Clapton once said Jimmy Page is the greatest guitarist in the world. What
class! That's why I like this guy.
By the time Eric Clapton launched his solo career with the release of his self-titled
debut album in August 1970, he was long established as one of the world's major rock stars due to his group affiliations-- the
Yardbirds, John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, Cream, and Blind Faith -- affiliations that had
demonstrated his claim to being the best rock guitarist of his generation.
That it took
Clapton so long to go out on his own, however, was evidence of a degree of reticence
unusual for one of his stature. And his debut album, though it spawned the Top 40 hit
"After Midnight," was typical of his self-effacing approach: It was, in effect,
an album by the group he had lately been featured in, Delaney & Bonnie & Friends.
Not surprisingly, before his solo debut had even been released, Clapton had retreated
from his solo stance, assembling from the D&B&F ranks the personnel for a group,
Derek and the Dominos, with which he played for most of 1970. Clapton was largely inactive
in 1971 and 1972, due to heroin addiction, but he performed a comeback concert at the
Rainbow Theatre in London on January 13, 1973, resulting in the album Eric Clapton's
Rainbow Concert (September 1973).
But Clapton did not launch a sustained solo career until July 1974, when he released
461 Ocean Boulevard, which topped the charts and spawned the #1 single "I Shot the
The persona Clapton established over the next decade was less that of guitar hero than
arena rock star with a weakness for ballads. The follow-ups to 461 Ocean Boulevard,
There's One in Every Crowd (March 1975), the live E.C. Was Here (August 1975), and No
Reason to Cry (August 1976), were less successful.
But Slowhand (November 1977), which
featured both the powerful "Cocaine" (written by J.J. Cale, who had also written
"After Midnight") and the hit singles "Lay Down Sally" and
"Wonderful Tonight," was a million-seller, and its follow-ups, Backless
(November 1978), featuring the Top Ten hit "Promises," the live Just One Night
(April 1980), and Another Ticket (February 1981), featuring the Top Ten hit "I Can't
Stand It," were all big sellers.
Clapton's popularity waned somewhat in the first half of the '80s, as the albums Money
and Cigarettes (February 1983), Behind the Sun (March 1985), and August (November 1986)
indicated a certain career stasis. But he was buoyed up by the release of the boxed set
retrospective Crossroads (April 1988), which seemed to remind his fans of how great he
was. Journeyman (November 1989) was a return to form.
It would be his last new studio album for nearly five years, though in the interim he
would suffer greatly and enjoy surprising triumph. On March 20, 1991, Clapton's
four-year-old son was killed in a fall. While he mourned, he released a live album, 24
Nights (October 1991), culled from his annual concert series at the Royal Albert Hall in
London, and prepared a movie soundtrack, Rush (January 1992). The soundtrack featured a
song written for his son, "Tears in Heaven," that became a massive hit single.
In March 1992, Clapton recorded a concert for MTV Unplugged that, when released on an
album in August, became his biggest-selling record ever. Two years later, Clapton returned
with a blues album, From the Cradle, which became one of his most successful albums, both
commercially and critically. Crossroads 2: Live in the '70s, a box set chronicling his
live work from the '70s, was released to mixed reviews. In early 1997, Clapton, billing
himself by the pseudonym "x-sample," collaborated with keyboardist/producer
Simon Climie as the ambient new-age and trip-hop duo T.D.F. The duo released Retail
Therapy to mixed reviews in early 1997.
Clapton retained Climie as his collaborator for Pilgrim, his first album of new
material since 1989's Journeyman. Pilgrim was greeted with decidedly mixed reviews upon
its spring 1998 release, but the album debuted at number four and stayed in the Top 10 for
several weeks on the success of the single "My Father's Eyes."
~ William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide