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March 31, 2024

17-Year-Old Eric Clapton Performing With His First Band, The Roosters in 1963

Eric Clapton joined his first band, The Roosters, at age 17. They played mostly in the Greater London area. Venues included the Carfax Ballroom in Oxford, the Ricky-Tick Clubs in Kingston, Reading, West Wickham and Windsor, the Wooden Bridge Hotel in Guildford, The Jazz Cellar in Kingston, The Scene in Ham Yard, Soho and Uncle Bonnie’s Chinese Jazz Club in Brighton.

Eric Clapton rose to fame while in the Yardbirds, but prior to that he’d been making his name busking in coffeehouses and pubs, both solo and with another guitarist named Dave Brock, in London and his native Surrey.

Then, at 17, he joined his first band, which was called The Roosters. The group was put together by guitarist Tom McGuinness, who had just come off an unsuccessful audition for a horn-based R&B band.

“My girlfriend at the time, who I lost contact with for many years but who I’m now married to, asked how it was when I came off stage,” he told the Village Times. “And I said, ‘Oh, it was terrible. I’m in the wrong place.’ And she said, ‘Oh, never mind. This is Eric, who I’m at art school with and he loves the blues.’ And that’s how I met him! We then had one of those conversations where it just consisted of throwing names at each other: He’d say Jimmy Reed and I’d say John Lee Hooker; he’d say Muddy Waters and I’d say Buddy Guy. So, we knew we were on the same wavelength.”

McGuinness then recruited a pianist he knew, Ben Palmer, along with singer Terry Brennan and drummer Robin Mason. As Michael Schumacher reports in Crossroads: The Life and Music of Eric Clapton, they would rehearse at either the Prince of Wales pub in New Maiden or the Wooden Bridge Hotel in Guildford, jamming blues songs by Waters and Howlin' Wolf or rock n' roll songs by Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Fats Domino.

But they didn’t make much of a dent in the growing London blues scene. “The Roosters rehearsed more than we played,” Clapton said in his autobiography. “Even though we did a gig every now and then, mostly in upstairs rooms in pubs, it was more about the excitement of meeting like-minded blues people.”

It didn’t help that the guitarist was still far from polished. “I knew just about enough to be able to play and keep up that end of it,” Clapton admitted.

There wasn’t enough work to sustain themselves, and they were having difficulty getting to those rare gigs since Mason was the only one who had a car. So, The Roosters broke up in August 1963, after about six months. “It was a nightmare,” Clapton added, “but it was great fun.”


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