The show that brought Eric Clapton back from the brink » bbnworldnews.com/

After the visionary heights of the 1960s, Eric Clapton launched the 70s mired in a professional, personal and pharmaceutical nightmare. His semi-anonymous supergroup Derek And The Dominos had been largely ignored by the public – their signature song Layla, a thinly disguised groan of anguish inspired by Clapton’s unrequited love for model Pattie Boyd, wife of his friend George Harrison, failed to chart. The guitarist’s woes were compounded when another friend, Jimi Hendrix, died in September 1970.

Mentally battered, Clapton and his socialite girlfriend Alice Ormsby-Gore gradually retreated from the spotlight – and into a twilight world of heroin addiction from which he would not emerge until three years later.

Eric Clapton: With heroin, snorting it through the nose maybe three or four times a year, that’s how I did it in the beginning. Then I did it for maybe a week without stopping, then two or three weeks without doing it. And then a month without stopping, and then you leave and you feel bad. So to stop feeling bad, you would take a little bit more and then you would take it for six months.

Bobby Whitlock (keyboardist, Derek And The Dominos): It all got out of control with the drugs and stuff, so everyone just kind of drifted off.

Eric Clapton: I don’t know if it can be just put on the doorstep of drugs or relationships or life issues as much as I just had to walk away. I had done so many things; I was there for a long time, playing and playing nonstop.

Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones guitarist and friend of Clapton): He retired with Alice Ormsby-Gore, and the two were high on heroin for two years. They have become hermits.

Eric Clapton: Although we didn’t use needles, we were very nervous.

Pete Townshend: He obviously had a cash flow problem, because he was selling guitars… to get cash to buy dope.

Eric Clapton: All the while, however, I was operating a tape machine and performing. I had that to remember. At the end of this period, I discovered that I had full cards to play, as if there was something struggling to survive.

Clapton spent his time cooped up in his Surrey mansion, Hurtwood Edge, with Ormsby-Gore. In August 1971, a worried George Harrison convinced him to take part in the Concert For Bangladesh in New York, which he organized with Ravi Shankar.

Pattie Boyd: Eric was in bad shape, but George thought that if he put him on stage, even if supported by drugs, his addiction would become an open secret and maybe he would open the door a little to his friends, which might help.

Eric Clapton: I arranged through long distance phone calls to have something for me because my heroin addiction was getting strong. So I fly over and there’s nothing there, and we can’t score.

Alice Ormsby Gore: I was desperately running around this town trying to get Eric heroin. And I remember thinking how stupid that was to me, even back then. I did this for him, and for me, for three years. It was probably childish to be overprotective, but I thought it helped him not have to go through all the horror of branding his own heroin supply on his own.

Eric Clapton: Eventually, one of the cameramen invented this medicine he was taking for his ulcers, which turned out to be a substitute for heroin, methadone. It helped me enough to get on stage and perform.

Ronnie Wood: He showed up, played, and after that he and Alice just closed the door and stayed outside.

Pete Townshend: Eric has lost two people he’s based his entire life on – Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman – in fairly close succession. So there were a lot of reasons why he wasn’t working.

Ronnie Wood: His [Townshend’s] The answer was to organize a concert, then convince Steve Winwood and me that it was time to break Eric out of his confinement in Surrey and bring him to London for rehearsals. That’s exactly what we did. We literally dragged Eric out of his house and moved him into mine.

Pete Townshend: Drugs flowed very freely among the musicians, and I think Eric increased his heroin use – he stopped trying to replace it with other things, which he had been doing to try to pull himself together . But his complicity was a surprise. He was very, very strong, authoritative and confident.

(Image credit: Michael Putland)

After onstage rehearsals at Guildford Civic Hall, Clapton’s comeback took place at The Rainbow in north London, where the guitarist played two sets on the same day, with a band that included Townshend, Winwood, Wood, bassist Ric Grech and drummer Jim Capaldi.

Eric Clapton: Alice and I, stoned, arrived late [at the Rainbow]to find Pete and [Clapton’s manager Robert] Stigwood tearing his hair out. The reason we were late was that Alice had to drop the waistband of my white suit pants, because I had gotten into the habit of eating so much chocolate lately that I couldn’t put them on anymore.

Alice Ormsby Gore: Five o’clock and here I am, sewing a six-inch piece of fabric into the back of the pants with black cotton.

Pattie Boyd: I was sitting in the audience with George, Ringo, Elton John, Joe Cocker and Jimmy Page. Eric didn’t look well.

