The year was 1975. Eric Clapton had just flown into Tulsa, Oklahoma to perform. News of Eric’s arrival was quickly known for he had gotten arrested! The Church Studio talked with John Southern, a photojournalist and local musician, that captured the infamous photo of Eric Clapton in Jail. From a first-hand perspective, check out what John had to say with our recent interview.
Before taking your legendary photo of Eric, what did you think about Eric Clapton and his working with the Tulsa boys…Jamie Oldaker, Dicky Simms, and Carl Radle among others?
“I had been a Clapton fan since the Cream album days, and through Blind faith, so I was well familiar with his abilities as a Guitarist. I was aware of his use of the local Tulsa County Band members for the most part, playing in his band.”
How did you learn that Eric had been arrested and how were you able to access the jail to take the photo?
“When I heard the call on the police scanner at the Tulsa World photo department , where I was working, when they said “1015 (in route to jail) with Eric Clapton”. I immediately assumed that he had come into town to do a guest walk on with the band, and immediately assumed it to be “the” Eric Clapton…. I immediately grabbed my Nikkormat and attached the Strobe unit and set it for full power, manual and set my F- stop for for F/16 and preset my focus to 10 feet..so I would have the best chance of getting the shot I wanted in sharp focus under suspect conditions. I ran out the door and to the jail booking area, which I was familiar with, having waited there several times for different arrested suspects to come in and I would try to get their photo on the way in. It was about a half mile run and I was pretty winded when I got there. I was able to kick the door open with my feet (al- La Erroll Flynn) and snap two shots before he disappeared inside.”
Why was Eric arrested?
“I later learned that Eric was pretty drunk a the Tulsa Airport and had thrown his luggage from the second floor the the lower floor of the lobby and was yelling and making a scene, so he was arrested for public intoxication.
How does it feel to know that you are “that guy” that took this fascinating photo?
“I was excited to have managed to get the shot, yet sorry that Eric screwed up and got arrested. BUT it was news, I knew that, and I was a NEWSMAN. It wasn’t just my job, it was who I was in those days.”
During the 1970s; Tulsa became a hotbed for well-known musicians, mainly due to the return of Leon Russell to his home town and opening his mansion studio and The Church Studio, home office to Shelter Records. What was it like from your perspective?
“By 1975 I had been to Nashville to try to get a break into the Music Industry myself and was, as every one is, shut out. I had been to Los Angeles for a week of rejection, Dick Clark’s secretary told me “Go home he isn’t going to help you.” 3,000 people a year had shown up at her door in those days. I had taken my songs to a fellow with Shelter Records and the Church Studio named Simon Miller Munday. He was married to Emily Smith (Leon’s Muse) at the time. Any way, I had had it with asking to be accepted to the in crowd clique, and bought a multitrack recording system from Rosetta Pierre at Sevco, and a mixer from Joe Schuman , and set up to multi track in my living room. I took out a loan from the World and Tribune Credit union, and recorded and mixed my tapes at Sonny Gray’s studio , then drove to Dallas to A & R Music and pressed my own album, Equinox. I eventually sold about 500 copies for $5.00 apiece.”