Until yesterday, all that Clapton, 53, knew of his father was that he was Edward Fryer, a Canadian serviceman stationed in England during the Second World War, who returned home in 1945, before he was born.
Now, an Ottawa-based journalist has unearthed a wealth of colourful information. Fryer, it seems, was a womaniser and drifter who earned his living by singing and playing the piano in hotel bars.
Before his death from leukaemia in 1985, he had numerous marriages and long-term relationships which resulted in a clutch of hitherto-unknown stepsiblings for Clapton, including a woman who lives in a trailer park in Florida.
The emergence of these details could not be more timely. Just a month ago, in a rare interview, the elder statesman of rock confided that he was searching for information about his father. "I would like to know where he is buried, or if there is a surviving family," he said.
And, as Clapton embarks on a two-month tour of the United States, it will not escape his American audiences that "My Father's Eyes", a song on his new album, Pilgrim, expresses his regret that he never knew this all-important figure.
It was, of course, in his own role as a father that he experienced the greatest anguish of a life beset by tragedy. In 1991, Conor, his five- year-old son, fell to his death from the 53rd floor of the New York apartment of his mother, the Italian dancer Lori del Santo.
Distraught, he "went off the edge of the world for a while", he said recently. The poignant ballad, "Tears In Heaven", was an attempt to purge his grief. He also found some solace in renewed contact with his daughter, Ruth Kelly, the result of a brief liaison in 1984.
Clapton's family background was already unusual. His mother, Patricia, was pregnant with him at 16; he was brought up in Ripley, Surrey, by his grandparents and until the age of 12 believed Patricia was his sister.
The Sixties were when he rose to stardom; by the following decade, he was caught up in a self-destructive cycle of booze and drugs that lasted until he joined Alcoholics Anonymous in 1982. His appearance at the Live Aid concert in 1985 marked the revival of his career.
Nowadays, Clapton is ultra-respectable. He wears Armani suits, owns houses in Chelsea, Surrey and on the Caribbean island of Antigua, and has a valuable and eclectic art collection. He performs regularly and counsels recovering drug addicts and alcoholics.
He remains, irrespective of his different incarnations, one of rock's greatest survivors, and a consummate musician who has proved that white boys can sing the blues. His heroes were legends such as Robert Johnson, BB King and Muddy Waters. Like them, he has called himself "one man and his guitar versus the world".Reuse content