By Damian Fanelli
On this date 45 years ago—Sunday, August 1, 1971—former Beatle George Harrison hosted the world’s first-ever grand-scale rock ‘n’ roll benefit concert, the Concert for Bangladesh, at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Actually, it was two concerts in one; the matinee show took place at 2:30 p.m., followed by a second show at 8. All of it was inspired by Harrison’s good friend and mentor, sitar master Ravi Shankar.
In November 1970, a cyclone ravaged East Pakistan and West Bengal, killing 500,000 people and displacing thousands more. The disaster and its aftermath exacerbated tensions between the people of East Pakistan and the Pakistani government, leading to a war in 1971 and, later that year, the creation of Bangladesh.
“I felt I had to do something,” Shankar told The Guardian in 2011. “I was in this terrible state of mind when George came to LA for a few days. He saw I was looking so sad, he was really concerned, and so I asked if he could help me. Immediately he called his friends.”
The friends Harrison assembled for the shows included fellow former Beatle Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, Badfinger, bassist Klaus Voormann and guitarist Jesse Ed Davis (among others). Below, you can check out one of the many highlights of the event, a performance of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that reunites three musicians from the original 1968 Beatles recording: Harrison, Clapton and Starr. The other two former Beatles—John Lennon and Paul McCartney—were invited to take part in the shows, but both declined. Lennon got upset when he realized his wife, Yoko Ono, wasn’t invited to perform; McCartney felt the timing wasn’t right (and the ongoing legal issues with his former bandmates didn’t help matters).
Note how Clapton—who was struggling with heroin addiction at the time and was taking a bit of a “break” from performing—struggles to reach the upper frets on his hollowbody Gibson Byrdland. He would later admit that he “really made it hard” for himself by choosing to use that guitar instead of a solidbody.
A White-Strat-equipped Harrison joins Clapton for the extended guitar solo at the end of the song—unlike the Beatles’ version, where Clapton (playing Harrison’s Gibson Les Paul) plays the solo “solo.”