Chris Welch’s Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History

By: Rick Landers

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Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History by noted rock author, Chris Welch, landed in our shop a short while ago and at first glance, we knew it was worth checking out. Sure, there’s the Clapton connection, but the book exudes high quality and we’re familiar with past books by Welch that have always been well-done and highly regarded by music enthusiasts.

The heavy hard bound book presents a quick look at Eric’s history on its cover with a fine triptych photo display of Clapton during his Cream days, his time with Delaney and Bonnie and his contemporary solo days.

Sometimes you actually can tell a book by its cover, contrary to the old saying that says you can’t. Between the covers the book proves to be as classy and well done as its first impression.  Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History does not disappoint with an insider’s account of the life of Clapton tethered to over 400 photos of Eric and his fellow music brethren that have included The Roosters, The Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream; Delaney and Bonnie; Blind Faith and a constellation of other notables who fall within the inner sanctum of music royalty.

Some of the more fascinating photos include early shots of The Yardbirds with Keith Relf, Chris Dreja, Paul Samwell-Smith, Jim McCarty and Eric, a group that helped define British Blues and later evolved into what is considered by many to be more commercial rock,. It was a move that would disappoint Clapton and cause him to split from the group in order to grow as a blues man, and to remain true to his roots. There are other photos of Clapton during his days with Cream, a group that many consider one of the best rock groups of all time. Throughout the book, Welch offers up a remarkable stream of photos that reflect Eric’s musical journey.

Chris Welch has known Clapton since 1964, when Chris landed a job at Melody Maker in the U.K. and met during his first week on the job. Eric was with The Yardbirds and where Yardbird’s vocalist and harp player, Relf, told him that the band hoped their first single wouldn’t be a hit.

Welch carries the story along by having an inside track on the life and times of Eric, at a time when music became an insatiable cultural staple and kids would find their way to places like The Fillmore (East and West), The Grande Ballroom, and other concert halls to see the likes of Cream, Vanilla Fudge, Blue Oyster Cult, Jefferson Airplane and other groups for a few bucks.

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The selection of photos and images of album art, concert photos and photographs of rock royalty adds a colorful and period texture from the early days of the British Invasion, to an era of flowers, paisley and mind expansion, and on to Eric’s own journey that has led him to become one of the most masterful of blues musicians on the planet.

Although the book is highlighted as an “illustrated” history, there’s a strong balance of biography that parallels the hundreds of photos. And the history not only gives us Eric Clapton, but, tells us about the world of music that engulfed and influenced him. The author takes us back in time and feeds us the emotions that are at times exciting, but also traumatic; times and experiences that forged the man that we’ve come to admire and respect and one who is not merely a musical icon, but one who has fought his own demons, and fought hard to recover and reclaim his dignity.

Clapton fans will probably be compelled to seek out other books to discover more about the legendary Eric Clapton, especially hardcore fanatics. But, for most of us,  Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History is so exceptionally well done and comprehensive that it’s enough for us to consider our Eric Clapton reading appetites satisfied and digested – allowing us to find our way back home to his music.


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