Typical of his introspective nature, Eric looked beneath the surface and explored the roots of rock in American Blues. The blues also meshed perfectly with his self-perception as an outsider and of being “different” from other people. Sometime in 1962, he asked for his grandparents’ help in purchasing a Â£100 electric double cutaway Kay (a Gibson ES-335 clone) after hearing the electric blues of Freddie King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and others.
Eric spent his early days in music busking around Richmond and Kingston, he also began spending time in London and the West End. In early 1963, 17 year-old Eric joined his first band, The Roosters. Following the band’s demise in August 1963, he spent one month in the pop-oriented Casey Jones and The Engineers. Before turning to music as a full-time career, he supported himself as a laborer at building sites, working alongside his grandfather, a master bricklayer and plasterer.
In October 1963, Keith Relf and Paul Samwell-Smith recruited him to become a member of The Yardbirds because Clapton was the most talked about guitar player on the R&B pub circuit. During his 18-month tenure with The Yardbirds, he earned his nickname, Slowhand, and recorded his first albums: Five Live Yardbirds and Sonny Boy Williamson and The Yardbirds. The band also recorded the single, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”. But, Eric had not abandoned his serious research into the American Blues. When The Yardbirds began moving towards a more commercial sound with “For Your Love”, he quit. His path in music was the blues.
In April 1965, John Mayall invited Eric to join his band, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. With this group, Clapton established his reputation as a guitarist and earned his second nickname: “God”. It came from an admirer’s graffiti on the wall of London’s Islington Tube Station that boldly proclaimed “Clapton is God.” Eric’s time with the band was turbulent and he left for a while to tour Greece with friends. Upon his return from Greece, Eric rejoined the Bluesbreakers. It was during this time that the now classic Blues Breakers With Eric Clapton was recorded. While with the Bluesbreakers, Eric also recorded a one-off four-track session with a band dubbed “The Powerhouse”. This studio band included John Paul Jones, Steve Winwood and Jack Bruce.
After leaving the Bluesbreakers for a second and final time in July 1966, Eric teamed up with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker to form Cream. Extensive touring in the U.S. and three solid albums - Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, and Wheels of Fire - brought the band worldwide acclaim. While a member of Cream, he cemented his reputation as rock’s premier guitarist and was elevated to superstar status. Although Cream was together for only two years, they are considered one of the most influential rock groups of the modern era. Clapton was unique because he did not simply replicate the blues riffs he heard on records. He incorporated the emotion of the original performances into his own style of playing, thus expanding the vocabulary of blues guitar. Cream crumbled beneath the weight of the member’s egos and constant arguing. They disbanded after two final performances at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 26 November 1968.
Following Cream’s break-up, Clapton founded Blind Faith - rock’s first “supergroup” - with Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech. Disbanding after one album and a disastrous American tour, Eric tried to hide from his growing fame by touring as a sideman with Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. While with this outfit, Eric was encouraged to sing by Delaney Bramlett. He also began composing more. A live album from the Delaney & Bonnie tour was released in 1970. Clapton’s self-titled debut was released that same year.