The Woman Eric Clapton Thought was His Sister was Actually His Mother

Today I found out, until he was nine years old, the woman Eric Clapton thought was his sister was actually his mother.

Clapton’s mother, Patricia Molly Clapton, was just 16 years old when she met and subsequently had a very brief relationship with Clapton’s father, Edward Walter Fryer.  Fryer was a 24 year old Canadian soldier stationed in Britain during the tail end of WWII.  In order to earn extra cash, Fryer would play piano and sing at various clubs around where he was stationed, something he’d actually been doing for a living since the age of 14 when he ran away from home.  While stationed in Surrey in 1944, he performed at a small pub in Surrey, where he met Patricia Clapton one fateful night and she became pregnant with Eric Clapton.

Due to the social stigma attached to being a child born out of wedlock in 1940s Britain and the various difficulties for a 16 year old girl in raising a child,  Patricia’s mother and step father agreed to raise Eric as their own, including telling him he was their son and his mother was his sister.

Even though Patricia’s step father’s last name was different than her own (Clapp instead of Clapton) and this might tip people off that Eric was not the son of his grandparents, Eric was given the last name of his real mother (Clapton), which was the last name of Patricia’s real father, Reginald Cecil Clapton, who her mother had separated with and subsequently married Jack Clapp.

When Eric Clapton was only a few years old, his real mother, Patricia, married another Canadian military man, Frank MacDonald, and moved around with him, primarily to Canada and, for a time, Germany.  Even though she was now old enough to raise Eric, indeed, having other children quite quickly after being wed, she still chose not to do so and continued to act the part of Eric’s sister.  It wasn’t until he was nine years old when Patricia came by for a visit, bringing along his six year old half-brother, that Clapton was told the truth by his grandmother.  Even once he knew the truth though, he still remained with his grandparents and he and his real mother continued to play the part of brother and sister.

Eric Clapton’s Father

Clapton never got to meet his father, as Fryer died of leukemia in 1985, long before Clapton had found out much of anything about him other than his name, which his grandmother had told him.  It wasn’t until 2007, thanks to a Montreal journalist Michael Woloschuk, who had tracked down Fryer and his family, that Clapton learned more about his father, including that he had been a traveling musician who played the piano and saxophone and also sang.  Fryer also married several times during his travels and had several other children.  It is also thought that his father never knew he had a famous musician son, or, at the least, he never mentioned it to friends and family, if he knew.

Bonus Facts:

