By Damian Fanelli | Photo: Dave Hogan/Getty Images
In the late Sixties, the Beatles and Eric Clapton kicked off a nearly five-decade-long tradition of recorded collaborations.
Sure, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”—the only official EMI Beatles recording Clapton ever played on—is an undisputed highlight, but Slowhand’s fretwork also graces recordings by all four solo Beatles. In fact, the former Yardbird and Domino is the only guitarist—ever—who played on a Beatles album and on official studio recordings by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.
Clapton even wrote (and played on) a tune for Ringo—”This Be Called a Song”—in 1976. As we’ll see, Clapton and the former Beatles also played on the same sessions for different artists throughout the decades.
Today, however, we’ll restrict our focus to the late Sixties through 1970, the golden era of Clapton-Beatles collaborations. We’ll explore the the rest of the Seventies, Eighties, Nineties and beyond in the near future.
Although they had already been friends since the Beatles’ “moptop” period, Clapton and Harrison never got together in a recording studio (to actually record something) until a few years later. And once they started, the floodgates were opened—at least through 1970 or so; they’d open again several years later.
It’s only fitting that Clapton’s best Beatles buddy was Harrison, the Fab Four’s lead guitarist. The pair had the most in common; they shared a guitar or two (not to mention a wife). Harrison wrote “Here Comes the Sun” at Clapton’s country home; the duo toured with Delaney & Bonnie in 1969 and, well … let’s just get right to the music below!
Please note that this is not a guide to every recorded Clapton-Beatles collaboration during this period; we just want to revisit the highlights. Be sure to check out whereseric.com for a decent (but not altogether accurate) list of Clapton’s session work. Also note that this story doesn’t cover live performances, such as the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, Live Peace in Toronto 1969, various Delaney & Bonnie concerts, the Lyceum Ballroom in late ’69 and so on. Enjoy!
Note: One of the songs below was released in 1971, but we’ve included it because it was recorded in mid-1970. This story is about an “era.”
WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS | The Beatles | 1968
Eric, John, Paul, George and Ringo
Yes, it’s the big one, the obvious one, the “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” one. During the recording of The Beatles (aka the White Album), Harrison, McCartney, Lennon and Starr were getting on each other’s nerves—or so legend has it (although Abbey Road engineer Ken Scott has a different story). To lighten the mood a bit, Harrison asked Clapton to play on his new song. Clapton originally wasn’t into the idea, saying, “Nobody ever plays on the Beatles’ records.” “So what?” Harrison said. “It’s my song.” So Clapton showed up—and, as it turned out, the battling Beatles were on their best behavior that day.
Most of the Beatles’ music is no longer available on YouTube, so you’re stuck with this interesting August 1971 performance of the song featuring Harrison, Clapton and Starr. Odd guitar choice by Clapton……..
SKI-ING | George Harrison | 1968
Eric and George
Around the same time as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” Clapton added some very Cream-esque guitar to “Ski-ing,” a fairly catchy—and super-psychedelic—instrumental from Harrison’s first solo album of sorts, a wonderfully obscure movie-soundtrack disc called Wonderwall Music, which came out in November 1968. The video below gives you a very good idea of what the film—Wonderwall—is like. If you’re into the Sixties, watch it for sure, man. It’s seriously groovy. And very weird.
SOUR MILK SEA | Jackie Lomax | 1968
Eric, Paul, George and Ringo
So, yes, Harrison and Clapton were hanging out a lot around this time. Clapton was even on hand when Harrison, McCartney and Starr recorded a Harrison composition called “Sour Milk Sea” at EMI Records (Abbey Road). It was the A-side of an Apple single released by Jackie Lomax in August 1968. It also appears on Lomax’s 1969 album, Is This What You Want?, which was produced by Harrison.
“With Clapton playing on it, it was on fire,” Lomax said. “When the backing tape was played back, I thought it worked as an instrumental. ‘You want me to sing on top of that?!’ There I am in the studio and there are three Beatles in the control room watching me … I guess I was nervous at first, but after a couple of takes I was into it.” Lomax died in September 2013 at age 69.
