History of British Blues

 

BritBlueArch-150x150Interviews - From the Early British Blues Scene - Eric Clapton

British Blues Review

In the 1980s Shakey Vic published a fantastic magazine called 'British Blues Review', which gave lots of information on British Blues and fascinating interviews of musicians. The great blues guitarist Alan Vincent donated many copies of the magazine to the British Blues Archive and Shakey Vic, as editor of the magazine, has agreed we can put up the magazine on the website.This means we can all see what is a great publication on British Blues.  Many thanks to Shakey Vic and Alan Vincent. We start with a fascinating interview of Eric Clapton. It is a great interview because Roger Pearce asks the right questions. It appeared in the August 1988 edition of British Blues Review.

Eric Clapton - In The Beginning  - by Roger Pearce

One evening in the early sixties, at Richmond's now legendary Crawdaddy club, I was handed a Kay electric guitar and a Gibson amplifier. I wanted to play R&B, but had no suitable equipment and the offer about to be made to me was a Godsend.
"No need to pay me any money now, just take over the HP payments and we'll call it quits."

The speaker was the lead guitarist with the fast-rising Yardbirds and a future star. He was the young Eric Clapton.

I can't recall how or when I first met Eric - he just appeared on the Richmond/Kingston scene in the summer of1961. Keith Relf and I soon came to cross guitars with him in the various pubs and clubs in the area. It soon became apparent that he had immense talent, yet somehow he was reluctant to realise this, saying he was "just a blues player of sorts."

Just after Eric joined the Yardbirds and let me take over his old equipment, I met Pete Moody and we then formed our own band, the "Grebbles", to play interval to the Yardbirds' pyrotechnic sets at The Crawdaddy, with Eric often giving encouragement to our efforts.

The last time I'd seen Eric to speak to, was some twenty years ago, after a John Mayall gig in Chelsea. That was in 1966. When I wrote to him recently, requesting an interview for British Blues Review, to my surprise and great pleasure, he readily agreed.

Accompanied by Pete Moody, I visited Eric at his home in Surrey, where he greeted us as old friends. In the course of a very interesting afternoon, we learned much about his early years as a blues performer, including some things which haven't been mentioned previously.

Eric is now celebrating 25 years on the road and in August/September undertakes an extensive U.S tour, probably using the same musicians from his recent Albert Hall triumphs. However, he hopes to feature some raw blues playing this time, to contrast with his commercial hits.

RP: "Eric, can you tell us your first influences - the first time you became aware of the blues -and what records you were listening to at that time?"

EC: "Well, I think to encapsulate it all, I was listening to Rock'n'Roll on a very broad spectrum. I think that was what attracted me first of all - Rockabilly and R&B - because that was what was being played on the radio during that period.

"But it wasn't until Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee first of all - and then Big Bill Broonzy - that I was aware of the deep root and of where Rock'n'Roll came from and everything.

"In fact, I almost started out as a musicologist in a way... I approached it with a great deal of curiosity... I wanted to study the whole thing, but really I was intrigued by first of all Big Bill Broonzy - bending notes and things like that - which I don't think actually I would have realised if I hadn't seen this thing of him on T.V. Where you could actually see him playing - on the 'Tonight' programme - which is a great piece of film of him in a Paris nightclub playing - 'Hey Hey' I think he does, and 'When Did You Leave Heaven?' - and really I idolised him for a long time and learned to play a few pieces of his and then was interested, through him, in other players and gradually got into the whole scene of it all and started buying records by all kinds of people, ending up really with Robert Johnson. I think that brought a full stop to it all and I had kind of come back to the modern day.

"Because I think if you're going to research the Blues for your own benefit, you can't really go any deeper than that, you know - Robert Johnson or Son House - that's as heavy as it gets, really. "I mean I started out with really what you'd call Folk Blues, and worked my way back deeper and deeper until I got to Robert Johnson... I found that almost unbearable to listen to at first…being a player, being a rank amateur at the time, it was too much for me to contemplate.

"I had a friend, Clive (Bush?) - we were at Kingston Art School together - he was my... kind of cohort... at the time and he was always trying to 'one-up' me you know. He was the first to get the Robert Johnson album and I don't know, maybe for the sake of it, he was pretending to be impressed by it, but he seemed to know all about it and he lent it to me. I played it and I thought: 'God, I've got to like this because he likes it.'

"First of all I was really intimidated by it, especially the technique, it didn't make any sense to me at all - not only him, but Blind Lemon Jefferson I found very difficult to assimilate - because it didn't seem to have any pattern, you know. It was very random - he'd sing a line then play a line, then do bits underneath - and it took me a long time to understand the depth of the Robert Johnson records.

"When I finally did, I could never play that way, that was the hardest part...having to swallow that… it was something I never ever could emulate, you know. I've heard people do it... John Hammond does a pretty good version, and Ry Cooder can do those Robert Johnson things pretty well, but it never comes that close.

"So I started out lightweight and got heavier and heavier. And as I went along, I got quite purist and stopped listening to R&B or Rock'n'Roll and then kind of worked my way back to it through Chicago Blues.

"The interesting thing was that without really knowing about the regional aspects... was that I was always mainly attracted by people from the Delta -before I even knew they were from the Delta. There was something about the quality, that style, that set them apart for me, from any other region, you know, like anywhere in the South... even, you know, say Florida or you know, Mississippi... I mean Louisiana... or Texas... anywhere like that. But I didn't realise at the time, I just was drawn to the Mississippi Delta sound in whatever form it came - even when it got electric, when those people moved up to Chicago, it was still them that I wanted to hear. Yeah!"

RP: "Would you like to tell us your reasons for deciding to learn to play and what were the first guitars you used, both acoustic and electric models?"

EC: "Well I suppose... I mean, the simple answer to that is these people had become my heroes and..."

RP: "You wanted to emulate them?"

EC: "I wanted to look like them, I wanted to play like them, I wanted to live like them, you know, although that's pretty difficult to do in Surrey! (laughter) So I started trying to recreate a similar lifestyle, you know - hanging out on the road, leaving home at an early age, bumming around and doing all the things that a bluesman should - you know what I mean?"

 

© Roger Pearce, British Blues Review Magazine from the British Blues Archive

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