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Robert Cray quit Eric Clapton tour over song that likened lockdown to slavery

The blues musician was offended by Clapton's anti-lockdown collaboration with Van Morrison

By Charlotte Krol

Robert Cray and Eric Clapton pictured side-by-side in a composite image
Robert Cray; Eric Clapton. (Picture: Wikimedia commons/ Bryan Ledgard; Wikimedia commons/ Raph_PH)

Robert Cray has revealed that he dropped out of supporting Eric Clapton on tour after learning that an anti-lockdown song the rocker wrote contained lyrics comparing it to slavery.

The blues musician said in a new interview that he politely declined to join Clapton for the live shows because his 2020 collaboration with fellow lockdown sceptic Van Morrison, ‘Stand And Deliver’, crudely linked COVID-19 measures to the plight of African-Americans.

Cray explained to The Washington Post that when he quizzed Clapton about the lyrics, some of which read, “Do you wanna be a free man/ Or do you wanna be a slave?“, Clapton’s “reaction back to me was that he was referring to slaves from, you know, England from way back”.

Cray – a Black man born in 1953 into a segregated community in Georgia – was offended by the comparison. After an email exchange he eventually pulled out from the tour and, from what can be gleaned from the interview, ended his friendship with Clapton.

Additionally, the guitarist took issue with a photo he saw of Clapton posing with controversial Texas governor Greg Abbott, who’d publicly backed anti-abortion laws and measures to restrict voters’ rights.

“There’s this great photo [from 2013] at Madison Square Garden after the show, with B.B. King sitting in a chair, Jimmie Vaughan, myself and Eric sitting behind him,” Cray added. “And I looked at that picture of Gov. Abbott, Jimmie Vaughan and Eric Clapton in that similar pose, and I’m going, ‘What’s wrong with this picture? Why are you doing this?’”

Clapton followed up ‘Stand And Deliver’ with another another politically charged song in August called ‘This Has Gotta Stop’. “You wanna claim my soul, you’ll have to come and break down this door,” some of the lyrics read.

He’s a vocal critic of lockdown and, despite being vaccinated against COVID-19, vowed in July to not play shows that require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry.

However, in September Clapton played Smoothie King in New Orleans, which required attendees to have at least one dose of a vaccine or provide a negative test result taken within 72 hours – and to wear a mask [via NME].