Keyboardist Chris Stainton Interview: Eric Clapton, Who, Roger Waters - Rolling Stone
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Keyboardist Chris Stainton on His Years With Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, and the Who

He was a part of the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour, plays on ‘Quadrophenia,’ and has been a part of Clapton’s band since 1979

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08: Chris Stainton performs live with Eric Clapton at Barclaycard present British Summer Time Hyde Park at Hyde Park on July 8, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Brian Rasic/WireImage)LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 08: Chris Stainton performs live with Eric Clapton at Barclaycard present British Summer Time Hyde Park at Hyde Park on July 8, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Brian Rasic/WireImage)

"You can't explain it really," says keyboardist Chris Stainton of the secret to his longevity in Eric Clapton's band. "We have a sort of thing."

Brian Rasic/WireImage

unknown legends
Rolling Stone interview series Unknown Legends features long-form conversations between senior writer Andy Greene and veteran musicians who have toured and recorded alongside icons for years, if not decades. All are renowned in the business, but some are less well known to the general public. Here, these artists tell their complete stories, giving an up-close look at life on music’s A list. This edition features keyboardist Chris Stainton.

He performed at Woodstock, even though he took so much LSD that morning that he puked on the helicopter ride over. A year later, he barnstormed the country as part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. He played in front of a global audience of 2 billion at Live Aid alongside Eric Clapton and Phil Collins, and then was onstage at the 2002 Concert for George where he sat about five feet from Paul McCartney and helped out with one of the all-time great renditions of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

But unless you’re a true classic-rock aficionado, you’ve probably never heard of keyboardist Chris Stainton. That’s because despite playing on landmark albums like the Who’s Quadrophenia and 40 years’ worth of gigs with Eric Clapton, where he’s likely logged more time onstage with the guitarist than any other musician in history, he’s deliberately kept an extremely low profile.

“I’d be quite happy to be like Ian Stewart of the Stones,” Stainton tells Rolling Stone. “They used to hide him behind a curtain. It’s nice being onstage, but I don’t want to be a star. I’m not a star. There are frontmen and there’s backing men. I’m a backing man.”

We phoned up the quintessential backing man at his home in Camberley, England, to hear how he went from a kid in Sheffield who loved Elvis Presley and Fats Domino to the Woodstock stage and the recording studio with the likes of the Who and David Gilmour, and how he’s managed to last in Clapton’s touring and recording band for all these years.

How has your pandemic year gone?
It’s the same for everyone, I think. You’re stuck home. You just go to the shops and come back. That’s it.

You were still playing when this thing hit.
Yeah. We had everything canceled. The last show that I did was February 2020, which was a tribute to Ginger Baker that we did in London. After that, the whole pandemic hit. They canceled last year’s tour of Europe and America. They tried to put the Europe tour for Eric back on sale for this year, but it got canceled again. They are looking to get an American tour for the fall. So, we’re waiting.

I want to go back here and talk about your life. What was the first music you remember that really left an impression on you?
I was born in Sheffield, up in the north of England. The first thing I can remember is that my mom and dad used to listen to New Orleans jazz records. They had a lot of stuff like that. I used to listen to that. I must have been five or six. They had a record player and I’d put the records on and listen to all their stuff.

My dad had a clarinet, an accordion, and a banjo. He played stuff himself. Unfortunately, he got multiple sclerosis, so that put an end to that. He was quite musical. My mom used to sing a lot. And every home in the north of England had a piano in the front room. We always had a piano there.

How young were you when you learned to play the piano?
Five or six, I would say. We used to also listen to the radio, and the thing I would listen to the most was the bass. That was what I was interested in. I eventually caught up and became a bass player.

What was the attraction of the bass to you?
I just loved the deep tone of it, the sound of it. Every record, I’d listen to the bass more than anything.

I do remember the early Elvis and early Jerry Lee Lewis and all those things, Fats Domino. They all used to have double bass on them in the Fifties. Eventually, the electric came in on songs like “Jailhouse Rock” and “Around and Around” by Chuck Berry. They were some of the first records to ever have electric bass on them. I was fascinated by this. Eventually, I got a Fender Precision Bass.

