Eric Clapton 1970

Sitting in bare feet on the edge of a massive bed with a carved wood headboard, Eric Clapton talked with Guitar Player. His soft-spoken manner made it difficult to hear his words clearly over the noise of conga drums and tourist chatter rising from Sausalito’s main street. Eric’s hotel room overlooked the park where so many of San Francisco’s freaks and hip types spend pleasant Marin County afternoons watching the tourists watch them.
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When I saw you recently with Delaney and Bonnie, I noticed you weren’t playing the Les Paul you used with Cream.

I still play a Les Paul, but with Delaney and Bonnie I use an old Stratocaster I’ve acquired, which is really, really good—a great sound. It’s just right for the kind of bag I was playing with them.

How do you usually set the controls on your guitar and amp?

That depends on the guitar and amp. When I use a Stratocaster and a Fender Dual Showman [with Delaney and Bonnie], I have the pickup switch set between the first and middle pickups, which is a very bright, but not completely trebly. On the amp, I take a little of the treble off, and turn the bass and the middle full up. And I set the volume at about half. I’m not getting the sustain that I used to get. It’s still there a bit, but that’s the Stratocaster. With Cream, I’d turn the guitar and the Marshall amps all the way up. It seems I’m known for that sustain sound—you know, holding notes for a long time.

Were you affected at all by playing as intensely and loudly as you did with Cream?

I actually went deaf for a period of time. When we were playing at the Fillmore for a while, I was wearing specially designed earplugs. I had to, because I couldn’t hear anything anymore. I was playing full volume in a kind of weird, traumatic state—knowing that I had to play, and not really wanting to. I was really just brought down. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same. One ear is at least half deaf—I don’t know which one. When I’m on stage, I have to stand a certain way to be able to hear everything. Otherwise, I only hear half of what’s going on.

Do you plan out your leads?

No. The only planning I do is about a minute before I play. I desperately try to think of something that will be effective, but I never sit down and work it out note-for-note.

Do you have to perform in a loose, free situation in order to be an effective guitar player?

Yeah. It has to start from that kind of basis. It can evolve into something later, but you’ve got to be able to stretch out.

How did the success of Cream—all the hype and publicity—affect your attitude about things?

It made me very bitter indeed about being successful. When we first came here to play, that was when our egos really broke loose. Up until then, we were just an ordinary English, provincial group. We came to America, and the bubble burst. We thought we were God’s gift. Then, we started to get put down by the press and so on, and I came down overnight.

—Excerpted from Fred Stuckey’s interview in the June ’70 issue of Guitar Player.