Clapton thanks reporter

MICHAEL WOLOSCHUK

, Last Updated: 3:50 PM ET

Looking travel-wearied and limping slightly, the greatest rock guitarist of all time touched ground in the city that will forever ignite thoughts in him of the father he never knew.

It was here that the first details Eric Clapton ever learned about Edward Fryer, his father, were made public in a series of newspaper stories I wrote earlier this year.

As Clapton walked slowly from the gate at the Macdonald Cartier Airport, I looked straight into his eyes and apologized for not being able to reach him before the articles were published.

"I tried to contact you through your agent, but I guess no one gave you the message," I told the blues legend.

Clapton peered over his black horn-rimmed glasses at me and smiled warmly.

"Don't apologize," he said. "I had been looking for my father for years, and you found him. You did a very good job. Thank you very much."

Then the hand that played such classics as Layla, Sunshine of Your Love, Crossroads, and While My Guitar Gently Weeps, reached out and shook mine.

"Give me a call sometime," I said.

"I want to, I want to," Clapton replied, as he thoughtfully fingered my business card before sliding it into the pocket of his black shirt.

Our meeting was the culmination of six months of investigative reporting that began when a friend heard Clapton's song, My Father's Eyes, and told me about it.

My friend believed that -- because I had grown up idolizing the famous guitarist -- I would have the necessary drive to trace the whereabouts of the British rock superstar's unknown father.

Eric Patrick Clapton was born on March 30, 1945 in Ripley, England, a small town just outside London. Until he was nine years old, the young Clapton was led to believe that the grandparents who were raising him were in fact his parents.

He was also told that his mother was his older sister.

Clapton's family had tried to shield the boy from the truth -- that he was the illegitimate offspring of Edward Walter Fryer, a Canadian soldier stationed in England during World War II, and Patricia Molly Clapton, who was 16 years old when she met the Canadian serviceman.

Although he learned the truth about his illegitimacy as a boy, the only detail Clapton ever learned about his father was his name, Edward Fryer.

There were no pictures, no personal history. Only rumours that his father had been a conservative banker from Montreal.

Clapton spent his entire life wondering who his father was. As the millionaire rock star grew older, he began to make discreet inquiries, most recently through the London law firm that manages his affairs.

In March of this year, the guitarist released his latest album, Pilgrim, which featured the song, My Father's Eyes.

The song is about how the closest Clapton ever came to looking into his father's eyes was through the eyes of his young son Conor, who died in 1991 after he plummeted to his death from the 53rd floor of a New York City apartment building.

My friend who introduced me to the song was right -- when I first heard My Father's Eyes, I knew that my quest for Edward Fryer would end only when I had found the man.

My own introduction to Clapton came in 1973, when I was a troubled teenager living in a Montreal group home.

The old Palace Theatre on Ste. Catherine Street was showing a re-release of the 1968 farewell concert given by Cream, the rock power trio that launched Clapton into superstardom.

After I saw Clapton on film and heard his searing, powerful guitar solos, I decided, on the spot, to become a rock guitarist as well.

My admiration for Clapton never waned, even when he released decidedly toned-down records like 461 Ocean Blvd. Against the advice of guitarist friends who turned their nose up at Clapton in favour of either Jimmy Page or Jimi Hendrix, I bought a single ticket for my idol's 1974 performance at the Montreal Forum.

And when I learned that he, like myself, had grown up in a broken home without a father, I fantasized that Clapton would somehow find out about my plight and take me to live with him in England.

Over the years I matured, forsaking my dream of becoming a guitarist myself in favour of writing, a more natural ability.

But I never lost respect for Clapton. In fact, I came to respect how the man grew with each new, overwhelming obstacle that life seemed to continuously hurl his way.

It was with this attitude that I launched into the task of finding Clapton's father, a veritable needle in a haystack.

I spent a month interviewing and poring over service records before I finally had enough information to visit the Ottawa courthouse and request the death certificate for Edward Walter Fryer.

The document told me that Clapton's father was born in Montreal on March 21, 1920, and died in Newmarket, outside Toronto, on May 15, 1985. Fryer never knew that he had fathered a world-famous pop star. I also learned that, like the son he would never know, Fryer had a penchant for beautiful women. He fell in love and married many times.

Fryer was, like his celebrated offspring, a natural-born musician. He played piano and sang at Holiday Inns up and down the east coast of North America. Like Clapton, Fryer was also fond of liquor and preferred the life of a drifter.

All this, as well as interviews with Fryer's ex-wives and the three children Fryer fathered after Clapton was born, were published in stories last spring.

But I never got to meet Clapton face-to-face. When he appeared at a press conference in Toronto before kicking off his Pilgrim tour in April, I was busy tracking down Edward Fryer Jr., his heroin addicted half-brother, in Vancouver.

In one of his interviews with the media that day, Clapton said he was both furious and glad that details about his father had finally surfaced.

"First of all I was furious that I had to find this stuff out through the newspapers," he said. "Then I thought, 'This is great,' because it supplied me with information that I had never had before."

And so it was with a knot in my stomach the size of a boxed set of Clapton CDs that I approached the man quietly walking though the Ottawa airport yesterday.

Clapton was dressed casually: A black shirt hanging loosely over his baggy blue jeans, feet clad in a pair of tan-coloured, rubber-soled shoes, a black vinyl backpack slung over one shoulder.

Standing slightly shorter than I expected, he walked so quietly to the limousine waiting outside I am sure that no one but myself was aware that a certified rock deity had just passed through the airport.

"Mr. Clapton, I'm Michael Woloschuk," I said when we met. "You know, the guy who found your father."

The man I had idolized for years looked me in the eyes and said: "Oh yeah. Nice to meet you."

Only six words, but to me they conveyed information crucial to maintaining my sanity. Clapton wasn't mad at me.

After we spoke, he climbed into a waiting limousine, to be whisked away for the first concert he has given in Ottawa in 30 years.

A return engagement in the city that will always own a piece of his heart.


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