result of the changed way that I think now.

Did that come up when you did those first reunion shows with Steve, at Crossroads in 2007, then in New York at Madison Square Garden? We have talked about it a bit. I wrote my book [Clapton: The Autobiography] from that point of view — to set the record straight on a lot of things, in terms of the way I drank and my sobriety. Steve, for instance, has read the book. Other people affected by my drinking have read the book. We've talked about the way it is now, to have relationships.

Was writing your autobiography a way of shedding a lot of weight? I think it was. I'm so pleased I did it, but not to just let people know how it is for me now. Movie ideas have come up, biographical docudramas or whatever, that are so bizarre. You would laugh, really. There was one that came in, and the guy was adamant that we should go with this. He wanted to make a movie about the fact that in order to be a virtuoso, I had to kill all of my idols. So I murdered Stevie Ray [Vaughan] and Jimi [Hendrix], in order to become this guitar hero. He thought this was a great idea.

This was a genuine proposal? A script — a full manuscript, based on this premise. If the autobiography wasn't out there and something happened to me . . . . But there is a testament that says this is what happened and where. People have to respect that. Thank God.

Related Stories:
Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and the Way of the Guitar: The New Issue of Rolling Stone
Eric Clapton On Jeff Beck's Singing and Having An Old Man’s Voice
Crossroads 2007 in Photos

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Nightshift”

The Commodores | 1984

The year after soul legends Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson died, songwriter Dennis Lambert asked members of the Commodores to give him a tape of ideas. "And the one from Walter Orange has this wonderful bass line," said co-writer Franne Golde. "Plus the lyric, 'Marvin, he was a friend of mine' ... Within 10 minutes, we had decided it should be something like a modern R&B version of 'Rock 'n' Roll Heaven,' and I just said, 'Nightshift.'" This tribute to the recently deceased musicians was the band's only hit without Lionel Richie, who had left for a solo career.

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