Eric Clapton: For the first issues, I was in a trance. Then it suddenly kicked in and I started to trust myself.

Ronnie Wood: We did the Hendrix hit small wing and many great Eric songs like let it rain, Badge, After Midnight and Bell Bottom Blues. By the time we reached the end of the set with highway key and Crossroadsno one doubted it: Eric was back.

Jimmy Page: I saw him at his Rainbow concert. At least at the Rainbow he had people with balls with him. Pearly Queen was amazing.

John Pigeon (journalist, let it rock): Townshend clearly took his role as rhythm guitarist seriously, not just strumming, but punctuating the music as only he does. Ron Wood avoided the temptation to emulate Duane Allman’s role on the Layla album, instead handling the solos Clapton gave him in his own style.

Eric Clapton: I had a great time doing it. It was when I listened to the tapes afterwards that I realized it was way below average. Everyone has made mistakes.

(Image credit: Michael Putland)

The Rainbow shows may have brought Clapton out of his self-imposed exile, but they’ve been less successful in helping him clean up. By the fall of 1973, he and Ormsby-Gore had sunk deeper and deeper into their drug-addicted lifestyle at Hurtwood Edge. It took the intervention of Alice’s father, former Tory MP Lord Harlech, to bring them back from the brink, with the help of Harley Street surgeon Dr Meg Patterson.

Eric Clapton: Alice’s father had discovered Meg Patterson and her form of acupuncture treatment. And then, for some reason, I just said, “Okay, I’ll try. And the next thing you know, a really big emotional thing happened to me and I started to really want to live again. When you take a lot of heroin for a long time, you reduce your ability to feel, your sensitivities shut down, you don’t feel emotions.

Dr. Meg Patterson: All drugs were prohibited from the start of treatment. We had the cooperation of Lord Harlech and Eric’s manager, Robert Stigwood, who said he wouldn’t give them the money to buy him.

Eric Clapton: Three times a day, one hour per session. It’s a box that has two cables coming out of it, with little metal clips on the end that you attach to your earlobes. Current flows through your head, then out the other side and back into the machine, and the pulse is controllable by a button. You bring it up to the pain threshold and then bring it back down. The cure itself was a combination of things… acupuncture and the determination to pull through.

Clapton’s Harley Street treatment was successful, and by April 1974 he had quit heroin. Unfortunately, during this period he began to drink heavily. To add to the chaos of his life, Boyd had left Harrison, eventually joining Clapton.

Eric Clapton: I came straight from the heroin in the drink. It was essential. I woke up almost everyday with a hangover.

Steve Turner (journalist): Eric told Robert Stigwood that he wanted to do an album. What turned out to be 461 Ocean Boulevard.

Eric Clapton: I had been very seriously addicted to heroin, then I thought I could get out of it by drinking, without knowing that alcohol was probably going to hurt me more. I was so drunk on some stages that I was playing lying on the stage, flat on my back, or staggering around wearing the weirdest combination of clothes because I couldn’t even dress properly.

Yvonne Elliman (singer): This tour drowned in alcohol. We were all a bunch of crazy people and we fell into the rock band ritual where you smash things in hotel rooms and throw food at each other and drop everything.

Eric Clapton: That year, I became a full-fledged alcoholic. I would have a bottle of vodka, a cassette tape, a guitar, and a shotgun as bedtime toys. And everything would be the same the next morning, except the bottle would be empty. One of the things I would do was put the cartridges in the gun and close it up, and I would put it in the position with the barrel against my mouth where you could take the top of your head off. And I thought, “Yeah, but if I did that, I couldn’t have another drink. That’s what I would define as madness.

What happened next ?

The two shows at the Rainbow may have been a false dawn for Clapton, but they were recorded for a live album, released as Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert in 1973.

Clapton eventually married Pattie Boyd in 1979. He didn’t drink until 1981, after being hospitalized in the United States with bleeding ulcers, forcing him to cancel an entire tour. He then founded a rehabilitation center, the Crossroads Center, on the island of Antigua.

Sources: Clapton, the authorized biography by Ray Coleman (Sidgwick and Jackson, 1994), Crossroads by Michael Schumaker (Hyperion Press, 1995), Conversations with Eric Clapton by Steve Turner (Abacus, 1976), wonderful todayby Pattie Boyd with Penny Junor (Headline Review, 2007), Ronnie by Ronnie Wood (McMillian, 2007).

Source: www.loudersound.com


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