Eric Clapton

Today is the 53rd birthday of legendary guitarist Eric Clapton, a man whose

blues-guitar mastery has fueled rock classics by the Yardbirds, Cream and

Derek and the Dominoes, as well as his own solo material. Born Eric Clapp

in Ripley, England, he was raised by his grandparents after being abandoned

by his mother. Clapton's first gigs came in 1963 with a little-known band

called the Roosters; later that year, he joined the Yardbirds and stayed

with them until 1965. Leaving the Yardbirds once they began to abandon

their blues-based sound, Clapton worked for a while as a construction worker

before joining John Mayall's Bluesbreakers and then hooking up with bassist

Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker to form Cream. The group was a perfect

meld of blues and rock, recording such classics as "White Room" and

"Sunshine of Your Love." Cream disbanded in 1968, and Clapton released

his first solo album in 1970, highlighting not only his phenomenal skills as a

guitarist but his strong singing voice. He formed Derek and the Dominoes

that same year, taking the frontman position and scoring a huge hit with

the song "Layla," inspired by the then-wife of Beatle George Harrison,

Pattie Boyd, whom Clapton later married.

After the death of several close friends in the early 1970s, Clapton turned to

drugs to console himself, eventually supporting a heavy heroin habit, from

which he finally emerged in 1973. He began making more solo records, which

included popular hits such as "Lay Down Sally" and "Wonderful Tonight." In

1985, he separated from Boyd and entered rehab for his alcoholism; in 1986 he

had a child, Conor, with Italian actress Lori Del Santo. While Clapton's career

continued to soar, his personal life was beset with tragedy: In 1990, two

members of his crew were killed in a helicopter crash along with guitarist Stevie

Ray Vaughan, and in 1991, Conor fell to his death from a 50-story window in

Santo's Manhattan, N.Y., apartment. Clapton's song "Tears in Heaven" was

inspired by the loss of his only child. Clapton returned to

music after a short period of seclusion, including an appearance on MTV's

"Unplugged" in 1992 and the release of From The Cradle in 1994.

Clapton recently won a Grammy along with producer Babyface for their hit

single "Change the World." Earlier this month, Clapton released

Pilgrim, an album that he will support by touring with a full band

and an orchestra.

Other birthdays: Graeme Edge (Moody Blues), 57; Jim Dandy (Black Oak

Arkansas), 50; Lene Lovich, 49; Dave Ball (Procol Harum), 48; Hammer, 35;

Celine Dion, 30; and Joey Castillo (Danzig), 28.