Legendary guitarist Eric Clapton was born in Ripley, England on March 30, 1945. Raised by his grandmother, Clapton fell in love with the blues at an early age, and began playing guitar at age 15. Clapton performed in pubs as a teenager before dropping out of the Kingston College of Art in 1962 to pursue a career in music. The young musician moved to London, where he struggled to make a living, performing for a short time with a party band called The Roosters. Clapton soon found a spot in the more established R&B/rock band The Yardbirds, who had an engagement at the Crawdaddy Club, where the Rolling Stones had begun their career. After releasing two successful albums with the group, 1964's Five Live Yardbirds and 1965's For Your Love (whose title track reached No. 3 in Britain), Clapton parted ways with the Yardbirds to join a band called John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers. (The Yardbirds replaced Clapton with Jeff Beck, and later Jimmy Page.)
Though Mayall himself was a respected figure in the British blues scene, Clapton, now nicknamed "Slowhand," brought new attention to the Bluesbreakers. "Clapton Is God" graffiti began appearing in London, and the group the Bluesbreakers got a new record contract with Decca; their eponymous 1966 debut reached No. 6 in the U.K. Soon dissatisfied with Mayall's domineering nature, Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker broke away from Mayall in the summer of 1966 to form a new blues-rock band called Cream.
Thanks to its members' established reputations as talented musicians, Cream had a devoted following as soon as it began. After releasing 1966's Fresh Cream, the psychedelic blues-rock group toured the U.S., where Clapton was already renown for his skilled guitar technique. After releasing Disraeli Gears and Wheel of Fire (which went platinum within a year of its release), Cream had become internationally famous, thanks to radio hits such as "White Room," and "Sunshine of Your Love." Unfortunately Clapton and Jack Bruce began feuding, their growing ego conflict breaking up the band in 1968. Their posthumous release Goodbye reached No. 2 in the U.S., hinting at what might have been.
Less than six months after leaving Cream, Clapton already formed a new band, Blind Faith, composed of Clapton, Ginger Baker, ex-Family bassist Rick Grech and ex-Traffic keyboardist Steve Winwood. The "supergroup" debuted at a free concert in London's Hyde Park in June 1969, playing to over 100,000 fans. Their eponymous debut was released the following month and quickly became a hit. Unfortunately the band's first U.S. tour, an instant sell out, was their last, as members struggled over artistic direction. By the time the tour was over, Blind Faith decided to call it quits.
Temporarily without a band, Clapton became a highly sought-after session musician. Not long after returning to Britain, Clapton was asked by John Lennon to perform with his Plastic Ono Band at a September 1969 charity concert in Toronto. Clapton also performed with the group at a December 1969 appearance in London, and contributed guitar to their infamous "Cold Turkey" single. Meanwhile, Slowhand also contributed his talents to the band Delaney and Bonnie, accompanying them on several tours. By early 1970 Clapton had completed his first solo album, using Delaney Bramlett's backing band and writing several songs with Bramlett; the eponymous album became a hit thanks to the Top 40 single "After Midnight."
Despite being a world-famous guitarist, Clapton still didn't like the idea of being a solo performer. While contributing to his friend George Harrison'salbum All Things Must Pass in early 1970, Clapton fell in love with Harrison's wife, Patti, began using heroin, and formed a new group, Derek and the Dominos. Featuring Clapton and most of Delany and Bonnie's band, the band toured Britain before releasing their debut record, Layla and Other Love Songs, a double album, later that year; the single, a tribute to George Harrison's wife, became a Top 10 hit. Following a U.S. tour and another string of U.K. dates, the group broke up while recording their follow-up, too consumed with drugs to prepare a proper album.
For the next two years, Clapton retired from music, a full-time heroin addict. Even while not actively performing, Clapton's stature grew, largely thanks to the 1972 compilation The History of Eric Clapton, which featured material from all of his previous bands. Finally overcoming his drug habit, Clapton staged a comeback in January 1973 with a performance at the Rainbow Theatre in London, commemorated on a live album. Clapton returned to recording with 1974's 461 Ocean Boulevard, which spawned the No. 1 single "I Shot the Sheriff," a Bob Marley cover. The hastily-recorded follow-up There's One in Every Crowd went gold, though it did not chart. After collaborating with The Band for 1976'sNo Reason to Cry, Clapton returned to the charts with 1977's Slowhand, which went platinum thanks to hits like "Cocaine" and "Wonderful Tonight."
Following the release of the 1977 album Backless, Clapton married Patti Harrison, who had recently divorced George, and continued performing live. Although he had kicked heroin, Clapton remained an alcoholic, and his career began to go downhill. His 1981 album Another Ticket was rejected by Polydor, who forced the guitarist to re-record it with a new producer. Because this was Clapton's last album under his contract with the label, Polydor did not promote it; during a tour to support the album, Clapton collapsed onstage in Wisconsin, nearly dead from pleurisy and alcohol-related ulceration of his digestive tract. Amazingly, Another Ticket reached the Top 10 thanks to the hit single "I Can't Stand It," and Clapton recovered from his medical problems and alcohol dependence, signing a new deal with Warner Brothers. After releasing the blues-oriented Money and Cigarettes in 1983, Clapton recorded a follow-up, Behind the Sun. Unfortunately Warner Brothers was unhappy with the album and practically re-wrote it for Clapton, bringing in a new producer, professional songwriters, and a new backing band. The radio-oriented result, released in 1985, was only a minor success. Clapton separated from his Patti, whom he formally divorced in 1988.
After the birth of his son, Connor, in August 1986, to an Italian model, Clapton released August, which featured contributions from Phil Collins and Tina Turner, yet failed to sell well. Clapton's sagging career received a huge boost from the 1988 release of Crossroads, a boxed retrospective of Slowhand's life output. 1989's Journeyman marked a return to Clapton's earlier, blues-influenced style, but his comeback was cut short when his beloved son was killed in an accidental fall in March 1991. While still mourning, Clapton prepared a soundtrack for the 1992 film Rush, which featured the hit tribute single "Tears in Heaven."
His career invigorated by "Tears in Heaven," Clapton made an appearance on MTV Unplugged. The resulting album was released in August 1992 and became an instant smash, selling over seven million copies in the U.S. alone and winning Clapton six Grammies. Riding on his return to star status, Clapton released 1994's From the Cradle, an album of blues standards he had long wanted to record; the effort won him four Grammies. His performance of the Babyface-written "Change the World" on the 1996 Phenomenon soundtrack earned Clapton yet another Grammy.
In a bizarre twist, Clapton then took time off from his solo career to work with British trip-hop producer Simon Climie, releasing the 1997 techno album Retail Therapy as the duo T.D.F., where Clapton himself is referred to as "X-Sample."
Clapton returned to his roots for the 2000 release, Riding With The King, a collaboration with the great blues guitarist B.B. King. The album won in the Best Traditional Blues Album category at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards the following year. Reptile, Clapton's latest, was released shortly thereafter.
In 2001, Clapton surprised his fans by announcing that he would retire from touring upon the completion of the world tour supporting Reptile.