Me and Eric
by Roger Gibbons
It was a struggle to get to meet Eric Clapton. His address was well documented and his driveway gate was generally open. Of course, he was not at home that much. So I first met Patti Boyd at their house and asked if she would give him a message to ring me. Patti was very nice but I was not optimistic, so returned several times. I did see Eric one day and we agreed a date to get an interview done. My really good tape recorder broke down just before the appointed time (who remembers tape recorders?) so I took an older machine hoping that Eric might volunteer the use of one. No such luck, the recording is pretty shitty; however, my son is cleaning the CD and it will be available soon. Eric’s den was full of vinyl and books and those new-fangled videotapes. Oh – and guitars… I contemplated borrowing some of the vinyl records but did not think I could hide them too well.
During the taping Eric took a phone call which perturbed him a bit and shortly after he curtailed things but agreed to continue sometime. I went to his house as agreed but Eric had been fishing all day at Roger Daltrey’s lake and wanted to continue. He was very much into his fishing at this time, mainly as a stress reliever (Pattie had just left him). So off we went to a different lake, where I wrote down Eric’s answers. Eric also explained fly-fishing to me but he caught absolutely nothing all day. On the way back to the car Eric chatted about fishing with an older chap. We went for a drink afterwards, someone played Cocaine on the pub jukebox and Eric immediately drummed along with the tune. I was so jealous because I simply cannot keep a beat I gave up trying to clap in time at concerts because of the embarrassment of missing the beat. When we parted Eric took back the jumper he had let me wear. To be fair, it was a bit tight.
Eric’s childhood is well documented and caused him great anguish. Like Eric, I was brought up by my grandparents. After being so traumatised by my parents my brain simply erased all memory of my first five years. They call it PTSD nowadays or traumatic amnesia or dissociative amnesia or a really good idea. Of course, childhood trauma is a great inspiration for authors, actors, musicians, perverts and serial killers. I believe your childhood dictates the way you live but it is the scars that drive you to success or failure.
A colleague of mine took me for a quick home visit and there was clearly friction between him and his wife. His young son looked petrified and about thirty years later he murdered his partner in a gruesome way. Strangely the parents divorced and remarried and stayed together. I visited another workmate to find his parents would not speak to each other, but communicated through him. Twenty years later I tried to employ him again but found he could not cope with work and was a sad lonely person. I have often wondered where Bob’s driving ambition originated. There is little written about Bob’s childhood and nothing to indicate he was going to be such an inspiration. I am sure something was a spark and maybe we will find out one day. Chronicles 2 perhaps.
Eric produced a tame autobiography that did not really shed light on his young life. (My wife originates from Ripley, like Eric, and was best of friends with Eric’s sister Heather. She was the last person to talk seriously to his mother Pat before she left to live in Canada. Pat obviously talked about Eric and showed her Eric’s school reports with their alarming collapse in results. Pat commented that this was where things went wrong, which was the time Eric found out the truth about his parentage.)
Eric was really nice to me. At the time we were both losing our marriages. I pointed out that my wife (the first one) could not leave me because we had no money, a stupid theory, soon disproved. He also told me that crying was good for you, but I still find emotional turmoil very alarming. I am 70 now so should get over this soon, or not. Eric’s garden is pretty spectacular and I would love to have been able to walk around. My wife, before we met, was invited to go swimming at Eric’s pool but turned down the offer.
As a thank-you to Eric I gave him a one-sided 78rpm vinyl of Enrico Caruso because I knew he loved Pavarotti.
The one regret about my questioning is that I did not pursue Eric’s comment about him and Bob being kindred souls. He says that it was way deeper than being musicians. I wanted to ask if a terrible sadness was their bond, but that seemed a bit pushy. One day we will find out, maybe. “He’s not your everyday person,” sounds now like an understatement about somebody who welds gates, is an artist, whisky producer, actor, film maker, author and a radio presenter on top of his day job. Eric’s comments about “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” also seemed doom-laden and he also speaks of songs written about personal pain. Yes, I wish I had pursued things, but I did privately encourage Eric to write an autobiography. My own two-page autobiography had been very therapeutic but Eric said he could write his in one page. Thirty years later Eric produced his book but it did not say too much and I guess it was not very therapeutic.
Bob’s charisma gets mentioned and I tried to think of other performers who can walk on stage and grip an audience. Bob is in a league with few others.
Eric recommended I get a voice-activated recorder and I did. It was never used but my wife and I were waiting for a Chinese takeaway one evening when Paul Weller walked in and asked for his order. The young Chinese lady asked “what is your name”. I would like to ask Paul why he did an anaemic version of “All along the Watchtower”. Still anybody who wrote “A Town Called Malice” is alright with me.
On one of my many visits to Eric’s house I saw Rob Fraboni, but Eric was on holiday. Carl Wayne, lead singer of the Move, bought a lot of building materials from me. He was a great character who would come into our office and tell us Jim Davidson’s latest jokes. Carl showed me around his house which had been owned by Steve O’Rourke, the original manager of Pink Floyd, who practised in the large garage. Carl rated Luther Vandross the best singer ever, but considered Bob could stay in tune at least like Liam Gallagher. He became lead singer of the Hollies when I knew him, replacing Allan Clarke whose voice was raddled by alcohol and was lip-synching the encore of shows. I saw the Hollies with Allan Clarke in their prime, he had a fantastic voice and stage presence. Somebody called out for him to sing “Gasoline Alley Bred”. He did sing a bit a capella but was most ungracious and curmudgeonly at the same time.
With the Hollies Carl had to sing “Blowing in the Wind”. They had recorded an overwrought, overblown version on their Hollies sing Dylan album. Carl gave me tickets to see the Hollies at Norwich Theatre Royal and he duly concluded the first half with the song. He loved the song but not their version but it went down very well anyway. When they did “He Ain’t Heavy” Carl appeared to play immaculate harmonica, but in fact could not play a note. I call this harmonica synching – maybe Bob should try. Carl once played a show with Larry Adler, the legendary harmonica player. After singing “My Funny Valentine” Carl was told by Larry he did not sing it like Sinatra. Carl told him to fuck off. He should have written a book – he was full of anecdotes. I was deeply shocked when Carl died such an untimely death. I still have golf balls which Carl collected from his garden (between two golf courses) and gave me.
In the last few years I have sold building materials to Roy Harper and Mike D’Abo, both have Dylan connections. Roy is a nice man and gets a good review on Wikipedia after recording thirty-two albums. The only song of his I recall is “When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease” but he did cover “Girl From The North Country”. Mike D’Abo recorded three hit songs as singer with Manfred Mann. The Mighty Quinn was his biggest hit and he called his band the Mighty Quintett, later in his career. Manfred Mann in their various guises recorded twenty Dylan songs.
The transcript of the interview was sent to John Bauldie to publish in the Dylan Fanzine ‘The Telegraph’. John cut a part of Eric’s answer about songwriting and I remember being very upset because the same issue contained an incredibly long, boring and pretentious piece about the song “Belle Isle”. I complained to John and he duly corrected the article for the book “Wanted Man” and inscribed my copy. Of course, John also died far too young.
I thank Eric for the time he gave me but I doubt if he even remembers me now. His life is pretty full.
Let us hope that Bob tours next year (with the Shadow Kingdom band). My wife and I have followed the career of Guy Davis. He appeared on “A Nod to Bob” – the 2001 tribute album, and tours small venues in Britain playing old-time blues really well. He finishes shows with ‘Sweetheart like you’. which was a highlight of the ‘Nod to Bob’ compilation. Go and see him if you can.
There is an index to some of the recent work on this site on the home page.