News Flash: Blues Legend Eric Clapton Takes Orchestra On Tour

While most fans probably think The Artist Formerly Known As Guitar God could hold an audience rapt by banging on a cardboard box let alone chopping at his axe, blues master Eric Clapton will be hitting the road this April in the U.S. with his biggest touring entourage to date.

Clapton, touring to promote his upcoming album, Pilgrim (March 10), will be joined onstage by a 20-piece orchestra as well as two backup guitarists (Alan Darby, Andy Fairweather), two keyboardists (Tim Carman, Kenneth Crouch), bassist Nathan East, drummer Ricky Lawson and three backup singers (Katie Kissoon, Chyna and Charlean Hines).

"He's gotten older as his audience has, so it's a natural progression," said Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry trade magazine Pollstar, on Clapton's choice to fill out his sound. "I think it will appeal to older rock fans because they can probably appreciate the symphonic aspect of adding the orchestra to his sound.

"Fans aren't going to be coming out to re-live the Cream experience," Bongiovanni added, referring to Clapton's legendary late 1960s blues-rock trio. "It makes perfect sense, more sense than [pop star] Michael Bolton singing opera, anyway."

The 14-song effort -- which includes 12 Clapton compositions and two covers, Bob Dylan's "Born in Time" and the blues standard "Going Down Slow" -- features two tributes to his 4-year-old son, Connor, who died tragically after a 1991 fall from a Manhattan high-rise apartment window.

The two songs, "My Father's Eyes" and "Circus," were written around the same time as Clapton's 1992 Grammy-award-winning track "Tears in Heaven," also a tribute to Connor. Clapton also won a Grammy last year for his collaboration with Babyface on "Change the World."

"My Father's Eyes," which Clapton performed during his 1992 MTV "Unplugged" performance, is the first single from Pilgrim.

Bill Gamble, programming director of Chicago's WXCD-FM -- which bills itself as having the largest on-air classic-rock library -- said his core audience seems to be anxious about Clapton's tour and album. "His solid audience of 35- to 54-year-olds are excited about Clapton, even though the record labels continue to market to the younger consumer," Gamble said.

"I think there's great interest in this album," he added. "Clapton continues to test in the top 5 to 10 percent of the artists we play. And we play a lot of Clapton." -- Gil Kaufman

Eric Clapton Tour Dates:

Mar. 30; St. Paul, Minn., Civic Center

Apr. 2; Kansas City, Mo., Kemper Arena

Apr. 3; St. Louis, Mo., Kiel Center

Apr. 5; Moline, Ill., The Mark

Apr. 6; Milwaukee, Wis., Bradley Center

Apr. 8; Detroit, Mich., Palace of Auburn Hills

Apr. 9-10; Chicago, Ill., United Center

Apr. 12; Cleveland, Ohio, Gund Arena

Apr. 14; Boston, Mass., Fleet Center

Apr. 15; Philadelphia, Pa., Core States Center

Apr. 16; Washington, D.C., MCI Center

Apr. 18-19; New York, N.Y., Madison Square Garden

Apr. 22; Charlotte, N.C., Charlotte Coliseum

Apr. 23; Knoxville, Tenn., Thompson Boling Arena

Apr. 25; Tampa, Fla., Ice Palace

Apr. 26; Miami, Fla., Arena

[Fri., Feb. 20, 1998, 9 a.m. PST]