Robert Cray ends friendship with "selfish" Eric Clapton over "extreme" views

Robert Cray and Eric Clapton onstage at the Crossroads Festival in 2004
Robert Cray and Eric Clapton onstage at the Crossroads Festival in 2004 (Image credit: Jun Sato/Getty Images)

Bluesman Robert Cray has spoken of his disappointment with Eric Clapton over the latter's stance on Covid vaccinations and lockdown.

Talking to the Washington Post for a scathing article headlined, "What Happened To Eric Clapton?" Cray reveals that he took initially umbrage at Clapton's protest song Stand And Deliver, which was recorded with fellow lockdown sceptic Van Morrison and poured scorn on citizens adhering to lockdown rules. “Do you wanna be a free man?", the lyrics ask. "Or do you wanna be a slave?” 

Cray wrote to Clapton to question his comparison of public health measures to slavery, and wasn't entirely happy with the response. "His reaction back to me was that he was referring to slaves from, you know, England from way back,” Cray told the Post.     

Cray then wrote to Clapton to say he was pulling out of some planned support slots on an upcoming tour.

The final straw came in September when Texas governor Gregg Abbott shared an image taken backstage with Clapton and guitarist Jimmie Vaughan. Abbott had been in the news for lifting lockdown restrictions in the state - leading to a surge in Covid case numbers - and earlier this year issued an executive order banning mask mandates in public schools and governmental bodies.

Abbott has also been criticised for his opposition to gay marriage, for the introduction of the nation's most restrictive abortion laws, and for voting reforms that have been widely denounced by voting advocates and civil rights organisations. 

“I’ve told myself, I don’t need to have a conversation,” Cray says. “I’d just rather not associate with somebody who’s on the extreme and being so selfish. We started playing a music that wasn’t particularly popular to start off with at the time we started playing. We’ve gained some notoriety, and I’m fine with that, but I surely don’t need to hang out with Eric Clapton for that to continue."

Drummer Jim Keltner, who's known Clapton for half a century and plays on six of his albums, is puzzled by Clapton's stance. “Nobody I’ve talked to that knows Eric has an answer,” he says. “We’re all in the same boat. We’re all going, ‘I can’t figure it out.’

“It’s something that he brought upon himself. And so I’ve been hoping and praying really, that he can figure out a way to, I don’t say get out of it, but to make it go away somehow so that it doesn’t ultimately interfere with the music."

Earlier this year, Clapton announced he would take a stand against the UK government’s decision to implement a vaccine passport system for gigs and nightclubs, saying, “I will not perform on any stage where there is a discriminated audience. Unless there is provision made for all people to attend, I reserve the right to cancel the show.” 

Clapton's new album, The Lady In The Balcony: Lockdown Sessions (Live) was recorded for an audience of one (Clapton's wife) and is out now. 

Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 38 years in music industry, online for 25. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Once appeared in a Cure video dressed as a cowboy, and thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.