When Eric Clapton found himself involved in the drug bust that signaled the beginning of the end for Buffalo Springfield, the English guitarist wound up enduring what he called a night of hell.

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He was touring the U.S. with Cream in March 1968 when cops broke up a jam session at the California home of Stephen Stills’ girlfriend. The noise generated by the guitarists’ “stacked” amps had upset neighbors, resulting in the police visit – but when officers discovered the amount of drugs in the building, they arrested everyone in sight.

So it was that Clapton – who was just shy of his 23rd birthday at the time – found himself being taken to a county jail, stripped of his clothing, deloused and hosed down, then clad in prison denim. In Chris Welch’s 2011 book Clapton: The Ultimate Illustrated History, Slowhand’s own account of the event included his recollection of Neil Young suffering a seizure as they were being processed.

"While they were doing all this Neil just went, ‘Wh-o-o-a-!’” Clapton said. “They took him out of the room, and it was the last I saw of him. They left me in my pink boots and threw me in a cell with three Black Panthers. It was like I was a punk, you know? I just had to keep talking and tell them I was English and didn’t really understand what was going on.

“I told them I played blues guitar and dug Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. It worked. It cooled them out – just about. I think they had been in for about three or four years. … There was one guy there who had been applying for bail every day for seven years, but nobody had put the money up for him.”

Clapton himself was bailed soon enough and wound up with a conviction for disturbing the peace – a charge low enough to avoid the possibility of deportation. “When I look back, it was a good experience,” he said. “I knew never to get busted. No way. One night of that was hell. It’s a good idea when they take young offenders to a prison and show them what it’s like, because it’s not like joining the army. ... And I had pink boots on and a frizzed-out Afro hairstyle.”

 

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