  • Jack Nicholson also thought his mother was his sister.  In his case though, both his grandmother, who he thought was his mother, and his actual mother, died before he found out.  Read more about this here.
  • Clapton’s son, Conor, who he had with model and actress Lori del Santo while still married to Patti Boyd, died at the age of four years old after falling from a window in del Santo’s 53rd floor New York City apartment.  The window was a full wall window that had been removed by a janitor to let fresh air in while he worked.  Conor was playing hide and seek with a nanny and running from her when he ran into the room with the open window and straight out of it.  Clapton found out when he arrived later to pick up Conor and del Santo to go to the zoo.  This gave rise to one of Clapton’s most popular songs, “Tears in Heaven”, which is referencing Clapton’s grief as well as regret that up until that point he had been a reluctant father who was often absent and, according to del Santo, only the night before had told her that he wanted to become a much bigger part of Conor’s life, only to have Conor die the next day; hence the “Would you know my name, if I saw you in heaven?”
  • According to del Santo, during her pregnancy, Clapton attempted to commit suicide by hanging himself, but ultimately just passed out and eventually regained consciousness.  Clapton’s manager also attempted to get del Santo to abort the baby as he thought del Santo would try to use the baby to extort money from Clapton, which ultimately never happened.
  • Clapton stated in his autobiography: “In the lowest moments of my life, the only reason I didn’t commit suicide was that I knew I wouldn’t be able to drink anymore if I was dead. It was the only thing I thought was worth living for, and the idea that people were about to try and remove me from alcohol was so terrible that I drank and drank and drank, and they had to practically carry me into the clinic.”
  • Clapton’s father also is known to have fathered Eva Jane, who was a huge Clapton fan, even before she found out he was her half-brother. According to Jane, their father had an incredible ear for music and “… could sit down and listen to a song and then play it. I remember after he and mom split up, I remember being in a hotel room and I could go in the bathroom and hear my dad singing and playing in the lounge below. It was amazing. My favorite song he sang was Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head. Even to this day, I can hear this song and remember being a little girl and having nice memories of him. There weren’t very many, but the ones I do have are nice.”
  • The nickname “Slowhand” was not, as is commonly thought, given to Clapton due to playing the guitar slowly.  Rather, it was given to him because of audiences giving him a slow hand clap when he would replace guitar strings on stage.  Rather than go off-stage to fix it or have it fixed by a roady, Clapton would typically stand on stage and replace and tune the string in front of the audience.  While he was doing this, the audience would give him a slow clap or a “slow hand” until he had fixed it and was ready to play again.  This ultimately became a common thing with Clapton, while with the Yardbirds, where whenever he’d break a string during a performance, the audience would give him a slow clap until he was finished replacing it.  According to Clapton, Giorgio Gomelsky, who managed the Yardbirds, then gave him the nickname “Slowhand”: “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.”
  • Eric Clapton has been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame three times, once with the Yardbirds, once with Cream, and then a third time as a solo artist.  He is the only person to have been inducted that many times.
  • The phrase “Clapton is God” as a popular saying came from someone spray painting that on a wall in Islington Underground station.  Someone subsequently snapped a picture of this with a dog peeing on the wall, which ultimately became an extremely popular photo and gave rise to the saying popularly.
  • Clapton was good friends with Jimi Hendrix and was supposed to meet Hendrix on the night of his death at a Sly and the Family Stone concert.  Clapton had bought him a guitar which was a rare one made for a lefty (Hendrix usually just played right handed guitars upside down).  Hendrix did not show up to meet him that night. Clapton stated: “The next day, I heard that he had died. He had passed out, stoned on a mixture of booze and drugs, and choked on his own vomit. It was the first time the death of another musician really affected me. We had all felt obliterated when Buddy Holly died, but this was much more personal. I was incredibly upset and very angry, and was filled with a feeling of terrible loneliness.”   Clapton also stated: “I went out in the garden and cried all day because he’d left me behind. Not because he’d gone, but because he hadn’t taken me with him. It just made me so fucking angry. I wasn’t sad, I was just pissed off.”
  • Clapton was also among the last people ever to be with Stevie Ray Vaughan, having given up his seat on the helicopter that ultimately crashed, killing Vaughan.  Clapton gave the seat to him because Vaughan wasn’t feeling well and he didn’t want him to have to wait for the next helicopter.  Amazingly, Clapton was also supposedly one of the last people to see Duane Allman before he died in a motorcycle crash.  Moral of the story, if you are a famous guitarist, don’t hang out with Eric Clapton apparently. 😉
  • Eric Clapton played on numerous albums to which he was never credited, such as many of George Harrison’s solo albums.  The lack of credit on these various albums was supposedly primarily due to contractual constraints.
  • The songs “Layla” and “Wonderful Tonight” were written for George Harrison’s wife, Pattie Boyd, whom Clapton fell in love with and tried to win over while she was still married to Harrison.  Boyd initially rejected Clapton, which gave rise to several songs, such as Layla.  The title of the song was in reference to “The Story of Layla and Majnun“, which is a book by Nezami Ganjavi, and is about a man who falls in love with a woman he can’t have.
  • Clapton ultimately married Boyd after she separated from Harrison.  However, Boyd eventually divorced Clapton citing his affair with del Santo as one of the primary reasons for the divorce, along with “unreasonable behavior”, referring to his various addictions and subsequent negative behavior that followed from them.  According to del Santo, Clapton had wanted all three of them to live together, but Boyd rejected the idea and filed for divorce.
  • Clapton once dated famed groupie Geraldine Edwards, who was the original inspiration for Almost Famous‘ Penny Lane.
  • The drummer for Clapton’s band, Derek and the Dominos, is currently serving a lifetime sentence in a mental institution for killing his mother.  Unknown to anyone at the time, he was schizophrenic and eventually had a psychotic episode, during which, he murdered his mom.
  • Along with Clapton and Jack Nicholson, Ted Bundy was another famous person to have grown up thinking his mother was his sister.  His father is unknown.  His mother claims that it was a sailor she met named Jack Worthington, but his family suspected that was a cover up story and his real father is his grandfather, Samuel Cowell, who was known to be abusive.  Samuel Cowell and his wife Eleanor were the ones who raised Bundy.  Bundy discovered the truth about his mother when a cousin mocked him and showed him a copy of his birth certificate.
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  • Regarding your origin of the “Slowhand” nickname: Whilst I don’t dispute the reasoning behind it, I Just wanted to say that it I’m almost certain EC joined the Yardbirds BEFORE John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers so it is likely that the first time this happened was with the former band. The Yardbirds were his first professional band and his grandparents had to sign the contract on his behalf because he was still a minor (I think..)

    Thanks for the really interesting submission 🙂


    • Daven Hiskey

      @Steve Holton: Good catch! You’re correct; I typed it backwards. He was with the Yardbirds first, two years before the Bluesbreakers. Fixed it. Thanks!

  • Bobby Darin,was raised by his grandmother, it was not until he was 32, that he learned that the woman he believed to be his elder sister was his birth mother.

  • That was common practice for sluts back in the day.

  • According to Cameron Crowe’s official website, Pennie Trumbull was the main inspiration for ‘Almost Famous.’ Geraldine Edwards is not mentioned….unless you assume she is included in the phrase ‘conglomeration of band-aids.’

  • Jim Gordon – the drummer, not the Police Commissioner of Gotham – wasn’t just some timekeeper for Derek & the Dominos. He co-wrote Layla. He was a prolific session and touring drummer for an unbelievable number of artists in the 60’s and 70’s.

    • While Jim Gordon was a great drummer, according to Graham Nash, the piano melody (played by Gordon) at the end of ‘Layla’ was actually composed by singer Rita Coolidge, with whom Nash lived for some time. Gordon was also an ex of Ms. Coolidge’s. They were both in Delaney & Bonnie’s band and then Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen (which was largely all former D&B band members). Whilst in the latter, Gordon battered Coolidge, leaving her with bruises and black eyes she concealed with sunglasses. The dark side of his psyche was seemingly exacerbated by excessive drug taking during his time with Derek & the Dominoes, once again all former members – Clapton included – of D&B’s band. Another D&B band member, Jim Keltner – best known these days as one of the session greats, with everyone from Dylan to the Travelling Wilburys on his list of credits – was the original choice of drummer, though he was busy with Gabor Szabo and thus unavailable. In here recent book and in interviews Ms. Coolidge has raised the matter of that ‘Layla’ music being hers, coming from her song, ‘Time’.