But Clapton is also facing forward, working on his next studio album. In fact, two weeks after this conversation, the guitarist announced a huge outdoor show on July 8th with special guests Santana, Steve Winwood and Gary Clark Jr. You saw the film again yesterday. What is it like to walk through your life like that? I was in an editing room.
There was one scene that I was really uncertain about, which was the semi-racial thing that went down during my worst period. I made remarks onstage about foreigners [at a show in Birmingham, England in ]. Being the drunk that I was, I just went on a rant.
Did you ask Lili to take it out? I just have to face the guy that I became when I was fueled on drugs and alcohol. And there was no one to challenge me. Because I may have become quite intimidating. The only guy who did was my manager [at the time], Roger Forrester. He packed me up and sent me off to [the rehab facility] Hazelden. When I got to Hazelden, I had to sign this thing saying who is your significant other. Anyone else would have put a family member — or my wife. I was married. But I put him. Because he was the only one who would stand up to me and call me out.
The first part of the film is about how you became a musician. The second is about how music saved you at every turn — from obsession, drugs, alcohol and even the death of your son. When things were at rock bottom, you always had the guitar. I would add one thing — listening to music became just as important as being able to play.
I remember coming out of the smack period [in the early Seventies] — anything I heard would reduce me to tears, especially if it came from the heart. The music from Carousel still does bring me to tears. That clip of Dylan watching you on TV with John Mayall is an example of the incredible happenstance in your life. You lived at a historic intersection of cultural forces in the Sixties.
And you participated in them, because you actually had the gift. It was a good time. Lili and I were talking about it again today, about how free that period was in the Sixties and early Seventies.
And if anyone came in, [they could] join in. It was open. By the time I got to the Nineties, I was really confused about the competitive nature of music. Bands were aggressive to one another, judgmental.
The film opens with your video tribute to B. King after he died in How is your health? On the back cover of your last album, I Still Do , there is a photo of you playing guitar with a fingerless glove on your hand. I had eczema from head to foot. The palms of my hand were coming off, and I had just started making this record 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. When I saw you in concert this year, in the spring and fall, there were no gloves. My hands are good. 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.
But the guitar comes up a lot in the film as a place of refuge for you. 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. Is that something you recognized as a boy? 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. Yet you did have a thing about attachment — leaving the Yardbirds and Mayall, breaking up Cream and Derek and the Dominos. Yeah, that is peculiar. But it was never like that with the music. To this day, I can return to the stuff that I first heard, and it will have the same effect on me that it did then.
We were playing so well together. And watching that, I thought if only they [Baker and Bruce] could have found a way to resolve their conflict. I was having the time of my life musically. But like Ben said, the bickering was outrageous. At least one of you was crazy at some point in the day.
But the music was getting so refined that it made it alright. One of the shots in the film that I like — and it goes by in an instant — is the photo of the Crawdaddy Club in London, where the Yardbirds played.
People who see you in arenas now might not realize you made your bones in these wild environments. When you came in, they were taking their trousers off. Very tight, small places — that was what I was most comfortable with. How do you do that in the Garden? I look at the exit signs [ laughs ]. I have to maintain that. Anytime I can play free, it is in 12 bars. The only person I know who can do it well is Robert Cray. It comes straight out of him. I wish I could be like that. But I would never think of myself as that.
The circumstances would suggest that. And this was different. There is a great B. I create a portion of time for a beginning and an end. It has to make sense, make a picture. If left to my own devices in the studio, I will go over and over and over until I think it is as refined as it can be. Is the puzzle ever complete? But I remember one night in Philadelphia with Cream.
It was near the end of our touring together [in ]. We knew it was over. We were just having a good time playing. Definitely for one night, yeah. Ed Sheeran has said that you were the reason he started playing guitar. What do you say to younger artists like him about navigating the perils of success? He has asked my advice. He wants to conquer the globe.
But what do you do then? Where do you go from there? How do you look back on your stardom in the Sixties and Seventies?