• Sale 1392

    CROSSROADS GUITAR AUCTION

    24 June 2004, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 88

    FENDER

    'BLACKIE' CIRCA 1956 AND 1957, A COMPOSITE FENDER STRATOCASTER

    Price Realised  

    FENDER
    'BLACKIE' CIRCA 1956 AND 1957, A COMPOSITE FENDER STRATOCASTER
    The headstock bearing the logo Fender/STRATOCASTER/WITH SYNCHRONIZED/TREMOLO/ORIGINAL/Contour/Body, neckplate engraved -20036, the body of alder in later black finish fitted with three single-coil pickups, 21 fret maple neck of pronounced 'V' shape with black dot inlays and single string clip; and Anvil case stencilled in white with an image of two cartoon duck heads and lettering THE/DUCK BROS./LONDON 01 486 8056 with adhesive tape inscribed by Lee Dickson Auction #15/BK/'56 '57 Black/Stratocaster


    Blackie served as Eric Clapton's practically sole stage and studio guitar for 15 years of his career from late 1970 to 1985. Clapton told Dan Forte in his 1985 interview published in Guitar Player:


    "I feel that that guitar has become part of me. I get offered guitars and endorsements come along every now and then. [A guitar maker] tried to get me interested in a fairly revolutionary guitar. I tried it, and liked it, and played it on stage - liked it a lot. But while I was doing that, I was thinking "Well, Blackie is back there. If I get into this guitar too deeply, it's tricky, because then I won't be able to go back to Blackie. And what will happen to that?" This all happens in my head while I'm actually playing [laughs]. I can be miles away thinking about this stuff, and suddenly I shut down and say, "This is enough. No more. Nice new guitar. Sorry. You're very nice, but..." That's when I drag the old one back on, and suddenly it's just like jumping into a warm pool of water".


    Clapton first played Blackie on stage at the Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, London on the 13th January 1973 at the concert organised by Pete Townshend and others to encourage Clapton's recovery from addiction. Clapton was to play two shows that night, he played Blackie (with a tremolo arm) in the first show, and used George Harrison's cherry red Les Paul for the second.

    When Clapton fully resumed his recording and touring activity in 1974 after overcoming heroin addiction, he and Blackie were seemingly inseparable. Starting with a short tour of Scandinavia in June, Clapton extensively toured the US, Japan and Europe in 1974 with Blackie. Years of intensive world tours with Blackie followed throughout the rest of the 1970s, which were only broken up by recording sessions. Blackie shared stage with among others Carlos Santana on the 1975 tour, Freddy King at the Crystal Palace Garden Party and at the Dallas Convention Center in 1976, The Band at the Last Waltz concert in 1976, Bob Dylan at Blackbushe Aerodrome in 1978 and Muddy Waters in 1979. The jubilant "comeback" album 461 Ocean Boulevard, the phenomenally successful album Slowhand , the critically acclaimed No Reason To Cry and the historic live album Just One Night from the 1970s, were all recorded with Blackie.

    In the early 1980s Blackie was by Clapton's side as he fought his way back from ill health and alcoholism and shared the stage with Muddy Waters in one of his last performances in 1982. In 1983, newly recovered Clapton, with Blackie in his hand, acted as the musical director for the star studded ARMS benefit tour for Ronnie Lane, featuring members of the Rolling Stones, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Stevie Winwood and Joe Cocker. This was followed by recording and touring with Roger Waters on his Pros and Cons of Hitch Hiking project. The Behind The Sun album and the subsequent triumphant 1985 world tour, which included the landmark appearance at Live Aid at JFK Stadium, Philadelphia in the summer of 1985, marked Eric Clapton's renewed vigour for making music. It also marked the end of an era for Blackie, as the famous guitar was retired to give way to its offspring, the Eric Clapton Signature Stratocaster, the idea for which was conceived after the first night of the 1985 tour. Blackie's last stand at the 1985 tour concert in Hartford on the 1st of May, was filmed and released on video. Blackie also made it to the first promo video by Eric Clapton for the song Forever Man from the Behind The Sun album.

    The last known occasion when Blackie was seen by the public was for the 1990 television commercial for Honda Japan when, at the specific request of the company, Clapton used Blackie to record a new guitar solo on the song Bad Love in a New York studio and was filmed for the commercial doing so. Blackie was also brought out on stage for one number during the 1991 Royal Albert Hall shows.