How old were you when you realized you wanted this to be your career?
I was in school. I left school at 16 and had a couple of jobs booked, but by 17 I was professional and in a band in Sheffield.

Were you playing bass?
Yeah. I played bass up until 1968. My first band was in 1961. It was a local Sheffield band.

Were you influenced by Cliff Richard and the Shadows?
I was at first. But I always thought Cliff Richard was a bit wimpy. He wasn’t the real deal. After listening to Elvis Presley and the American bands, I was more interested in that stuff.

Do you recall first hearing the Beatles in 1962?
Oh yeah. I went through all of that. Everyone was nuts for them. The bands that I was in, we did all their songs in the early Sixties.

Was Paul McCartney a big inspiration to you as a bass player?
Yes. He did quite a few really good things in the early days. He did some amazing bass lines. I probably learned them all, I think. I would rate him as one of the best bass players around.

How did you eventually team up with Joe Cocker and form the Grease Band?
Well, as I said, I was in a local band in Sheffield and it petered out. I then went to Germany and did a couple of tours there. I then came back home, gave up, and got a job.

What was the job?
I was a television engineer and doing quite well, but I was playing in a local Sheffield band at the same time. But I was playing at a gig in Sheffield and Joe Cocker suddenly appeared and asked me to join his band. He had a band called Joe Cocker’s Big Blues. He asked me to join that. And so I joined, playing the bass.

What kind of venues did you play?
Pubs, clubs, anywhere, all over the place. This was 1966, ’67. We did a couple of years doing that.

His talent must have been apparent even then.
Oh, yeah. He was destined to be somebody. But nothing happened until we went into the studio. And [producer] Denny Cordell was the guy. He was doing groups like the Move and Procol Harum. They were looking for a different kind of act and somehow Joe found out about it. We made a demo. It was called “Marjorine.” It was an instrumental of mine that I’d written and Joe put words to it. We sent it down to London and they liked it. They decided to have us down to do some tracks in the studio.

Why did you switch from bass to piano and organ?
That happened in England in 1968 because the Grease Band lineup changed quite a lot. It went from the Sheffield one, when I was playing the bass, and we had Tommy Eyre, who went on to play with George Michael. We had him on organ and I was on bass. He was a great, great player.

We changed bands and Joe decided he liked my piano playing since I played piano on a few tracks on the first album as well as bass. He wanted me on piano and was like, “We’ll get a bass player and drummer.” We got Bruce Rowland and Alan Spenner from another band and they came in. That’s how it started. It was because he liked my piano playing so much and I was thrust onto piano.

Tell me about coming up with that arrangement of “With a Little Help From My Friends.”
That was Joe. He thought of it at home in Sheffield. Apparently, according to the legend, he was on the toilet. In those days, we had outside toilets in Sheffield. There’s now a plaque on this toilet to the effect of, “That’s where it was conceived.” But I don’t know if that’s true or not.

It’s such a radically different approach to the song.
It was Joe. He was always a fan of Ray Charles and Aretha [Franklin] and that kind of soul, the Atlantic Records stuff. He loved the 6/8 swing beat, the way the girls sang. He envisioned it. I don’t know how he came across it, but he said to me, “Why don’t we try this this way?” We had a band and we ran through it and it came together. It was a combination. I thought of a few bits, but it was Joe’s idea, mainly.

I can’t think of many Beatles covers that improve on the original, but that’s one of the few.
Yeah. The original was a bit of a silly song. It was amazing what Joe did with it.

How was the first American tour?
That was early 1969. It was an eye-opener for me. I’d never been to America. We landed up in New York and there was all the craziness and yellow cabs everywhere. It was just a complete shock to me. We stayed at a place called Loews Midtown on Eighth Avenue and 48th. Joe and I stayed in a room together.

