Eric Clapton: Me and my Strat
THE FIRST GUITAR I EVER SAW WAS ON TV. Jerry Lee Lewis was doing Great
Balls of Fire. The performance threw me - it was like seeing someone
from outer space. Suddenly I realised I was in a village that was
never going to change, yet there on TV was something out of the
future. And I wanted to go there. Actually, he didn't have a
guitarist, but he had a bass player, who strummed a Fender Precision
Bass. I didn't know it was a bass guitar, I just knew it was a guitar,
so I said to myself: "That's the future - that's what I want."
I was a Gibson man throughout my early career, mainly because of
Freddy King. I'd heard the cover of Let's Hide Away and Dance Away, on
which he played a Les Paul Goldtop. I scoured the guitar shops after
hearing that cover and bought one. That was my guitar from then on,
and it sounded like Freddy King's.
The story of how I got my first Stratocaster comes from when I was in
Nashville in 1970 with Derek and the Dominoes and I visited a shop
called Sho-Bud. In the back they had a rack of Stratocasters and
Telecasters, all going for $100 each. No-one was playing them because
everybody was going for Gibsons - Les Paul models were ruling the
roost for guitar heroes.
But Steve Winwood had got me interested in them because he was playing
a blonde-neck Stratocaster. It sounded great. Then I thought, "Well,
yeah, Buddy Guy used to play one," and I thought of Johnny Guitar
Watson playing one on the Gangster of Love album. So I bought a
handful of them and brought them all back to England. I gave one to
George Harrison, one to Steve Winwood and another to Pete Townshend. I
kept three and out of them I made one - Blackie. I took the body from
one, the neck from another, and so on. I have no idea what year the
various parts are, so at the time it was not a good collectors' guitar
at all. It is now.
That guitar has been with me through all kinds of scrapes. I remember
the time in Jamaica, when rehearsing with the band I had for 461 Ocean
Boulevard. We rented a cinema but could only get to rehearse in it
from midnight to 6am. I ended a Chuck Berry number by accidentally
falling over during a session. That was the cue for the drum beat to
end the song, and I crushed some parts of Blackie underneath me.
The body and the neck were totally gone but, after a few little
running repairs, it was playing as good as new within half an hour.
That's when I thought: this guitar is my life. It can take as much
damage as me. I can pick it up, drop it or bounce it off the wall and
it will still be in tune and play with heart and soul. It's
irreplaceable. I've never felt quite that secure with any other guitar.
I remember a recording session when Stephen Bishop went back in the
studio to add some electric guitar. He picked up Blackie and began
playing it - very brutally. This felt as if someone had taken a dagger
and plunged it in my arm and was twisting it. I screamed and ran into
the studio and grabbed it off him. It was that painful. I believe that
guitar has got some of me in it. So to see someone else pick it up and
abuse it was quite unbearable.
I've retired Blackie. It's still a highly playable guitar, but it's
just on the edge of being unplayable. I have it at home and play it
occasionally, but it's too precious to take out for fear of loss or
The only thing that bothers me is that because the wood has worn down,
the frets are too wide. And I'm not in the mood to do anything about
that - I'd rather keep it in the shape it's in. Then Fender said
they'd be very interested in putting out a guitar with my name on it,
and would I specify the way I wanted it.
I could have designed anything. But when they asked me to name my
favourite guitar, there was only one answer. Blackie. If they could
copy it I wouldn't want any changes. And that was the point - it
couldn't really be improved upon. I feel that guitar is now part of me.