How Eric Clapton Ended Up Playing the Solo on The Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’
When George Harrison asked his friend Eric Clapton to play the guitar solo on his new song, Clapton was understandably nervous about the situation. After all, The Beatles weren’t known for guests playing on their records. It basically hadn’t been done, and Clapton wasn’t keen on being the first to try.
However, George finally convinced him to shrug off these concerns and deliver the memorable solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Of course, that’s only part of the story. Beatles fans would be right to wonder why George needed anyone to solo on his latest composition.
For one thing, George was the Beatles’ lead guitar player. By the time of these White Album sessions (summer 1968), just about everyone on the planet knew what George played in the Fab Four.
What people didn’t know was The Beatles had lost their spirit of cooperation by then. Paul McCartney worked on many White Album songs by himself, and at times John Lennon couldn’t be bothered with George’s songs. Clapton stepped into that fray.
George wanted his fellow Beatles to take his brilliant new song seriously.
After almost a decade of working in the shadow of the Lennon-McCartney, George had grown tired of the rebukes and outright dismissals he’d take from John and Paul. If they weren’t putting down his latest songwriting effort, producer George Martin might do so himself.
You don’t have to look hard to find harsh appraisals of George’s music from all three. In John’s words, “There was an embarrassing period when George’s songs weren’t that good and nobody wanted to say anything.” As for Paul, a recently unearthed tape reveals he thought more or less the same.
“I thought until this album that George’s songs weren’t that good,” Paul casually said to the suggestion George might get more space on a future Beatles album. Yet even when George brought in an obvious winner like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” John and Paul still needed convincing.
So George asked Clapton to come in and take the solo. That way, George could focus on the rhythm guitar and vocals (possibly the bass, too) while Clapton and Ringo did the rest. But he didn’t need to go to that extreme.
Clapton’s appearance definitely caught the other Beatles’ attention.
By 1968, anyone in the rock scene knew Clapton was among the best guitar players of the day. When George brought him along to the White Album sessions, John and Paul noticed. In fact, George recalled them being on their best behavior with Clapton in the room.
“What happened when Eric was there on that day, and later on when Billy Preston … I pulled in Billy Preston on Let It Be… it helped,” George said in 1977. “Because the others would have to control themselves a bit more. John and Paul mainly because they had to, you know, act more handsomely.”
Then following year, when George composed “Something,” no one could deny the power of his songwriting ability. George wasn’t above rubbing it in a bit, either. As Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick recalled, George got a bit of revenge during the Abbey Road sessions.
When Paul came up with a bass line for “Something,” George told him to try harder. “It was a first in all my years working with The Beatles,” Emerick wrote in Here, There and Everywhere. “George had never dared tell Paul what to do.”