What were the early gigs like? Did it take a little while to build an audience?
Well, we did good straight from the start. We had a hit with “With a Little Help From My Friends.” It was becoming a big hit in America. I remember we did one gig at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, which I think is now lying derelict. But we did a gig there and when we started playing “With a Little Help From My Friends,” the audience rushed the stage. They went berserk. I don’t think they’d ever seen anything like Cocker.

Do you recall first hearing about this big music festival that was going to happen in Upstate New York?
Woodstock. Yeah. I didn’t really pay much attention at the time. But we all went up there by helicopter. They couldn’t get us in any other way. They flew us in and we did our set and they flew us back out with a helicopter.

What was it like to fly in on the helicopter and see the crowds below?
It was ridiculous. I had some acid just before I went into the helicopter and I threw up in the helicopter. I just remember it being so noisy and everything. It was colossal. It was a colossal experience to see the crowd, but it was a good feeling. There wasn’t any bad vibes or anything. It was all good. Everybody was being really great.

Backstage, did you meet CSNY or the Band or anyone else that played on your day?
No. We never saw anyone. We were flown in. We went to some weird tent they had. We didn’t see anybody. We went onstage, did the gig, and then were flown right out. Right after we finished the set, a storm came up and we had to get out real quick.

Was that an especially good night for the band or just a typical one?
It was pretty good. Joe did really, really well. He came over fantastically. That helped him in his career at that point.

In the movie, they show a lot of Joe and not a lot of you beyond your hands at the very beginning of the song.
I don’t know how I played because I was out of my brains on acid. I stopped thinking and just went along with it and everything was fine.

When did you meet Leon Russell?
That came the next year. I’m not actually sure of the date, maybe the end of 1969. He was doing an album in London and I met him there. It all started when we went over to New York and then Joe went over to L.A. to meet Leon. He asked Leon to get a band together for him, which he did, with all the guys who were on the Mad Dogs tour.

I was in New York and I drove over there with our roadie, Pete Nichols. We hired a van and drove from New York to L.A. It took us about seven days. We arrived at Leon’s house and everyone was there, like [bassist] Carl Radle and [drummer] Jim Gordon and [trumpet player] Jim Price. It was the whole lot of them.

Did it become apparent very quickly that this was a really good bunch of musicians that could put on an amazing live show?
Well, I was in awe of Leon Russell. He was my idol as a piano player. I thought, “I won’t be able to play anything as good as him.” And so I wound up playing a lot of Hammond organ. When he went on guitar, I played piano.

What’s your favorite memory from that tour?
That’s a good question. It wasn’t as great as it seemed. It was a lot of drugs, too many. There were too many drugs floating around and people were giving Joe drugs all over the place and messing him up big time. I don’t have too many good memories of it, but we had some great gigs. We did the Fillmore East a couple of nights and that was really great.

Were drugs a big issue for everyone on that tour?
I don’t know how people managed to stay together, but it wasn’t everybody. I know Joe and I did quite a few, but there were people that didn’t. Carl Radle was Mr. Clean. Jim Keltner was with us for a while and he didn’t do anything. Quite a few people were clean and healthy, but we made up for that.

You’re credited on “Dixie Lullaby” on Leon Russell’s first album.
I wrote the chords to that, I would say. I was in Leon’s studio and I just bashed out some chords and played it to him and he said, “I can do a song to that.” And so that’s how that came about.

That album was a hit. The publishing must have been decent for you.
I still get stuff from that, yeah. This is fast-forwarding a couple of years, but we did a tour with Joe in 1972 and we rehearsed in Westport, Connecticut. It was just my band, all English musicians. We were rehearsing and trying out singers and nothing was working out. And so I give Joe a call and he came out and joined us and we had a good band.

What happened was while we were rehearsing, we wrote this song. I started playing out this riff, which just went [hums it] and it was “Woman to Woman.” Joe made a song out of it. It was on some obscure album [1972’s Joe Cocker] that never really did anything. But it got picked up by all the rappers. Everybody has sampled it. There’s been about 20 different people that have sampled it. Most famously was Tupac Shakur when he did “California Love.”

That wasn’t just a big hit, but really one of the defining rap songs of the Nineties. 
And it was my riff. I’ve made more out of that than anything else I’ve done.

