The Story Behind Why Eric Clapton is called Slowhand

Explanations vary depending on who is telling the story, and when they were asked.

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Photo by Chris Hakkens

Slowhand. God. The Greatest. These are just a few nicknames fans have bestowed upon blues guitarist Eric Clapton. Of all of these, the british rock icon is most often referred to as “Slowhand.” But why is Eric Clapton called “Slowhand”?

Explanations vary. One has Clapton telling biographer Ray Coleman that “Slowhand” was an ironic, tongue-in-cheek allusion to Clapton’s ability to play incredibly fast. “My nickname of ‘Slowhand’ came from Giorgio Gomelsky. He coined it as a good pun. He kept saying I was a fast player, so he put together the slow handclap phrase into ‘Slowhand’ as a play on words.”

A second story comes from Clapton’s bandmate Chris Dreja, rhythm guitarist for the Yardbirds. He’d remarked how Clapton would break a string during a show, and replace it onstage, in front of the audience. English crowds would give Clapton the “slow handclap,” referred to in British slang as being “given the slowhand.”

It appears the story is both, provided by Clapton himself in his 2007 book, Clapton – The Autobiography: “On my guitar I used light-gauge guitar strings, with a very thin first string, which made it easier to bend the notes, and it was not uncommon during the most frenetic bits of playing for me to break at least one string. During the pause, while I was changing my string, the frenzied audience would often break into a slow handclap, inspiring Giorgio to dream up the nickname of ‘Slowhand’ Clapton.”

In November of 1977, Clapton released his fifth studio solo album, Slowhand, containing hits “Cocaine,” “Wonderful Tonight,” and “Lay Down Sally.” Slowhand sold over 3,000,000 copies in the United States alone.

The success and popularity of the album has assured that Clapton’s nickname “Slowhand” will remain.

*Main image – Photo by F. Antolín Hernande