Eric Clapton: The Rolling Stone Interview
Last year, PolyGram released a three-CD set celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Layla. Did you go back and listen to it all, the jams and the outtakes and everything?
I couldn’t listen to all that. I tried, but I couldn’t. There’s so much personal history involved that it’s quite painful to go and relive it, which is what happens if I listen to it. Nostalgia, for me, is always painful. I mean, I think nostalgia is actually Latin for ‘return to pain.’
When one looks back at what happened to the people in Derek and the Dominos, it seems as if it was an awfully star-crossed group.
The way it started was so anonymous, being Derek and the Dominos and doing a tour with no one knowing who we were. And then it was finally discovered, and we peaked so quickly and made so much money. And these guys, who were basically from the South – like [keyboardist] Bobby Whitlock and [drummer] Jim Gordon – were suddenly thrust into all this money and drugs and women, and it just cartwheeled, took off and blew up. It was like a massive car crash, and scary, scary, scary. We couldn’t even talk to one another, we were so wound up and drugged out and paranoid. It was doomed, really. I don’t think it could have been salvaged by anybody.
Jim Gordon is now in jail, I believe, for murdering his mother. He was diagnosed as an acute paranoid schizophrenic. Have you been in touch with him?
I’m scared to death of that. A part of me says I owe it to him to try and get in touch. But I’m scared. I was scared of him at the end of Derek and the Dominos. One of the reasons we broke up was the rapport between me and Jim, which had always been so good, had broken down. And in the middle of a session when we were trying to do a second studio album, I said something about the rhythm being wrong for the song, and Jim said something like “Well the Dixie Flyers are in town. You can get their drummer.” I put my guitar down and walked out of the studio, and I didn’t speak to him again.
But I had no idea that he had a psychotic history of visions and hearing voices, from an early age. That was never apparent when we were working together. It just seemed like bad vibes, the worst kind of bad vibes. I would have never said that he was going mad. To me, it was just the drugs.
Carl Radle, the bass player, ended up dying from alcohol poisoning.
Carl was like my brother. He brought me out of my seclusion when I was taking heroin after the Dominos broke up. He stayed in touch, and he found Dick Sims and Jamie Oldaker and said this could be our new band. And it was. And then drugs got into that, and booze, and it created a monster again. I broke up that band because we were all fucked up, we were killing one another, fighting onstage. And it was all drug related. And within six months, Carl was dead. At that point, I was doing two bottles of brandy a day, and I couldn’t lift a finger to help anybody. Now I look at it all and see what a waste and what a great player he was, and I’m sad. I mean, drugs have got a lot to answer for in my life.
When you look back over your career, which albums are you proudest of?
I think the John Mayall album [Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton] is very powerful, because I had a definite rebel stance about the whole thing. I was on top of my craft, and I was completely confident, and I didn’t give a shit about what anyone thought. I mean, we made that record in two days, and I told the engineer where to put the microphone, and that’s the way it went. If you didn’t like what I was doing, then you weren’t on the same planet as me.
I like Slowhand. I like No Reason to Cry. I think that’s a very good album, because it’s sort of rambling. There was no producer, and it was just a party. But I’m proud of them all, I’m glad to say.
You did the Dylan song “Sign Language” on No Reason to Cry. Do you ever see him anymore?
[A] The last time I saw Bob was when I was making Journeyman. But I had a great year with Bob this year. I bought the bootleg album, and I haven’t stopped listening to it. And I’d forgotten what a master he is. I think he is the best. I mean, that song “Series of Dreams” is a masterpiece. It blows me away. The sound of it, the voice, and the general atmosphere is scary, beautiful.
And then I saw Bob getting his Grammy, and it blew me away. George [Harrison] showed me a video of it, actually, not long after my son died, and what Bob said in that acceptance was so profound, it took my breath away, brought tears to my eyes. It’s one of the greatest things I ever heard anyone say on a live TV show. I don’t know if anyone really got it, but I thought it was magnificent. It proves to me that the man is head and shoulders above everyone else. I haven’t seen him for a while, but I’d love to. It’s just that I don’t quite know how to give him what he’s given me. I feel kind of inadequate.
Are there any other people you feel that way about?
Yeah, the same with Robbie Robertson. If I sat down and thought for ten minutes about what he’s given me, I wouldn’t even be able to have coffee with him. I’d be awe-struck. I was devoted to the Band, and every song that he ever wrote for the Band had a profound effect on me. The story of the relationship in the song “The Moon Struck One” is so profound. It brings back so many memories of my own childhood that it seems like Robbie must have been there. And when I see him, I just have to throw all that out the window and be who I am.
After Music From Big Pink came out, you went to Woodstock and visited the Band.
Yeah, I bumped into Robbie in L.A., and he invited me to meet the guys in Woodstock. These guys looked like characters from the Hole in the Wall Gang. It was like Jesse James or something. Rick Danko showed up covered in plaster from his waist to the top of his head, as he’d just driven his car into a tree. These guys were the real thing, and I was touring with this band of psychedelic loonies. And it made me reevaluate everything I stood for.
It seems like you’ve been through another period of reevaluation, and you’ve emerged fairly strong.
Well, I’ve had to be, you know. It’s been a pretty spectacular couple of years for me. Someone wrote a book about me called Survivor! [the book, by Ray Coleman, was retitled Clapton! in America], and it wound up in the early Eighties. Well, you could write it all again. In the last couple of years there’s been more action in my life, and drama, than I would have wished for. But I think I’ve learned something from it all. I can’t say tangibly what it is, except that I’m happy to be me and to have survived.
Paris Hilton Revisits 'Stars Are Blind' 17 Years Later Alongside Kim Petras
- Woo Ah Meets Sliving
Karol G Brings a Reggaetón Party to the World of 'Barbie' on 'Watati'
- Rolling With Reggaetón