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    EC: It is such a personal thing - I almost made this guitar myself...from different components, and I've never done that before or since. From six or seven Strats I had bought in Sho.Bud in Nashville. They had them all [displayed] in the back room, when Stratocasters were out of fashion. I bought them for 100 bucks each... I brought them back [to England]. I gave [three of] them to friends: George [Harrison], Steve [Winwood] and Pete [Townshend]; and I kept two or three for myself, and built this [Blackie] out of those. With pickups from one, scratchplate from another, and the neck from another. I played it until it was [time to retire the guitar]...It is still playable...It's immensely playable, but I suppose I was concerned that I was probably doing it more harm than good taking it out...I had so much affection for the guitar that I didn't want to work it anymore really, I think it was time to retire it, because it was getting thin. The neck was [beginning to] wear down...But having said that, it would still come out on special occasions and...it got played... on albums...
    LD: I think that around about this time [we retired Blackie]... coincidentally Dan Smith and John [Page] were around and decided that maybe we could make an Eric Clapton Strat.

    EC: This is the template for all of those signature guitars. They got as close as they reasonably could...
    LD. I have very many fond memories and a great deal of pride looking after [Blackie]...Sounds great - still plays great..everything.

    EC: The only thing that these pickups [on Blackie] have that we can never get on the new pickup, is that in between tone switch. Between the 2nd and the bridge pickup - it's one of the greatest sounds you can get out of a Stratocaster. You can get it [on the new models], but it doesn't have...

    LD: The same magic.

    EC: No.

    CW: Is Blackie very different to play than Brownie was - because that was the killer guitar in the last sale?

    EC: Better...Better.

    CW: It's the neck you particularly like on Blackie isn't it?

    EC: Yes, it's the neck.

    LD: Brownie had a much thicker, clubbier neck..

    EC: Yes, Brownie was a much more industrial guitar. This one is really refined, it's like the racer [by comparison]. I had Brownie before this...I bought those [six Strats.] just after I made Layla that year when I was on tour [1970 with Derek and the Dominos]... This was used on everything after that. Slowhand and all those...

    CW: Is that the album you particularly associate with this guitar?

    EC: Yes ..because it's on the cover of Slowhand - that's the one.

    MF to EC: Was there ever a period without a black Strat? Did the first custom one come towards the tail end of Blackie or was there a period where black Strats were out of the picture?

    EC: I think even today that's [Blackie's] kind of my ideal. I use the graffiti Strats because they're exciting...But if you asked me to pick the classic Fender - it's s black Strat. with a maple neck.

    CW: Will it be very hard for you to part with Blackie?

    EC: Yes it will be...But I have to put it into perspective. .. I don't see Blackie all that often. My working relationship with that guitar was exclusively and extensively through the '70s and early '80s and then after that it [was] removed from working life. [so that]...makes it easier...although it's still very difficult.

    MF: Has Blackie ever been lent out to other players?

    LD: There's a kind of voodoo thing around Eric's guitars...I've always been very respectful of them. Even if I didn't have guitars of my own, I would never dream of playing his...No-one's ever played it...never allowed anyone near it..

    CW: Have you thought about whoever buys Blackie - what you would like them to do with the guitar?

    EC: ..Treat it with respect. Whatever that means...I can't really say ..whatever's best for it.

    CW: As long as it goes to a good home.

    EC: Yes - as long as people get to enjoy it..

    CW: Are there particular memories of playing Blackie that stand out more for you than others?

    EC: Touring yes, the gigs all through the '70s...with Carl Radle and the Dominos. It got some incredibly bad treatment, I remember...ending a number in rehearsal, when I was playing with the guys from Tulsa. Jeremy Oldacre, Carl Radle...I remember ending this song by...falling face down on stage on top of Blackie...I cracked the nut..it just shattered. Apart from that the guitar was fine...

    KK - shows EC an old repair on Blackie's headstock - Do you have any memory of this repair?

    EC: I think it was originally there...when I got it.. The reason I chose that neck is because it's got quite an extreme V. It's the most extreme V on a maple neck that I've found. It's a beautiful neck. It has a lovely feel..

    CW: Have they managed to reproduce that neck on the signature guitar?

    EC: Yes to a certain extent. They've done it with an element of safety - they've erred on the side of being functional.

    CW: How old is this neck?

    LD: It's a '57. One of the pickups was clearly put in the year you bought it, because there's a 1970 pickup. But the other two are old. When they copied Blackie's neck - because of the wear and tear on top of the fretboard here, there's a sort of rounding which is a natural thing from the artist playing it...They tried to emulate that on all the Clapton guitars, by using a little glass slide...so it's not too sharp an edge...Because of wood being an organic material, and the fact that Eric's played that guitar so long, those little nuances and touches...couldn't ever really be exactly duplicated

    EC: ..It's a remarkable guitar.