Eric Clapton’s 1956 Fender Stratocaster “Brownie”
Clapton purchased the maple neck Stratocaster at London’s Sound City on May 7, 1967 [Eric Clapton“Brownie” Tribute Stratocaster, Fender Custom Shop]. At that time, Eric was using the Fool SG practically exclusively, and the Strat itself didn’t see much stage-light until around three years later, although its neck had a history of its own on another guitar prior to that.
One the page regarding the 1962 Fender Telecaster/Stratocaster Custom, we’ve mentioned that the neck that Eric used on the Telecaster likely came straight from the Stratocaster that later became known as Brownie. As far as we know, this hasn’t been confirmed by Eric (if you have a piece from Eric where he does talk about this, please be sure to forward it to us), but based on the photographic evidence and the dates when the guitars were used (never at the same time), this is most likely true.
Another factor that goes along with this theory is that Eric paid close attention to the neck, and it seems once he found something he liked, he would stick with it. This could potentially mean that he bought the Strat because the neck was maple and it felt right, while the 1962 Telecaster on which it was fitted originally had a rosewood neck. In the latter part of the interview linked below (we do recommend that you watch it whole), he clearly states that rosewood necks did not appeal to him at all.
What I always looked for on a Strat was a maple neck that had been worn out – you know that was a thing. If it looked brand-new that it was obviously you know – it was like a restaurant, if it is lots of people in there, you know it’s going to be good food. So I just thought if it had all those kind of worn out patches it meant that it had been you know well favored. [The Fender Eric Clapton “Brownie” Tribute Stratocaster : Presented By Guitar Center]
Brownie with Delaney and Bonnie
The guitar was first used on stage sometime during the tour with Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, and it can be seen in February 1970 at the Fillmore West, San Francisco – which was, of course, part of the band’s US tour. It is therefore likely that the guitar was assembled back sometime between mid and late 1969, as the Telecaster was last seen with the neck on it in July 1969 in Helsinki, while the Stratocaster wasn’t used until early 1970.
There are however very few photos available from around this period, so the exact date on which this guitar first appeared can only be guessed. It is however very likely that the guitar was available for Eric at least from November 1969, which is when the first few tracks for his solo album (Eric Clapton, 1970) were recorded at the London’s Olympic Studios.
He did state in an interview with Guitar Player in 1971 that this Stratocaster was his main guitar with Delaney and Bonnie, but based on the photos (see 1959/60 Gibson Les Paul Custom) it was not used exclusively.
[…] with Delaney and Bonnie, I used an old Stratocaster I’d acquired. It’s really, really good—a great sound. It’s just right for the kind of bag I was playing with them. [GP Flashback Eric Clapton June 1970]
Eric Clapton (August 1970)
This is where the Brownie slowly comes into the spotlight, with Eric making a strong statement that he switched the camps appearing with the guitar on the cover of the album. Ever since the Delaney and Bonnie tour, Clapton has been using this Fender Stratocaster, while previously being known as a heavy Gibson user. Although he did previously use a Fender Telecaster, this is the first Stratocaster of the many that came after it, and the one that is perhaps revered most highly among the fans and historians – not only as most notable Strat that Eric played, but one of the most notable electric guitars in the whole history of rock and roll.
The recording of the 1970 album titled simply “Eric Clapton” was split into three separate sessions [Eric Clapton (1970) – Recording] with significant amount of time between each of them. Due to this, and the lack of any photos from the sessions, it’s hard to tell whether the Brownie was used through all of them. But nonetheless – the point to take is that this was the first time that the Brownie was featured on a studio recording.
Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (November 1970)
The Brownie was most likely used since the very formation of Derek and the Dominos, including the short August 1970 tour that preceded the studio sessions. The album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, which was the band’s only studio album. was recorded from 28 August–2 October 1970 at the Criteria Studios, Miami, Florida – and according to Eric himself [‘Brownie’ – A 1956 Fender Stratocaster – Christie’s] Brownie was used on the whole of the album including the title track Layla.
It is of course also necessary to mention Duane Allman, who played guitar on all tracks on the album except I Looked Away, Bell Bottom Blues, and Keep on Growing (this info is available in the booklet of the 40th Anniversary / 2010 Remastered version of the album). According to Eric, next to the legendary slide solo parts, Duane was also behind the intro riff on the Layla track:
We spent a lot of time working together on the guitars and Duane was very instrumental in the development of the song. He came up with this riff that was pretty much a direct lift from an Albert King song, ‘As The Years Go Passing By’ from the Stax album Born Under A Bad Sign. [The Making Of… Derek And The Dominos’ Layla]
Following the release of the album the band went on a US tour which lasted from mid-October to early December 1970, and also included the band’s appearance on the ABC’s ‘The Johnny Cash Show’ in mid-November. From then on, Clapton took a break from public life which lasted until January 1973 and was only interrupted by a charity Concert for Bangladesh in August 1971 organized by George Harrison and Indian sitar master Ravi Shankar. Brownie was seen on the second show (there were two shows – at 14:30 and 20:00) [1 August 1971 – The Concert for Bangladesh – WhereIsEric].
The guitar made a comeback during the 1975 US tour on which it was used alongside Blackie [Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana during US tour, 1st July 1975. (Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images)]. In the following years, it used to pop up occasionally – for instance at the Nassau Coliseum on April 3, 1978, and on various dates during the 1981 Scandinavian tour. By late 1985 both the Brownie and the Blackie were essentially retired from stage use in favor of the new Eric Clapton Signature Strat.
Brownie’s Auction and Current Whereabouts
Brownie pretty much remained unseen until June 24th, 1999 when Clapton sold the guitar through Christie’s Auction House in New York City to help raise funds for his alcohol and drug treatment center, Crossroads Centre located on the Caribbean island of Antigua. The guitar was sold to EMP Museum (now Museum of Pop Culture) for US$497,500 – becoming the most expensive guitar ever sold at that time.