Why did you leave Joe Cocker’s band before I Can Stand a Little Rain?
Well, we did a tour in 1972 for about a year. We went everywhere: America, Europe, and we wound up in Australia. And we got busted for grass in Sydney. Joe and I got arrested. My wife Gail got arrested, the poor thing. She had nothing to do with it.

I forgot to mention that in 1969 I met my wife Gail in Chicago. She was with me through the whole thing, through Mad Dogs. We got married in June 1970 in Los Angeles and then moved to England. We were back in England.

Anyway, I didn’t do much until 1972 when we did that tour where I got busted. After that, to avoid being deported out of Australia, we snuck off. We went to a safe house with the manager at the time, Nigel Thomas. He got us out of Australia without being deported. We went home and went our separate ways. I lost touch with Joe completely. He was well into all sorts of drugs, acid, everything. He just disappears off the radar for a couple of years.

Do you think he could have had a much more productive Seventies had he stayed clean?
I think most definitely. He was a very constant guy. He would have kept on doing albums and tours. It’s a great shame. But then he did his famous thing where he completely blew it on some gig, some place in Los Angeles, where he collapsed and laid down onstage. It was the most embarrassing time of his life. But he eventually clawed his way back and did “Up Where We Belong” and “You Are So Beautiful.”

How did you wind up playing on the Who’s Quadrophenia in 1973?
Pete Townshend came to see us. We did a tour with the Who and Buddy Rich in 1969, believe it or not. The Who were top of the bill, and then it was Cocker, and then the Buddy Rich Band. We used to do a song called “Hitchcock Railway,” which had a piano introduction. Pete Townshend heard me playing this and he went berserk. He absolutely loved it. It always stuck with him.

At some point, he got in touch with me when he was doing Quadrophenia because he wanted something similar to that. He called me up and I went down and did a few tracks on that.

You’re on “Dirty Jobs,” “5:15,” and “Drowned.”
That’s right. You know more than I do.

Did they require many takes? Did you get them quickly?
Just the normal thing. Two or three takes before we got them right.

They usually used Nicky Hopkins as their pianist. He lived a sort of parallel life to yours in the Seventies. Did you know him well?
I met him a couple of times, but everyone said I reminded them of him and looked a bit like him. He was another of my idols because he was playing the blues way before everyone else. He was absolutely brilliant, but a tormented character. He had a lot of problems with booze, I think.

Tell me about the Tundra record you made with Glen Turner.
That was in 1974. I was trying to form a band and I had all sorts of people over to the house. I had a little studio and we just sort of auditioned people and tried to to form bands. I brought over this guy named Henry Spinetti, a drummer and [actor] Victor Spinetti’s brother. We got along well and got a bass player, Charlie Harrison, and then we found Glen Turner from Sheffield. He played guitar and wrote songs and sang. We had him in the band.

My former manager, Nigel Thomas, got us a record deal with somebody. He took us over to Nashville and we made an album. I don’t think you can even still get it. It didn’t do very much, but there were decent songs.

Who had the idea for the cover image of a naked woman with the legs of a leopard?
Aren’t you thinking of Boxer? I can’t remember the cover, but the album disappeared without a trace. And then I was with Leo Sayer for a while in 1975. I did a tour with him that was another band with different people. Charlie Harrison the bass player was in that, and a couple of other people.

We did a tour of America and we played the Troubadour. We played the whole States. That was interesting. He had a few hits. I didn’t do anything through 1976. And in 1977, I joined another band called Boxer. That had in it [bassist] Tim Bogert and Eddie Tuduri, a drummer from L.A. We recorded that in L.A. That’s the one that had a picture on the front of a naked woman with a boxing glove between her legs.

I see that one too, but the Tundra one is a naked woman with the legs of a leopard.
Maybe that was the American cover. I don’t remember. Just trying to catch people’s attention I guess. [Laughs]

So, tell me how you met Eric Clapton.
He called me. I was sitting at home doing nothing after the Boxer thing in 1977 and 1978. Well, I did a couple of things with a girl called Maddy Prior, who used to be in this English band Steeleye Span. But it didn’t amount to anything. In 1979, I was just sitting at home doing nothing and Eric Clapton rang me up. He just fired his American band he’d been with in 1977 and 1978. He got rid of them and wanted an English band.

