Singer/songwriter Richard Clapton (b. 1949) spent his formative years as a travelling troubadour, working in the UK and Germany during the late 1960s/early 1970s. He played with a few rock bands, as well as working solo in folk clubs. He returned to Australia in 1972 with a batch of songs based on his experiences overseas.
Clapton signed a record deal with Festival/Infinity and a publishing deal with Essex Music. He issued his debut single, `Last Train to Marseilles'/`High Train Girl' (October 1972). Backing musicians were Red McKelvie (lead guitar; ex-Flying Circus, Powderhorn, Third Union Band), Kenny Kitching (pedal steel) and John Capek (piano; ex-Carson), plus the Country Radio rhythm section John Du Bois (bass) and Tony Bolton (drums). The single was not successful, and Clapton joined Sydney jazz-rock band Sun for six weeks (he left in January 1973). He eventually completed his debut album, Prussian Blue, which came out in November 1973. The album produced two more singles, `All the Prodigal Children'/`Hardly Know Myself' (October) and `I Wanna Be a Survivor'/`Prussian Blue' (July 1974). Clapton utilised the services of La De Das on two tracks `Hardly Know Myself' and `I Wanna Be a Survivor', plus a number of other session players like McKelvie, Glenn Cardier (guitar), Russell Dunlop (drums; ex-Levi Smith's Clefs, SCRA), Mike Perjanik (organ), Trevor Wilson (bass; from Home), Mike Lawler (bass; ex-Rajahs) and Ian Bloxham (percussion) on the rest of the album.
Clapton's first chart success came with the single `Girls on the Avenue'/`Travelling Down the Castlereagh' (January 1975). `Girls on the Avenue' came adorned with a gorgeous guitar refrain provided by McKelvie which no doubt added to its success. Interestingly, Festival had shown little faith in `Girls on the Avenue' initially by issuing it as the B-side. Strong radio support resulted in the song becoming a national #2 hit during March. The Girls on the Avenue album produced a second single, `Down the Road'/`Rose Wine Cafe' (June) which was not successful. The non-album single `Please Come Home'/Burn Your Bridges' came out in October. Clapton's third album, Main Street Jive (July 1976), gave rise to one single, `Suit Yourself'/`Kicking the Moon Around' (June 1976). At the end of the year, Clapton undertook a European tour.
The Richard Clapton Band at that stage comprised Canadian Kirk Lorange (lead guitar), Tony Slavich (keyboards), Michael Hegerty (bass) and Jim Penson (drums; ex-Blackfeather). Clapton's next big hit, `Capricorn Dancer'/`Babe Rainbow' (February 1977), was lifted from the Highway One soundtrack album, which also featured tracks by Ol'55, Skyhooks, The Dingoes and The Bilgola Bop Band. The enchanting `Capricorn Dancer' reached #20 in May. Clapton's third album, Goodbye Tiger (August 1977), remains his most celebrated work, an album full of rich, melodic and accessible rock with a distinctly Australian flavour. It established Clapton's reputation as one of the most important Australian songwriters of the 1970s.
Goodbye Tiger reached #5 during November, and produced the singles `Deep Water'/`Factory Life' (September) and `Down in the Lucky Country'/`Wintertime in Amsterdam' (January 1978). `Deep Water' reached #28 in November. Clapton's backing band on the album comprised Lorange, Hegerty, Gunther Gorman (guitar; ex-Home), Cleis Pearce (viola; ex-MacKenzie Theory), Diane McLennan (backing vocals) and Greg Sheehan (drums; ex-Blackfeather, MacKenzie Theory), with assistance from Tony Buchanan (sax; ex-Thunderbirds, Johnny Rocco Band), Tony Ansell (keyboards) and Jim Penson on a number of tracks. For a brief period at the end of 1977, Clapton's touring band comprised Lorange, McLennan, plus three ex-members of Ariel, Tony Slavich, Glyn Mason (guitar, vocals) and Iain McLennan (drums, vocals). In early 1978, he was back to the line-up of Lorange, Diane McLennan, Ansell, Hegerty and Sheehan. Lorange issued a solo album in October 1983, No Apostrophe, on WEA.
Clapton spent most of 1978 touring and recording overseas. He recorded a new album in Los Angeles at the end of the year with help from a host of L.A. session players including Ritchie Zito (guitar), Reggie McBride (bass), Rita Jean Bodine (backing vocals) and Aussie expatriate Doug Lavery (drums; ex-Valentines, Axiom). Two tracks from the American sessions, `Steppin' Across the Line' and `When the Heat's Off', appeared on the compilation album Past Hits and Previews (November). `Steppin' Across the Line'/`Suit Yourself' also appeared as a single.
Clapton's American-recorded album, Hearts on the Nightline yielded two singles, `Hearts on the Nightline'/`When the Heat's Off' (April 1979) and `Ace of Hearts'/`Down the Tracks' (June). The album coincided with a 75-date national tour which began in April. While the album peaked at #17 on the chart, neither single was successful. Clapton's seventh album, Dark Spaces (July 1980; #23 in September), featured the line-up of Tony Ansell, Mark Moffatt (lead guitar; ex-Carol Lloyd Band), Stars' Andrew Durant (rhythm guitar), Clive Harrison (bass; ex-Kush, Avalanche) and Dragon's Kerry Jacobsen (drums), plus contributions from Cleis Pearce (viola), Tony Buchanan (sax), Sam McNally (synthesiser; ex-Stylus) and Mark Meyer (drums). The album's singles were `Get Back to the Shelter'/`Metropolis' (June) and `High Society'/`Le Club Des Fools' (September). Clapton dedicated Dark Spaces to Durant, who had died in June. Clapton sang three songs, `Look After Yourself', `Innocent Bystander' and `Ocean Deep', on the Andrew Durant Memorial Concert album (1981).
