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The Story of Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert

Express, Getty Images
Express, Getty Images

Most stints in rehab take place secretly, or at the very least privately. Then there was Eric Clapton’s Rainbow Concert, which served as an all-too-public, one-night cold turkey of sorts that proclaimed the legendary guitarist’s resurgence from the dire depths of heroin addiction – goosed along by some helpful celebrity friends.

Clapton’s descent into serious addiction had begun almost three years prior, and was spurred on by a combination of professional and personal issues – namely his restless cameos with multiple bands and artists (a byproduct of his reluctance to embrace stardom) and unrequited love for George Harrison‘s then-wife Pattie Boyd, who was the subject of Derek and the Dominos‘ “Layla.”

Except for a rare appearance at Harrison’s 1971 Concert for Bangladesh (where he proceeded to nod off mid-solo), the guitarist spent the better part of two years nursing his opiate demons in deepest suburban Surrey, and it would require his friend Pete Townshend taking it upon himself to book a special “comeback” concert at London’s Rainbow Theatre on Jan. 13, 1973, to drag Clapton back under the spotlight.

Once there, he found himself affectionately supported for a pair of sold-out sets on one night by Townshend, former Blind Faith partners Steve Winwood and Ric Grech, Traffic‘s Jim Capaldi and Ron Wood. And while a mere six songs would eventually be culled for a live album released nine months later (subsequently expanded to a dozen-plus cuts for a CD reissue), the evening’s most important mission had been accomplished.

Clapton would gradually find his way forward once again toward a broadly celebrated solo career carried by innumerable mainstream triumphs – all of which may have fallen into the “what if?” category of rock ‘n’ roll drug casualties were it not for the musical intervention undertaken on his behalf by way of the Rainbow Concert.

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