I met Eric Clapton while sailing on San Francisco Bay in the late summer of 1967. His band, Cream, was playing at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, their first time on the West coast.
My friends Addison and Amelie Smith were acquainted with Eric, and the great guitarist asked them to find someone who could take him, his bandmates, and his French girlfriend for a sail on San Francisco Bay. San Francisco Chronicle writer and marine artist William Gilkerson had the perfect boat - a 36’ traditionally rigged double-ender. The stage was set.
Crew consisted of myself, a few friends, and Cream drummer Ginger Baker, who climbed the main mast and sat at the top mast cross tee for the remainder of the day.
That sun-baked day resulted in an enduring friendship with Clapton (if such a thing exists with superstars) that lasted a number of years.
We met again in Chicago where I was traveling with the Butterfield Blues Band as their road manager - Professional job description or experience was luckily not required, although one needed good connections to supply the band members with a certain herb which was then illegal.
The BBB had a night off, and Cream was playing a concert at Northwestern University, so a few of us, including Butterfield, attended. The North side of Chicago is, as most of us know, the more prominent, the South side being less affluent, at least back then. But I digress. We went backstage to congratulate the band and we were invited to a party given by an artist friend of Butterfield’s at her crumbling mansion in the above mentioned South Side.
Clapton asked if we would accompany him to his high-rise hotel room to change clothes, and, of course we followed.
As we prepared ourselves for the evening before us, there was a gentle knock on the hotel room door. When opened we beheld two young women in hippy dress, carrying a beat up black leather satchel.
They introduced themselves as the Chicago Plaster Casters and to prove the quality of their craft, they produced various tools of their trade and some impressive examples of superstars’ um, members.
Needless to say, they were after Clapton, as he was at the top of his game, so to speak. To the young artist’s dismay, Eric demurred, with no little embarrassment. The rest of us found equally poor excuses, although who wouldn’t want to be enshrined along with such luminaries as Jimmy Hendricks? I wouldn’t.
These two pleasant woman then offered to drive us to the party in their 1950 Chevy sedan, and Clapton eagerly accepted for us all as he was/is fond of American classic cars…Mohair seat covers and all.
Sadly the two entrepreneurs were not invited, but graciously dropped us in front of the party, on a street lined with crumbling showplaces.
The party was the typical ’60’s bash. As the saying goes, you weren’t there if you remember much of it. What did make it memorable was what happened in the wee hours when Butterfield and Clapton sat down in straight-backed chairs, knee to knee, for an impromptu concert. Butter with his Marine Band harp and Clapton playing a twelve string guitar. It was a mesmerizing and rare performance - Two masters of their instruments, in perfect synch, playing for themselves and a few friends the music of joy and sadness derived from our dark past and regrettable present: The Blues.
When it was over, perhaps an hour later, nobody clapped. Just a few hugs and smiles as we filtered out into the early morning cold. We knew we had experienced musical perfection. It was a night to remember.
(Richey Wasserman is a Point Arena Councilman)