sidered to be one of the most famous guitars in music history, Eric Clapton’s custom Fender Stratocaster has faithfully served the world-famous singer and songwriter for decades. From its humble beginnings in the backroom of a guitar shop to a high auction price, Blackie has traveled on a long journey leading to its final resting place in New York City. Fully customized to fit the wants and needs of Clapton himself, Blackie is another example of when a musician and guitar become one to create the legendary music we all know.
Eric Clapton’s “mongrel” guitar was part of his vision. It was a combination of multiple guitars found in the back room of a Sho-Bud guitar shop in Nashville, Tennessee. The guitars were considered old and out of style, so for a cheap price Clapton purchased a lot and gifted some to close friends while commissioning Ted Newman Jones to craft his ideal guitar using the pieces of the remaining instruments. “I bought a big pile of them all for a song - they were really cheap, like $300 or $400 each - and I took them home and gave them out. I gave Steve [Winwood] one, I gave Pete Townshend one, I gave George Harrison one and I kept a few, and I made Blackie out of a group of them. I took the pickups out of one, the scratchplate off another, the neck of another and I made my own guitar, like a hybrid guitar that had all the best bits from all these Strats.”
Blackie made its first live debut on January 13, 1973, at the Rainbow Concert organized by Pete Townshend of The Who. Other notable concert appearances include the ARMS Charity Concerts for Multiple Sclerosis in 1983 and Live Aid in 1985. Blackie was also used in multiple recordings including “Cocaine,” “I Shot the Sherriff,” “Lay Down Sally,” and “Layla” in addition to featuring in music videos such as Clapton’s very first music video for the song “Forever Man” from the album “Behind the Sun.”
Although Blackie was ever faithful to Clapton, the decision was made to retire the guitar from live duty in 1985 as the Behind the Sun tour began to wind down in the United States. The guitar’s official final performance was on May 1st, 1985 at the Hartford Civic Center. Yet regardless of its retirement status, the guitar has made a few cameos including a presence in a Honda commercial in 1990 as well as a number of shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 1991.
Blackie now resides at the flagship store for Guitar Center on West 44th Street in New York City. The major music retailer purchased the guitar at Christie’s Auction House in 2004 for a record-breaking $959,500. Proceeds from the sale went towards the Crossroads Centre Antigua for drug and alcohol treatment, a cause close to Clapton’s heart as he suffered from addiction to both throughout his life.
On March 30, 1945, Eric Clapton was born to 16-year-old Patricia Molly Clapton. His father, Edward Walter Fryer was a Canadian soldier who returned home to his wife prior to Clapton’s birth. Due to the difficulty in raising a child on her own, Patricia released Eric to the care of her parents, Rose and Jack Clapp. As a result, Clapton grew up believing that his grandparents were his parents and that his mother was his sister. He eventually learned the truth at age 9. The once happy and outgoing boy became withdrawn and sullen upon hearing the news.
On his 13th birthday, Clapton received his first guitar, an inexpensive German-made Hoyer. Although he was discouraged by the guitar's heavy steel strings, Clapton later returned to the guitar during his time at the Kingston College of Art at 16. Inspired by the sounds of blues legends Freddie King, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy, Clapton convinced his grandparents to help him purchase an electric double cutaway Kay for £100.
Clapton quickly began to develop a reputation as one of the best guitarists in the West End pub and R&B circuit. He joined his first band, The Roosters, in 1963, but later joined The Yardbirds following The Rooster’s breakup. Since then Clapton has continued to perform in front of billions of fans with over 50 years of tour experience. After performing in 58 countries across six continents, playing over 3,00- shows, it is clear that Clapton is a worldwide star.
Both Clapton and Blackie have lived full and productive lives. Despite Clapton’s bouts of addition to drug and alcohol, he has managed to maintain his celebrity status as one of the greatest musicians in rock and roll history and even though Blackie’s neck was slowly wearing away and its body showed more wood than paint, Blackie continued to play at every show. From a worn neck to resisting temptations, the life and times of guitar and musician relate with the heartache and regret Clapton so often sang about. Although the remarkable duo is no longer together, their great works are still heard throughout the world today.
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