Weird History

Eric Clapton Once Went On An On-Stage Racist Rant That He Spent His Life Regretting

Eric Clapton hit the London blues-based rock scene in the early '60s, when he was still a teenager. He gigged around southern England with various bands, hung out with old friends like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (then a studio musician), and played with whichever active bands would have him. In '63, he joined the Yardbirds. In '66, after leaving the Yardbirds, he cut a record with John Mayall's Blues Breakers. That album was released in July '66. In December '66, Fresh Cream, the groundbreaking debut album from a new super group featuring Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Jack Bruce, hit shops. Graffiti appeared around London reading "Clapton is God". Though Jimi Hendrix showed up not long thereafter to steal Clapton's thunder, the enigmatic Englishman indisputably changed the face of electric guitar playing. When Cream played its now legendary final show (until reuniting decades later) on November 26, 1968, Clapton was 23 years old. 

Clapton continued producing successful music for decades after his early super stardom. But, like many musicians of his generation, much of Clapton's adult life was marred by addiction, tragedy, and personal drama. Derek and the Dominoes, a super group Clapton formed with Duane Allman of the Allman Brothers, put out one record before falling apart due to extreme drug use. A lot of the songs on that record, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, were about Clapton's unrequited love for Patty Boyd, George Harrison's wife, who eventually returned Clapton's affections and left Harrison for him. In 1991, Clapton's four-and-a-half-year-old son Conor died when he accidentally fell from a 53rd story window. 

And then there's the racist, xenophobic rant Clapton unleashed on stage on August 5, 1976 in Birmingham, England. The things Clapton said in this slurred diatribe are shocking even by the standards of a generation of musicians who had orgies with 14-year-old groupies. So what happened? Is Eric Clapton racist? What was the context of his life at the time?