He got an English bass player, Dave Markee, and Henry Spinetti, the drummer. Henry recommended me because he worked with my previously. He said, “You oughta try Chris Stainton.” Eric rang me up and asked me to come down for an audition.

I went to an audition at Eric’s house and we just sat around with little amps and I played his upright piano and that was it. I think he already decided he wanted me in the band before we played more than two songs.

Were you a big fan of Cream and all his past work?
Oh, yes. Absolutely. It was my kind of stuff. I remember when I first heard “I Shot the Sheriff,” I went nuts. I was like, “That’s it. That’s brilliant.” I’ve always been a fan of his.

Just One Night is a great document of that era.
It was. It was quickly done in Japan and that was it.

I bet you didn’t realize the Clapton gig would be so long-term.
My God, no. It’s coming on 42 years now.

It’s got to be flattering that he could have anyone he wants up there, and the members of his group change a lot, but he keeps picking you.
Much of the time. I was with him at first for about six years. But then he was battling alcohol addiction in the mid-Eighties and he came back and contacted me again in 1992 and I re-joined him then. I was with him until about 1997 and then he got a real slick band with Nathan East and that incredibly good keyboard player, who should be murdered. [Laughs] What’s his name?

Greg Phillinganes?
There you go.

He briefly took your job.
Yeah. He impressed Eric because he’s so talented everywhere. He could do everything. He’s like a Stevie Wonder — sings, plays, everything.

To go back a bit here, tell me about the Roger Waters tour in 1984 with you and Clapton.
That came out of the blue. We were in Japan and Eric came to me and said, “I’m going to do a tour with Roger Waters. Do you want to do it?” I said, “OK.” It was him and he brought me. I think he said to Roger he didn’t want to do it without me on keyboards. We rehearsed with Roger. It was me, [guitarist] Tim Renwick, [keyboardist] Michael Kamen, another genius that disappeared from earth. And Andy Newmark on drums.

Was that a fun tour?
It was great because I got to play a lot of sound effects. I had this synthesizer that did sound effects. I had to look at the screen and synchronize it with all the action on the screen. It was a lot of fun. I also got to play bass on a few songs.

Was Roger a good bandleader?
Yeah. He was a good bandleader. He used to lose his temper sometimes when he got frustrated. We used to call him General Waters. He was a little military-like and quite demanding in his approach with the band. He liked things exactly the way he liked them. But that’s good. It got a good result.

How was it playing Live Aid with Eric Clapton in 1985?
That was really good fun. We were in Philadelphia. That was a lot of fun. It was good because we had [bassist] Duck Dunn in the band and Jamie Oldaker was on drums. Phil Collins was there too. He was everywhere. That was good for me because Eric bought me this Kurzweil piano and it was the first time I’d actually had a brilliant, natural-sounding piano. I used it there.

Do you feel extra pressure at a gig like Live Aid where you know the entire world is watching?
No. I don’t get like that. I’m not in the front line and so it doesn’t bother me too much.

You reconnected with Joe Cocker in the late Eighties and began touring with him again.
Yeah. I was doing Eric and Joe for a while, all through the Nineties. Inevitably, there was a clash and there were tours booked at the same time. I had to turn Joe down, unfortunately, because Eric was paying considerably more money. [Laughs]

I’m sure with Eric it’s private planes and five-star hotels.
Yes. Absolutely. With Joe, unfortunately, it was the bus and cheap hotels. But the music with Joe was great and so it was worth it in a way.

It’s going back to the beginning of your career, playing songs like “Feeling Alright” again.
Yeah. We did all the old stuff, which I enjoyed, but we also did the new stuff like “Up Where We Belong” and “You Are So Beautiful,” which I got to play and was great. But we had two keyboard players. We also had a guy called Jeff Levine from New York.

