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Eric Clapton talks health, the blues, and aging

Photo by David Redfern/Redferns/Getty Images

Eric Clapton is back in the studio working on his still-untitled 24th studio album. During a chat with Rolling Stone to promote the upcoming career-spanning documentary, Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars, "Slowhand" revealed, "I'm in the middle of it. . . I still have some JJ (Cale) songs that we're playing with. Sometimes we mix them with dub, sometimes we take it back to pure country." Clapton's upcoming set will also feature new material by him and frequent collaborator Simon Climie.  Clapton's 2014 tribute set, The Breeze: An Appreciation Of JJ Cale, also featured contributions from such friends as Mark Knopfler, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, John Mayer, and Derek Trucks, among others.

Clapton explained that even today, the guitar is still seen as his safe place: "I still go there. If there is trouble in the house, which is very rare, I pick up my guitar and remove myself from the situation. I will inevitably play something bland, an exercise. But it will keep me from being engaged in the conflict. . . I became acquainted with it pretty quick, because I would go to it immediately. I would always go to that place to find some peace. It would always be a staple for stress."

Although Clapton is renowned for his blues playing, he maintains that perhaps his saddest song, "Tears In Heaven" -- written about the 1991 death of his four-year-old son Connor -- is not a blues song: "It isn't. I was trying to write) (Jimmy Cliff's) 'Many Rivers To Cross' or (Bob Marley's) 'No Woman, No Cry.' It's the same chord progression. I don't know if I could express what I'm feeling in a blues, because a blues is at a level of anger and self-pity. And this was different. . . It's the most difficult thing to write, a modern blues. The only person I know who can do it well is Robert Cray. It comes straight out of him. I saw him recently this year, and he's still doing it. He's on fire, the real thing. I wish I could be like that. Really, I'm a musician. I try to be a singer and songwriter, and it's interesting to me. But I would never think of myself as that. I'm just a blues musician.”

Clapton spoke about some of the maladies plaguing him as he ages: "I had eczema from head to foot. The palms of my hand were coming off, and I had just started making (2016's I Still Do) with (producer) Glyn Johns. It was a catastrophe. I had to wear mittens with Band-Aids around the hands and played a lot of slide (guitar) as a result. My hands are good. It hasn't gone completely, but I put ointment on. It's just getting old now. I'm as good now as I've been in the last two years.”

When pressed what would happen if he couldn't play guitar again, Clapton said, "That would be alright. I would accept it. Because playing is difficult anyway. I have to get on the bottom of the ladder every time I play guitar, just to tune it. Then I have to go through the whole threshold of getting calluses (on the fingers) back, coordination.”

Eric Clapton, who's now 72, told us that at this point in his life and career, fatherhood is the one thing that's kept him grounded above all else: "I think it's taken a lot of the stress of. Whatever happens, I mean, I'm gonna be loved by those people, and they, and, y'know, they'll understand most of the decisions I make, even if they're seemingly crazy ones. But it frees me up to do this, and to go out on the road.”

The upcoming documentary Eric Clapton: Life In 12 Bars premieres on February 10th on Showtime.

Side Notes:

Eric Clapton, Santana, and Steve Winwood will team up on July 8th for what just may be the concert of the summer at London's Hyde Park.

The triple bill will play as part of the Park's annual British Summer Time concerts, along with special guest Gary Clark Jr. and others still to be announced.

Clapton and Winwood have a special history at Hyde Park, having debuted their legendary supergroup Blind Faith there in front of 100,000 people on June 7th, 1969.

The upcoming Hyde Park show will be Clapton's sole UK appearance for 2018.


Real Rock Artist Spotlight : Eric Clapton

10 Things You Might Not Know About Eric Clapton

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The Roosters
Photo by: 
Matt Gibbons, via Wikimedia Commons
Clapton received an acoustic Hoyer guitar for his thirteenth birthday, but didn’t really start playing it until two years later. When he was seventeen years old, Clapton joined his first band, an early British R&B group, the Roosters. The band’s other guitarist was Tom McGuinness, best known as the bassist for Manfred Mann

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