BRITISH BLUES ARCHIVE

Interviews

 

 

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 archive and Shakey

Vic, as editor of the magazine, has agreed we can put up

the magazine on our 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?"

RP: "Hitching lifts, thumbing from Ripley to Kingston - vast distance..."
EC: "Yeah... and the guitar playing was just an incidental part of that whole routine, and it wasn'tlong, as you know, that I got a job doing it professionally, really... and though a lot of it was as I said before - bluff and front - I was very happy."
PM: "During that period, did you try and sing?"
EC: "Yes, I did, actually I think I did. I sang at home an awful lot, my grandmother will tell you this, it would drive her mad, I'd stay up all night, singing at the top of the stairs, I don't know why..."
RP: "Because it echoed?"
EC: "Because it echoed. In fact, that's right, yeah! Dead right - it got a great sound."
RP: "I used to do the same thing at home..."
EC: "Yeah, in the stairwell, but I would bottle up in public even if it were just a pub."
RP: "But I can remember you singing in Kingston..."
EC: "Really?"
RP: "Sort of outside the Crown pub. We all used to sit outside on the grass by the church and you'd sing for everyone."
EC: "I think I used to sing 'San Francisco Bay Blues',when Jesse Fuller became flavour-of-the-month. Yeah."
RP: "I can remember you teaching me the chords to 'Down and Out' the Bessie Smith song, on a train coming back from Wittering..."
EC: "Yeah?"
RP: "Yes, but you were definitely singing. To me, you weren't afraid of singing in public - you were entertaining us! Everyone used to sit and listen."
EC: "Oh well that's interesting, because I don't have that recollection - I remember it as being completely different - but maybe you've got a more objective point of view. I think what it was... I ran into Dave Brock (later to join Hawkwind). When I ran into Dave Brock he was such an outward, gregarious person he would always take the front and I would back off, you know?"
RP: "So the first guitars you got, presumably these led to your first band, The Roosters? Would you like to cover that point?"
EC: "Yeah, well I tried playing with the acoustic and I don't think I got very far with that, except when I bought this little 'George Washburn' for the amazing price of two quid in a market in Kingston. It had a picture - a drawing of Brigitte Bardot glued on the back of the guitar and I had to peel that off and everything, but then I went through the whole thing of playing in the pubs and everything.
"I can't remember what it was... I think it was probably Muddy - listening to Muddy and the 'Best of Muddy Waters' album that prompted me to get the electric guitar... and also that 'Jimmy Reed At Carnegie Hall' album - that really had a profound effect on everyone that heard it, I think.
"And... having conned my grandma into getting my first acoustic, I persuaded her to buy me that Kay which you inherited and it wasn't long after that really that I think first of all I did a little show in Richmond, with just me and someone else. I can't remember who the drummer was now.
"I'd by this time met the 'Stones' and was watching them play so they gave me a lot of feeling that it was worth doing in the end."
RP: " You were never afraid to go up to speak to someone like musicians - seeking advice… never intimidated?"
EC: "Oh no, I was quite confident about what I was doing."
RP: " Yes, I always remember you talking to other people... being quite gregarious amongst other musicians. Okay then: your practice methods... can you enlighten us on how you practised ?"
EC: "Well in those days I think I practised with records -I listened constantly to records - and was absolutely devoted, and would just try by my ear alone.., not only techniques, but sound as well.., to use whatever technique was involved, like fingers or pick or whatever it seemed to sound like.., just to match it, you know?
"But outside of that, I never practised, because I was frightened that I might learn the wrong things - I might learn to play in another style, or pick up something that I didn't want, you know? So I stuck very closely to being as simple as I could and just copy my idols, and never stepping off that path."
RP: "So would it have been Chuck Berry or someone?"
EC: "It was Chuck Berry and Jimmy Reed really… those two and a bit of Bo Diddley... and then later, Freddie King.
"Funnily enough, although I was incredibly influenced by Muddy, I never really picked up a lot of his style, because it was so simple and confined, you know? I mean if you're into Muddy - you can understand - you only need to know how to play three or four things and that's it... but no-one knows how to do it...no-one!" (laughter)
RP: "He was very much more a vocalist than a guitar player..."
EC: "Well I disagree in a way, because you're right - yeah he was an accompanist to himself - but what he did on the guitar, with the slide and just the little chord shapes he would make, is so simple that it evades most players.
"I mean, I don't know anyone that can actually play those figures... 'I Can't Be Satisfied'... I mean, I've heard Johnny Winter do it... and he overdoes it... it's so hard not to overdo it... and he overdoes it... everyone plays it too much.
"So I kind of bypassed that, because, being a bit ambitious, I wanted to play more and that's how I got into the Freddie King thing... He was the first personI could actually see was going somewhere, outside of just playing accompaniment. He was playing lead, you know, and so that really attracted me."
RP: "Then later it would be B.B.King or Otis Rush?"
EC: "Yeah... B.B. King was much later for me because I thought he was too commercial to begin with. I bought an album by him that had... you know... saxes on it, and that was... ooh dear..."
RP: "Getting into the realms of show business."
EC: "Yeah it was - then, anyway - it wasn't basic enough."
RP: "Yes - he would 'appear' - rather than 'play'- somewhere."
EC: "Yeah..."
PM: "Wasn't downhome, was he?"
EC: "Not at all... No!"
RP: "We'd like to ask you about your first band."
EC: "Well... 'The Roosters' was the first band."
