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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What’s next for you? Jack Bruce was quoted recently talking up another Cream reunion: “Everybody had agreed about doing it, but then I think Ginger upset Eric. He said something or did something, so it’s not happening.” Is Cream still on your agenda?
Nobody has talked to me about anything. I haven’t spoken to Jack or Ginger for quite a time. I don’t think there’s been any line of dialogue between any of us – or between me and them, that is to say – since the American affair [the trio’s Madison Square Garden shows in 2005]. After that I was pretty convinced that we had gone as far as we could without someone getting killed. At this time in my life I don’t want blood on my hands! I don’t want to be part of some kind of tragic confrontation.

I guess you’ve seen Beware Of Mr Baker, the film about Ginger. It’s clear that he hasn’t mellowed with age.
He doesn’t look very happy in his skin, but it’s difficult to say what was going on for him at that particular moment in time. The chemistry between the three of us was always tricky, and too volatile to be reliable. I mean, you could say, “Let’s go into meeting mode and sit down to talk about how we could do something now”, and have a couple of days’ discussion about it. Well, it would probably end in an argument or a blaming competition. There were elements going on there before I ever met them, where things hadn’t been resolved, and that stuff still comes up. I think if there was a different dynamic underlying it all – if we were people who occasionally had lunch together, or lived in the same neighbourhood, or hung out – then you’d have a friendship and a reliable dialogue going on, where you could just say, “Why don’t we just do a couple [of shows]?” But to talk to journalists about it thinking that might provoke something… I mean, that doesn’t work. Someone has to be direct. There is no relationship between the three of us whatsoever – or between me and them, anyway. I don’t talk to them from one year to the next.

You seem quite reflective. Are you ever tempted to make a record that sustains that mood: something sparse, acoustic and intimate?
I enjoy listening to music like that, and I enjoy playing music like that. It’s just that once you get into the studio the temptation to fill up the space with all kinds of stuff is very strong. It takes a lot of discipline to keep everything down, but yes, it does appeal to me, that kind of atmosphere.


Do you have songs in mind that would work for that?
I have a few songs, yes, that are ready for that kind of outing, but I’ve always got something else to finish off.

What needs to be finished next?
There were some songs left over from the JJ album. We recorded more than went on the record, so I’m now in the process of finishing them to put them on an album of mine. Then I need to figure out what else to put on there. I’m maybe only a third of the way there, and I’m in no rush.

You’re 70 next year. You’ve mentioned retirement. Do you think much about your influence and your legacy?
I do, yeah. I wonder what the hell I’m doing and whether it’s been of any use to anyone. The messenger idea we talked about, I think if anything that’s what I’d like as my epitaph: He was a great messenger. A very gifted interpreter.


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Photo: Lester Cohen



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