Did you ever get tired of being on the road? There were so many tours when you factor in Clapton and Cocker.
Yeah. Everybody does. It gets tedious after a while, doesn’t it? It wasn’t much fun for Gail, my wife. She had to stay home and look after everything while I was away. She did it all. We’ve been married now almost 51 years.

That’s like 500 years for rock & roll.
[Laughs] I know. My daughter is 50 and my grandson is 30.

Incredible. So, how did you avoid all the pitfalls of the road? Many people on the road become drug addicts or lose their minds or watch their marriages fall apart.
I think I got a strong wife. She kept me in check. Gail gradually weaned me off all this shit. The reason I’m here now is because of her. I’m very glad. A lot of people have been casualties, obviously.

You basically rejoined Clapton’s band in the early 2000s on a permanent basis.
Yeah. He called me up in 2002 and said, “I’m doing a George Harrison tribute.” He’d just died and he asked me to do that. I was like, “Yeah, great.” I did that at the end of 2002, November. That was fabulous.

It was Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Billy Preston …
There were four drummers, including Ringo. And Michael Kamen was conducting an orchestra. It was very exotic. Anyway, after that I was back in the band.

It’s been nearly 20 years. Did you hold your breath before every tour about whether or not he would call you, or did you eventually accept that you’d always be there?
I don’t accept it. You never really know. He has not called me now and then, at times. You can’t get over-confident. He does seem to have used me for a long time, from 2003 to now.

Tell me about working in the band with Billy Preston.
Oh, it was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. What a guy. Fantastic. He was so talented and so quick. You could play something, no matter how intricate it was, and he’d just play it straight away, copy what you did. He was so fast, so musical, so brilliant.

He was a great showman as well. We worked good together. He was basically on the Hammond with a bit of piano. And I’d do piano and some synth. It all blended in perfectly. It was great. And it was such a shame. He’d probably still be in the band now.

I read that he would get dialysis treatments on the road.
Yes. He had no kidney function. Every couple of days, every couple of towns, he’d have to go into a hospital and get dialysis. He would be in such pain. He’d be crying out in pain when we got back to the hotel sometimes. But he was crazy. He just wouldn’t give up. I was told that he was into crack and stuff. He would take that stuff and then play like crazy. Everyone was saying he had to stop and he just didn’t. He finally kicked it in 2006.

Tell me how you share keyboard duties in the band, whether it’s with Paul Carrack or Gary Brooker or somebody else. What’s the division of labor?
Paul Carrack is basically a Hammond player and he does vocals. He does brilliant Hammond. He did play a bit of piano, but he gave it up and let me do the piano. I do the piano and some synths and he does the vocals and the Hammond.

The other arrangement was that Eric used to sometimes have Stevie Winwood in the band. In that case, Stevie would always do the Hammond, of course, and a bit of piano. But when Stevie was playing guitar, I’d do a lot of Hammond on my side, and synths and piano, but mostly piano.

On some tours, you were the only keyboardist.
Yeah. I remember doing a tour of Japan where it was just me, Eric, Steve Gadd, and Dave Bronze on bass. It was very sparse.

How many times do you think you’ve heard the song “Layla” in your life?
[Laughs] I don’t know. You tell me. It’s in the thousands. I don’t know. My favorite always was the original one, the electric “Layla,” they call it. It was great for me to get to play the piano bit at the end.

He brought that back recently. It was the acoustic one for years and years prior to that.
Yeah. He was a bit nervous about playing the actual riff. [Hums the intro to the song] He got a bit nervous that he couldn’t play it anymore, but he got over it and we did it a few times.

How were the Jeff Beck shows?
They were brilliant. That was great. It was quite tense because they are equal in a way. Jeff is as brilliant in his way as Eric is in his, although they are different. I could see the sparks flying sometimes.

Sparks of what sort?
You could feel the tension. Nothing was ever said. They get on great, but you could feel the ego going on with it.