RP: "Was that with Tom McGuiness?"
EC: "Tom McGuiness and Ben Palmer and Terry... oh I can't remember...oh God what was his last name? Brennan - he was the singer... and a drummer...And the drummer's Mum owned the car that we travelled in... so the whole band hinged on that, really... that's how we got to gigs. There was this convertible Morris Minor that we packed everything into - it was just doomed from the word go... 'cos we didn't have the funds, and we were far too dedicated, real purists... and Ben especially was very self-critical.., and critical of the band, too.
"And it was too passionate to last long, you know, and when it did fold , Tom McGuiness and I got a job in 'Casey Jones'. I mean, you make your bones in all these things - I learnt a lot about touring, even on a small scale with those bands."
RP: "Were you still with Ben in 'Casey Jones'?"
EC: "No, Ben had retired at that point, completely, and become a woodcarver full time - which I think he still is… But it was a great little band to begin with, because the enthusiasm, the dedication, was all there"
RP: "This would be the 'Roosters'?"
RP: "All the things I've read about that period… the Roosters are never discussed - you see the one photograph and a brief paragraph - nothing's ever said about what the band did, or what numbers you played.
EC: "Oh we did... 'I'm A Man'... then we would do a Larry Williams song, you know, like 'Slowdown' or... something like that, and then a Bo Diddley... I mean a real broad spectrum of music inside the R&B thing and... 'I Loved A Woman'... a Freddie King song... and actually, a great deal of credit has to go to Terry - for he would bring to each rehearsal... he would bring his new singles and these were the things we would cover, you know, and he was really quite a purist.
"And we would try to get as dedicated as we could and it was much more of a blues band than anything I played in afterwards until John Mayall."
PM: "Can you remember some of the venues you played at?"
EC: "Phew, crumbs! I just remember the rehearsals being above a pub in Kingston. I think we played 'The Cellar'... maybe a couple of seaside places, but it was so, so chaotic and amateurish... I don't know how we got it together at all, really. I had the 'Kay' then and I had..."
RP: "The Gibson amp?"
EC: "I had... no... I had... did I? Yes, I did have the Gibson amp, but we started off all going through the one Selmer (amp)... the whole band, and the vocals as well. (laughter)
RP: "Pretty authentic..."
EC: "But even then, we had our heroes. The band, then, we were all trying to sound like.., was it The Wild Ones... what were they called.., with Carlo Little and Nicky Hopkins?"
RP: "Oh... The Savages - Lord Sutch's band."
EC: "The Savages… that's it, yeah. They were the band of the day, they were the band to emulate, because they used to do, you know, before Lord Sutch came on, they would do like… a little blues set… and there was that fantastic Andy Rand, who was a keyboard player, who would sing 'Worried Life Blues'. It was astounding… that was our hero at the time… yeah…Carlo Little with the leopard skin drum kit!" (laughter)
RP: "Really 'savage' stuff. Do you want to discuss the Yardbirds, or do you want to leave that out?"
EC: "No… let's talk about it all… whatever you want."
RP: "Really I mean, what I remember of you in the Yardbirds when you joined, the first few months were really happy times. I used to travel about with you all in the van and watch all the looning around, the playing about."
EC: "Yeah."
RP: "And then it all changed.. it all became serious."
EC: "Yeah, it did, didn't it? I think that recording did that, you know. It's like the first time you look in the mirror and you've had all this illusion about how good looking you are, and you get the horrible truth and that was what happened... I think when we first did that live album, did it to me.
"It was just like.., oh dear, it was quite a shock that we were so kind of rough, but everyone loved it, and that was confusing for me."
RP: "I still love it... it takes you back to those days."
EC: "Yeah, so do I now, inretrospect, yeah but I think that was when we started taking it seriously, which is what you do when you start to become self-conscious."
RP: "I remember those first weeks, when you joined the band, were very very happy times - I remember them with great affection."
EC: "Likewise."
RP: "You seemed very very contented."
EC: "Well, there was that great period with the flat..."
RP: "In Kew?"
EC: "Yeah, that was fantasic... well I remember that as being one of the best periods of my youth you know 'cos everyone was just having fun."
RP: "I remember you all used to rig up a tape recorder to make ghost noises!"
EC: "Yeah, yeah... it was fantastic, sharing that bedroom with Dreja... hilarious! Hilarious times! But it was the recordings, I think, that made us start to evaluate everything and try to be serious - much too early on - we just lost our carelessness."
RP: "I can remember Keith Relf sort of becoming very professional - almost overnight. When it first started, it was all a laugh... then suddenly he became very serious - almost unapproachable at times.., always worried, that's when for me, the fun stopped."
EC: "I remember Samwell Smith had that problem. I think that he - no... I've always blamed him for everything, poor guy - but he was the studious, serious one, you know."
RP: "So... I think that's as far as we can go, really, because I didn't want to cover the later years with The Yardbirds, Mayall or Cream, because it's all been so well documented before... what we really wanted were your formative years."
EC: "Okay, right!"


It was at this point that we broke for lunch in the pub at the top of Eric's drive.
Over drinks and sandwiches, we discussed old times... and the present... and Eric recounted some hair-raising stories about Chuck Berry. These, and other tales of Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf and Buddy Guy, will have to wait until the next issue.

 

The Roosters 1963, (left to right Eric Clapton,Robin Mason, Terry Brennan, Tom McGuinness, Ben Palmer) (Photo: Tom McGuinness)

 

 

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