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George Harrison started playing slide guitar after seeing what Eric Clapton and other great guitarists were doing on the instrument in the mid-1960s. His interest in the sitar had taken over for a bit, but once he dropped it, he felt out of touch with the guitar. So, George decided to start playing slide to freshen up his sound.

Clapton undoubtedly inspired George. The Beatle was content having the Cream guitarist play his solos, but Clapton loved George’s work just as much.

George Harrison and Eric Clapton performing together on a TV program in the 1980s.
George Harrison and Eric Clapton | Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

George Harrison said Eric Clapton did things on the guitar that took him ages to do

The guitarists worked together on many projects over the decades, their first being George’s Beatles song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Most of the time, in their collaborations, George let Clapton take the guitar solos. He told Guitar Player that it never hurt his ego. George knew Clapton did things on the guitar that took him ages to figure out.

“Yeah, I love Eric,” George said. “I love the touch he has on his guitar. When he comes over to play on my songs, he doesn’t bring an amplifier or a guitar; he says, ‘Oh, you’ve got a good Stratocaster.’ He knows I’ve got one because he gave it to me. [Laughs] He plugs in, and just his vibrato and everything… he makes that guitar sound like Eric.

“That’s the beauty of all the different players that there are. There are players who are better than each other, or not as good, but everybody’s got their own thing. It’s like a 12-bar blues. You can’t do a 12-bar the same way twice, so they say. There’s things that Eric can do where it would take me all night to get it right – he can knock it off in one take. Because he plays all the time.”

George was also self-critical in an interview with Mark Rowland (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters).

“I feel in a way, you know, I know I’m supposed to be a guitar player, but I don’t really feel like one,” George said. “I pick up the guitar when I want to write a tune, and I play it when I make a record, and I’ve actually played on a few other people’s records, which is really interesting, but I had to do it in my own way.

“I’m not like somebody, say Eric Clapton… you know, you say, ‘Eric, come on over,’ and he’ll plug in his guitar, listen to the thing, and he’ll just blow the general thing, play it and be of a certain standard immediately. For me, I have to really figure out what I’m going to do and even learn maybe a part because I’m just not that fluent with it.”

When George returned to the guitar after his obsession with the sitar mellowed, he looked at what Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were doing. They made him want to freshen up his sound, and he started playing slide guitar. Soon, George’s slide work impressed his friend.

George was touched when Clapton would compliment his slide guitar work

Most of the time, George was overly critical of his guitar playing. However, he did know that Clapton was just as impressed with him. George said that when Clapton showed appreciation for his slide work, it meant the world to him.

“But then again, when we’re listening to some of my slide bits, he’ll look at me, and I know he likes it,” George told Guitar Player. “And that, for me, if Eric gives me the thumbs up on a slide solo, it means more than half the population.”

Clapton wasn’t the only person who showed George some love.


George Harrison Claimed Writing a Rockabilly Song Was Hard

The former Beatle was surprised when people asked him to play slide guitar for them

When George started playing slide guitar, he thought he’d see where it led. George had to drop the sitar for fear of losing touch with the guitar, but Indian music inspired his slide guitar style. He had no idea that people would love his playing.

He told Guitar Player, “It sort of sounded funkier than what I could with my fingers at that time. It developed from that, without me realizing it.”

George often went to Clapton for his guitar solos. However, suddenly, people wanted George to play slide on their records. On top of that, musicians also started emulating his slide guitar on their records. All of it touched George.

“Then people would come up and say, ‘Would you play slide on my record?’ I’m thinking, ‘Really? Are you sure?’ Then, I don’t know, I started hearing people sort of imitating me doing slide–which is very flattering. But, again, like I was saying about the sound–‘How did you get that sound?’–I didn’t think it was that good.”

Eventually, George did appear on some of his fellow musicians’ albums. George thought his best slide work came when he performed on a couple of songs on Belinda Carlisle’s third solo albumRunaway Horses. He also thought his slide work on “This Is Love” on his 1987 album, Cloud Nine, was good. Sometimes, George admitted, he’d black out during perfect slide guitar solos.

George might’ve felt he wasn’t the best guitarist, but he soared on slide guitar. It’s one of his most famous styles that made him one of the best rock ‘n’ roll guitarists ever.