Eric Clapton compared his approach to making music to working on a puzzle that’s never completed – but he can point to one moment when he felt he had achieved a level of satisfaction.

It took place toward the end of Cream’s short-lived but explosive career in 1968 while he was onstage with bandmates Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker. “I create a portion of time for a beginning and an end,” Clapton told Rolling Stone of his creative process in an interview linked with his new documentary, Life in 12 Bars. “It has to make sense, make a picture. If left to my own devices in the studio, I will go over and over and over until I think it is as refined as it can be. ‘Layla’ was like that, like building a puzzle.

“It's never complete. But I remember one night in Philadelphia with Cream. It was near the end of our touring together. We knew it was over. We were just having a good time playing. And I remember thinking, ‘This is as great as it will ever be.’ Have I ever been satisfied? Definitely for one night, yeah.”

The recollection led him to reflect on how things have changed in music through the years. “It was a good time,” he said of the ‘60s and early ‘70s. “There wasn't a consciousness about what would be successful or not. It didn't matter as long as you took a shot at everything and just kept on playing. And if anyone came in, [they could] join in. It was open. By the time I got to the ’90s, I was really confused about the competitive nature of music. Bands were aggressive to one another, judgmental. You just make records and hope that they do better than the other guy's records. In that point you're talking about, anything could happen, and it had nothing to do with success.”

Clapton compared Cream and his friend Ed Sheeran to illustrate his argument. “We didn't consider what we were doing as business," he noted. "I always use Cream as an example. We were just told where to go. We didn't have time to think about how much money we were making, what was the right strategy, which town you should go to. Now you have guys like Ed who direct and produce their own shows. The music is part of that. But we couldn't have done it that way then. It would have been a distraction.”

The guitarist also considered his instrument's relevance in modern music. “There is always something to listen to, to aspire to, with the guitar," he said. "It is still the most flexible instrument. You can improvise on it. You have such freedom. I don't think there is a limit to it. Anyone who talks about [the guitar's irrelevance] should listen to Roebuck Staples. It is so moving. And that's in the past. So it's not about what's to be. It's already there. If you can get in touch with that, you can do anything.”

Clapton also said that he was working on a new album and planning some live shows in 2018 – although he was aiming to perform a number of standalone concerts rather than staging a full tour.

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