BADGE | Cream | 1969
Eric and George
When Cream decided to call it quits in late ’68, each member of the band, including Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, was required to come up with a new song for the group’s final album, Goodbye, which was released in February 1969. Clapton called on Harrison for assistance.
“I was writing the words down, and when we came to the middle bit, I wrote ‘Bridge,’ ” Harrison said. “And from where [Eric] was sitting, opposite me, he looked and said, ‘What’s that—Badge?’ ” Clapton wound up calling the song “Badge” because it made him laugh. For the session, which took place only a month after “While My Gently Weeps,” Harrison played rhythm guitar. Clapton, playing a shimmering, Beatles-inspired arpeggio riff through a Leslie rotary-speaker cabinet, enters the song at 1:06 and plays the rest of the way through. His solo was overdubbed later.
THAT’S THE WAY GOD PLANNED IT | Billy Preston | 1969
Eric and George
In early 1969, when Cream were history and the Beatles were quickly heading in that direction, Harrison invited Clapton to sit in on sessions for Billy Preston’s fourth studio album, which Harrison was co-producing. Clapton’s brilliance is best represented on the album’s powerful title track, which you can hear below. While the verses and chorus feature Clapton’s sympathetic fills, things take off during the song’s final two and a half minutes. It’s as if Preston and Harrison pulled Clapton aside and said, “Okay, go nuts, man!” Maybe he was inspired by the presence of Ginger Baker, who also plays on the track.
COLD TURKEY | John Lennon (Plastic Ono Band) | 1969
Eric, John and Ringo
In late September 1969, John Lennon rounded up Ringo, Klaus Voormann (who plays bass on many songs on this list, by the way) and Clapton and recorded his second solo single, “Cold Turkey.” Clapton was no stranger to the song; he had performed it with Lennon a few weeks earlier in Toronto.
ART OF DYING | George Harrison | 1970
Eric and George
In mid-1970, Clapton played on Harrison’s solo masterpiece, All Things Must Pass. Although the album’s liner notes didn’t bother mentioning it, Clapton can be heard on “I’d Have You Anytime” (see below), “Art of Dying” and several other outstanding tracks. Below, check out the wah-tastic “Art of Dying,” which is the closest Harrison got to hard rock as a solo artist.
“It was awesome when we were doing ‘Art of Dying’ [with] Eric on that wah-wah and it was all cooking—Derek and the Dominos with George Harrison,” wrote Derek and the Dominos’ Bobby Whitlock in his 2010 autobiography. The sessions actually led to the formation of Derek and the Dominos, whose original (pre-Duane Allman) lineup—Clapton, Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon—all played on the track.
I’D HAVE YOU ANYTIME | George Harrison | 1970
Eric and George
We’re not going to leave this era without pausing to hear “I’d Have You Anytime,” the Harrison/Bob Dylan tune that opens Harrison’s 1970 masterpiece, All Things Must Pass. Clapton’s emotive guitar playing is front and center, where it belongs. His solo—which sounds a bit like “Something,” as if he were trying to play Harrison-style guitar for a Harrison track—is exquisite.
“It just seemed like a good thing to do [to open the album with ‘I’d Have You Anytime’],” Harrison said in 2000. “Maybe subconsciously I needed a bit of support. I had Eric playing the solo, and Bob had helped write it.”
ROLL IT OVER | Derek and the Dominos | 1970
Eric and George
During those same sessions, Clapton rounded up the early, pre-Duane Allman version of Derek and the Dominos and recorded “Roll It Over,” which features Harrison on guitar. “Roll It Over” was the B-side of the band’s short-lived first single (It was pulled from shelves very soon after its release), which featured a rushed/spastic version of “Tell the Truth” on the A-side.
I AIN’T SUPERSTITIOUS | Howlin’ Wolf | 1971
Eric and Ringo
Clapton and Starr found themselves in the same recording studio in early May 1970 while working on this track from The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions. Check out Clapton’s Strat tone—and remember this is the spring of ’70. It’s basically the sound he’d use on his mid- to late-Seventies albums, including No Reason to Cry, Slowhand and Backless. Although it all definitely works, it’s a bit jarring to hear Ringo’s trademark drumming on a Howlin’ Wolf song!
Stay Tuned for Part 2!