Eric Clapton’s Fans Have 3 Theories About His Nickname, Slow Hand

Nowadays, we see our favorite stars come of age on the Internet. Many modern celebrities and performers are discovered on YouTube or TikTok, allowing followers to watch their career from beginning to end. Although there’s no shortage of websites documenting the achievements of performers of old, some moments are inevitably lost to time. 

Though guitarist Eric Clapton continues to work on new projects, his early career has gained legendary status. And, like the earliest legends, some details have become distorted throughout decades of oral history.

Most notably, even the most dedicated fans struggle to find a clear source for his iconic nickname. 

Eric Clapton was one of the ’60s top guitarists 

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Clapton discovered his love for guitar at a young age, beginning to play in his early teens. After testing out his talents in minor, local bands, the talented lead joined the Yardbirds.

According to Britannica, Clapton was just eighteen years old at the time, but his signature blues-based style began drawing fans to the group. When he left Yardbirds for Bluesbreakers, the latter band was already well-established, with John Mayall at the helm. Quickly, however, Clapton’s guitar skills became a central part of the band’s success. 

Eric Clapton on stage with a guitar in front of a dark background
Eric Clapton | Steve Rapport/Getty Images

In 1966, Clapton joined forces with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker to form Cream, a band that brought an aspect of rock to Clapton’s classic blues. Although the band would only stay together for two years, they gained international acclaim. It was here that Clapton gained some of his most loyal fans, who would follow him through a few more bands before he eventually went solo. 

Clapton released his first individual endeavor in 1970, but was initially discouraged by its reception. Struggling with addiction, he took a break from the spotlight before returning with one of his greatest releases, 461 Ocean Boulevard. 

Clapton’s nickname “Slowhand” has ambiguous origins

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To date, Clapton has released 24 studio albums, an impressive discography that spans over 50 years. His seventh release, Slowhand, pays homage to a nickname he earned during his career. Although the title would imply that Clapton was in on the joke, it would seem as though no one truly understands the moniker. 

There are three primary explanations for the nickname, spread and defended by super fans. Although most can agree that the name came from Clapton’s manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, no one truly knows why. According to Where’s Eric, Clapton himself may be responsible for the confusion.

In 2007, Clapton blamed his guitar strings — they were prone to breaking onstage, and fans would mock him with a slow clap as he repaired them. This theory was backed by one of his former bandmates, as reported by American Blues Scene

But Clapton had gone on the record before his 2007 autobiography… with a very different story. He told his 80s biographer that, “[Giorgio] 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.” In 1999, in an online chat, the guitarist simply said he thought that “it might have been a play on words from the “Clap” part of [his] name.”

The name is just one part of Clapton’s legacy

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His name origins may have been questionable, but his talent certainly is not. According to Biography, Clapton is the only triple inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He is recognized for his work with The Yardbirds and Cream, as well as for his successful solo career. 

At 75 years old, Clapton continues to make music and host his Crossroads Guitar Festival. It would appear that Slowhand isn’t slowing down anytime soon.