How did you wind up playing in the Who in 2012 when they performed at the Olympics?
Pete Townshend wanted me to join the band. They were having problems with Rabbit [Bundrick], the keyboard player. He was the sort of guy that shoots himself in the foot. He says things he shouldn’t say and apparently he insulted them somehow and they threw him out. Pete said, “Oh, we’ll try Chris Stainton.” Pete always liked me because of the “Hitchcock Railway” thing. He asked me to join and they made me all these great offers of good money.

I don’t know what happened, but they had to do the set at the Olympics. We rehearsed at a studio in London, British Grove Studios, one of the best big, old studios left in the world. We rehearsed there and we recorded it. And at the actual Olympics, we mimed it. It was mimed.

I did that. And after that, they seemed to cool off on me. I was all set to do a tour with them and all of a sudden, they fell through and they didn’t ask me. And so God knows that happened. I couldn’t find out what happened. Nobody seemed to know.

I can’t think of a better keyboardist for the Quadrophenia tour than the guy that plays on the actual album.
Well, yeah. [Laughs] I don’t know.

But you have a pretty good fall-back plan if you’re in Eric Clapton’s band. You weren’t struggling for work.
Yeah. I was doing OK.

Did you see Joe Cocker much in the final years of his life?
We sort of drifted apart. I did my last tour with him in 2000 and I never actually did see him again. We emailed a couple of times and he used to send pictures of his tomatoes. He would grow tomatoes. The next thing I found out was that he was gone.

What are your favorite Clapton songs to play in concert?
“I Shot the Sheriff” is one of the favorites. “Layla” is always good whenever he does it. Songs like “Cocaine” get a bit boring after a while. I don’t know. I like most of them. I like the uptempo stuff, I have to admit. But I like slow ones like “Bell Bottom Blues.” I love that. The biggies like “Tears in Heaven,” that’s nice to play because I get to play steel guitar on that. Not a real one. It’s a synth program, but it’s interesting to play that style.

I’ve seen Eric say a few times that he’s going to retire from touring, but he always seems to keep going.
They all say that, don’t they? I don’t know what we’re going to do now. It just looks like a series of variants and lockdowns forever now.

What’s the secret to your longevity in his band? He’s gone through so many players. Why have you managed to stick around?
I don’t know. I think when we first met, when I went over to his house, I looked at him and I liked his look. And he must have liked the look of me. I don’t know. You can’t explain it really. We have a sort of thing. I know what he’s going to play and I’m always there, so I guess he appreciates it.

Tell me about playing on the David Gilmour record On an Island.
That was a surprise. What happened was we did a tribute to Scotty Moore and we had all guitarists. We had Ron Wood, Eric [Clapton], and Scotty Moore was on it and a few other guys. David Gilmour was one of them and that was when I met him. He must have liked my playing because after that gig, he asked me to play on his album. He had me over. It was at Abbey Road studios. It was Jools Holland on piano and I played Hammond. He’s great. I like Dave Gilmour.

How was the Ginger Baker tribute show last year?
That was really good. Ginger Baker’s son [Kofi] played on it and we got to do “I Feel Free.” I got to play all the bright piano bits and everything he played brilliantly. It was the exact solo, the right way. It was brilliant. No one else can play like that. It was great. It was really, really good. We had Paul Carrack doing one part of “I Feel Free,” [backup singer] Katie Kissoon doing another and Sharon White doing the other part. We had all three parts going. It was really good.

Tell me your goals for the next few years.
What I’m doing at the moment is I have a little songwriting team with myself and my wife, Gail. We write songs together. They’re on my Chris Stainton YouTube channel. They are all on there. We’re writing songs hoping to get some recognition and hoping to get someone to use them. I have a home studio with ProTools and a bunch of keyboards and drum machines and stuff. I’m quite happy to just compose things, and Gail writes great lyrics and sings on stuff. We’ve got a thing going there.

Do you want to be 80 and still doing this?
If I make it to 80 and I’m still doing it, that will be great.

There are a lot of advantages to what you do. You get many perks of the rock-star life, but you’re able to go to restaurants and whatnot and nobody bothers you.
Oh, yeah. It’s nice. Nobody bothers me. [Laughs]



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