Eric Clapton, one of the most iconic guitarists of the rock era, is struggling to play the instrument on which he made his name.
Clapton, 73, said damage to his nervous system had made it hard for him to play the guitar because of the illness.
“I’ve had quite a lot of pain over the last year. It started with lower back pain, and turned into what they call peripheral neuropathy - which is where you feel like you have electric shocks going down your leg,” he told Classic Rock magazine.
“And I’ve had to figure out how to deal with some other things from getting old.’’
For years Clapton, whose career encompassed playing with John Mayall, Cream and the first “super group” Blind Faith, lived a life of rock and roll excess.
He struggled with addiction to alcohol, prescription drugs, cocaine and heroin.
“Because I’m in recovery from alcoholism and addiction to substances, I consider it a great thing to be alive at all. By rights I should have kicked the bucket a long time ago.
“For some reason I was plucked from the jaws of hell and given another chance,’ he said.
Clapton is not the only famous musician to have had the condition.
Procul Harum guitarist Dave Ball began suffering from peripheral neuropathy while undergoing chemotherapy in 2012. In an article for Macmillan Cancer Support, he described the sensation as “finger tingles”.
“Basically it feels like your nerves are exposed to the outside world,” explained Ball, who died last year. “Any contact – particularly with cold – can make you ‘uncomfortable’. You end up wearing gloves a lot of the time... Not the best of side effects from my viewpoint,” he added. “I’m a guitarist by trade and as you probably know, we use our fingers to make a noise.”
Andy Fraser, the bassist for Seventies hard rock pioneers Free, also suffered from the condition. Fraser, who died in 2015 aged 62, had been fighting “AIDS… bouts of cancer, peripheral neuropathy, and a long list of not so pleasant medical conditions,” according to an interview he gave in 2014.
And, before he took his own life, Keith Emerson (the keyboardist of Emerson Lake and Palmer) had been struggling with dystonia, a similar condition, caused by a motorcycle accident in 1994 which damaged the nerves in his right hand. “He had an operation a few years ago to take out a bad muscle but the pain and nerve issues in his right hand were getting worse," said his long-term partner, Mari Kawaguchi.
In the UK, almost one in 10 people over the age of 55 suffer from the condition, which is painful but rarely fatal. Diabetes is the leading cause, but it can also be brought on by physical injury, chemotherapy or alcoholism. According to the Mayo Clinic, it can be provoked by nerve pressure from making repetitive motions, such as typing. People with peripheral neuropathy are often prescribed a period of rest, but this can be difficult for musicians. “One of the most frustrating things for a musician is to be told to stop playing if they have a problem,” says Dr Scott E Brown, who runs the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation department at Sinai Hospital, Baltimore. As Clapton’s neuropathy is in his legs, rather than his hands, it is unlikely that the condition was directly caused by his guitar-playing; the condition could have been brought on by his alcohol consumption, rather than any physical injury.
Clapton’s health has been a source of concern for several years. He cancelled a string of concerts in 2013, citing “extreme back pain”. The following year, he said he was “looking at retirement,” as he could no longer handle the strain of touring: “The road has become unbearable,” he told Uncut. “I don’t want to go off the boil to the point where I’m embarrassing myself."
“It might be that I can't [keep playing], if it hurts too much,” he added. “I have odd ailments."
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Sources: Daily Telegraph. Classic Rock magazine, Wikimedia