In 1982, Clapton signed a new record deal with WEA which resulted in one of his strongest albums, The Great Escape (February). Produced by Mark Opitz, the album gave rise to the singles `I Am an Island'/`Walk on Water' (February), `Spellbound'/`Syncopation Train (April) and `The Best Years of Our Lives'/`Flow in Motion' (September). The hard rocking `I Am an Island' became Clapton's first national hit since `Deep Water', when it reached #20 during March. The Great Escape went as high as #7 the same month. Clapton set off on another extensive national tour in support of the album's release.
His backing band included Harvey James (lead guitar; ex-Ariel, Sherbet), Coz Russo (piano), Graham Thompson (bass; ex-Stars, Avalanche, Russell Morris Band, Broderick Smith Big Combo), Mark Meyer (drums; ex-Stylus, Mark Gillespie Band) and Mary Bradfield (backing vocals). All the players had contributed to the album, alongside Lorange, Clive Harrison, Tony Slavich and Mick `The Reverend' O'Connor (organ; ex-Broderick Smith Band), plus Garry Gary Beers (bass) and Jon Farriss (drums) from INXS. The INXS connection came about when Clapton produced the band's 1981 album, Underneath the Colours. With The Great Escape still in the national Top 20 during May, the compilation The Very Best of Richard Clapton managed to peak at #15.
In 1983, Clapton joined The Party Boys for a tour, taking over from James Reyne. Clapton appeared on the album Greatest Hits (of Other People) and single Bobby Fuller Four's `I Fought the Law'/`The Stealer' (November 1983). In 1984, Clapton signed a new deal with Mushroom Records for the album Solidarity. Once again, Clapton utilised the services of a stellar array of session players, including Graham Thompson, South African Ricky Fataar (drums), Allan Mansfield (keyboards; from Dragon), Kevin Borich (guitar; ex-La De Das), Buzz Bidstrup (drums; ex-Angels), James Black (keyboards; ex-Mondo Rock) and backing vocalists Venetta Fields, Mark Williams and Mary Bradfield.
Solidarity (September 1984) included the singles `The Heart of It'/`Atom Bomb' (August), `Solidarity'/`New World' (October) and `Feelin' Alright Tonight'/`Goodbye Barbara Anne' (February 1985). Clapton's music had always displayed a very soulful edge, and that was particularly evident on tracks like `The Heart of It', `Feelin' Alright Tonight' and `Cry Mercy Sister'. His touring band in support of the album featured Thompson, Slavich, Venetta Fields, Trevor Reading (guitar; ex-Runners) and Gil Matthews (drums; ex-Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Mondo Rock). Clapton was back with WEA for the 1987 album Glory Road (October) and its singles `Glory Road'/`Love is Strong' (September), `Trust Somebody'/`Homeland' (December) and `Angelou'/ `The Underground' (January 1988). Jon Farriss produced Glory Road as a return favour for Clapton's production work on Underneath the Colours.
In September 1989, Clapton issued the live album The Best Years of Our Lives, which featured many of his best songs. `Deep Water'/`Blue Bay Blues' (July) and `Ace of Hearts'/`Solidarity' (September) were issued as singles. Recorded in concert on 16 April 1989, Clapton's backing band for the night comprised Lorange (guitar), Moffatt (guitar), Hegerty (bass), Ben Butler (guitar), Jeff Bartolomei (keyboards) and Steve Sowerby (drums), with Fields and Bradfield on backing vocals. Beers (bass), Farriss (drums) and Jimmy Barnes (backing vocals) also appeared as guest players.
Clapton spent the next four years in contractual limbo. A new record deal with East West fell through, and he went through four changes in management. Finally he signed a five-album contract with Sony, with the first release being Distant Thunder (May 1993). Infused with genuine passion, the album recalled Clapton's finest works such as Goodbye Tiger, Dark Spaces and The Great Escape. The album produced four CD singles, `Happy Valley' (December 1992), `Distant Thunder' (April 1993), `All Fall Down' (October) and `Oceans of the Heart' (January 1994). Backing musicians on the album included Ian Moss (guitar; ex-Cold Chisel), Roger Mason (keyboards; ex-Models), Kirk Pengilly (sax; from INXS), Graham Thompson (bass) and Mark Meyer (drums). Although Clapton had been without a record deal between 1990 and 1993, he continued to draw huge crowds on the touring circuit. He set off on tour again with the release of Distant Thunder. Clapton's second album for Sony, Angeltown (May 1996), included the single `Dixieland' (March).
After being quiet on the recording scene since 1996, Richard Clapton re-appeared in September 1999 with the new double CD compilation, The Definitive Anthology. Featuring 23 tracks and remastered sound quality, the collection was the perfect primer for Clapton’s career, from ‘Girls on the Avenue’ and ‘Capricorn Dancer’, through ‘Goodbye Tiger’ and ‘I Am an Island’ and on to the new single ‘Calling For You’ (August). The album made its debut at #28 on the national chart. Clapton was inducted into the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame at the October 1999 Awards Ceremony.