Eric Clapton: “I’m the master of the cliche”

EC discusses retirement, Cream and why he thinks driving will soon be illegal

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Which songs in your catalogue always deliver the goods onstage?
We’re probably always going to do “Cocaine”, because that’s a great closer, a finishing song. And a slow blues, “Before You Accuse Me” or something like that, and I’ll do “Layla” acoustic. Just things that are recognisable for the crowd but fairly approachable for me. “Hoochie Coochie Man”, stuff like that.

Do you regard yourself primarily as a live musician?
Yeah. I like that atmosphere, if you’ve got a good-sounding venue, big or small, and it just sounds right, and you have a couple of people who can play and you put them together and you don’t really have an idea of what you’re going to do. I always love rehearsals. Used to hate them at one time, but now I love them because – yes, you eventually have to arrive at the point where everyone says, “OK, we better do what we’re supposed to be doing” – but up until that point, we always enter an unknown area where we’re all playing something that has no connection to anything, and that’s magic.

Off the road, do you have a regular routine?
As a human being, or as a musician – no, I don’t. There was a normality probably in the early days, where there was a van, there was equipment, a band, and you’d get one job and the idea was to just keep travelling and working and playing gigs, without any idea of where it was all going to end up. Now, I’m a family man, and all this stuff has to work around that. My wife and I sit down at the beginning of each week and say, “What have you got to do?” “Well, I’ve said I’ll do this but I don’t have to do it. What have you got on?” And we just work it out like that. I’ve got a different perspective on the whole thing. I’m not just a shiftless, wandering idiot anymore. I’ve got responsibilities.


It sounds like a hard lesson learned. Was it difficult in the past to strike a happy balance between life and work?
I think I’ve been working towards that, and as a human being I’ve been craving that. Craving some kind of stability. I found – especially when I was using and drinking and everything back in the day – that the road didn’t provide the answers anymore, though for a long time it did. I’d meet new people, or have brief affairs with people. My goal was excitement and pleasure, and that had a shelf life. When that ran out, I could see I was just doing the same thing again and it wasn’t really fulfilling me as a human being. I thought, maybe there’s something else? I have to live with another human being and take on what their requirements might be, and give up a lot of my selfish pursuits.

That’s clearly been a positive change in your personal life, but does it have any negative effects on your creativity?
No, I don’t think that it does. I mean, I could convince myself that it does and make that up as an excuse: “Oh, this stuff is important.” I’m careful enough to know that the minute I’m going down that road towards self-importance – Like, “By the way, what I’m about to do on this guitar doesn’t seem like much, but this is how we all get to live like this, this is how you got that new dress”, all of that – then it’s a pretty disagreeable place to be for everybody. It makes me feel bad, everybody gets tainted by it, so I try to shut that stuff down. Humility is a big part of being a good musician, that’s been my experience. Playing with great musicians, the best ones have always been very humble. They offer their space to you, and that’s also part of being a great human being – or
a decent human being, anyway. “How can I be of service?”


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