Eric Patrick Clapton, one of the greatest rock and roll guitarists of all time, was born on March 30, 1945, in Ripley, Surrey, England. Patricia Molly Clapton, her mother, was only 16 when she gave birth; her father, Edward Walter Fryer, a Canadian soldier who served in the British Empire during World War II, was 24. Rose and Jack Clapp, Patricia Clapton’s mother and stepfather, raised Clapton because Patricia was ill-equipped to raise a child on her own. Although he did not officially admit it, Clapton grew up believing that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his older sister. Patricia’s father, Reginald Cecil Clapton, was Clapton’s grandfather, and he gave her the last name.
Eric Clapton was raised in a musical family. His mother and uncle both enjoyed listening to big band music, and his grandmother was a talented pianist. Unbeknownst to Clapton, his father was a talented pianist who performed in a variety of dance bands while stationed in Surrey. Around the age of eight, Clapton discovered the shocking truth that the woman he thought of as his older sister was actually his mother, and that the parents of the people we think are his grandparents are actually his great-grandparents.
Young Clapton, who had been a good student and well-liked boy up until that point, later turned gloomy and lethargic and lost all interest in doing his homework. Clapton failed 11 crucial exams that determined whether or not he would be admitted to secondary school. But he demonstrated a strong aptitude for the arts, so at the age of 13, he enrolled in Holyfield Road School’s art program.
Rock and roll had taken off in the British music scene by 1958. At the age of 13, Clapton desired a guitar. His cheap German-made Hoyer steel-string guitar was painful and difficult to play, so he quickly put it aside. At the age of 16, he was given a one-year probationary admission to Kingston School of the Arts. There, he was surrounded by peers who had their own musical preferences and learned the guitar from them. Particularly Muddy Waters, Alexis Korner, and Robert Johnson’s blues guitar playing drew Clapton’s attention.
At Kingston, Clapton also drank, which was a discovery that almost had a significant impact on his life as a guitarist. He recalls the first time he was 16 years old, being drunk, throwing up, and having no money when he woke up alone in the woods. Clapton remembers, “I couldn’t wait to do it again.” Unsurprisingly, Clapton failed his first year and was expelled.
Later, he claimed, “Even if you attended an art school, I was expelled after a year for doing nothing but rock ‘n’ roll summer camp.” After graduating from college, Clapton started to hang out in London’s West End and pursue a career as a guitarist. That year, The Roosters made their debut in a band but left after a short period of time. Later, he became a member of the pop-oriented Casey Jones and The Engineers, but he soon left the band.
In October 1963, Clapton, one of the most esteemed guitarists on the West End pub circuit, accepted an invitation to join the Yardbirds. Clapton recorded their first commercial hits with The Yardbirds, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” and “For Your Love,” but soon grew dissatisfied with the band’s pop-oriented sound, and the group disbanded in 1965. The two young guitarists who took over for Clapton, the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page would go on to become some of the greatest rock guitarists in history.
The year after 1965, Clapton joined the Bluesbreakers and recorded an album with the blues group John Mayall titled The Bluesbreakers. The album is regarded as one of the best blues albums of all time and features songs like “What’d I Say” and “Ramblin’ in My Mind.”
Despite their success on records, Clapton left the Bluesbreakers; a few months later, he joined forces with drummer Ginger Baker, bassist Jack Bruce, and guitarist Stevie Wonder to form the rock group Cream. With blues standards like “Crossroads” and “Spoon” and contemporary blues songs like “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room,” Clapton pushed the limits of blues guitar. Cream became a global superstar in addition to releasing three excellent albums, Fresh Chocolate (1966), Gears of Disraeli (1967), and Wheels on Fire (1968). They split up, however, following their final two performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall, citing an ego clash.
Following his departure, Clapton started a new band called Blind Faith, but it disbanded after one album and an unsuccessful US tour. In 1970, he went on to form Derek and Dominos and carried on collecting and recording songs from the whirling albums of rock history, including Layla. Clapton expresses the Beatles’ fervent love for George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, in a concept album about unrequited love. He asked Layla in a letter. The album was critically acclaimed but failed commercially, and the despondent and lonely Clapton eventually developed a 3-year heroin addiction.
With the help of his friend Pete Townshend, Clapton managed to kick his drug habit and return to the music scene in 1974 with two shows at London’s Rainbow Theatre. The Sheriff Shot by Bob Marley, one of her most well-known singles, 461 Ocean Avenue, was released the same year. The album served as the launchpad for Clapton’s incredibly fruitful solo career.
Clapton’s personal life continued to be in mournful turmoil throughout these years, despite his excellent musical performance. Pattie Boyd wed Eric Clapton five years after her divorce from George Harrison in 1979. But by this point, Clapton’s heroin addiction had given way to alcoholism, and their relationship had become constantly strained as a result of his drinking.
Ruth was born in 1985 from a long-term relationship with Yvonne Kelly, and Conor was born in 1986 from a relationship with Italian model Lory Del Santo. In 1989, Clapton and Boyd got divorced. Conor Clapton, the son of Eric Clapton, died in 1991 after falling from his mother’s house window. Eric Clapton was affected by tragedy, which led to the creation of “Tears in Heaven,” one of his most beautiful and moving songs.
Alcoholics Anonymous assisted Clapton in finally giving up drinking in 1987. Clapton experienced a level of personal fulfillment he had never known as he successfully quit drinking for the first time as an adult. In 1998, he established Crossroads Center, a facility for drug and alcohol rehabilitation. In 2002, he wed Melia McEnery. Together, they gave birth to three daughters: Julie Rose, Ella Mae, and Sophie.
Rolling Stone ranked Clapton, who released his autobiography in 2007, as the second-greatest guitarist of all time in 2015. He continued to record music, go on tour, and do charity work throughout the 1960s as a member of The Yardbirds Cream, a solo artist, and an 18-time Grammy Award winner and Rock and Roll of Fame inductee.
Clapton revealed in 2016 that he had received a peripheral neuropathy diagnosis three years prior. He claimed in an interview at the beginning of 2018 that noise-induced hearing loss was the cause of his tinnitus.