How Eric Clapton Responded to John Lennon Wanting Him in The Beatles

When Eric Clapton headed into Abbey Road studios to play guitar on a Beatles song in 1968, he didn’t take it lightly. In fact, he tried to convince George Harrison it was a bad idea. “What will they say?” Clapton wondered.

Prior to Clapton’s solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” no rocker had gone into a Beatles session and played lead on a record. So you can see why even a pro like Clapton would be nervous about it. Nonetheless, he recorded the solo and it turned out great.

Later that year, Clapton played with John Lennon again when the two (along with Keith Richards, Yoko Ono, and Mitch Mitchell) played a few tracks for the Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. At that point, Lennon knew how Clapton played and liked his guitar style.

After George quit the Beatles a few months later, John didn’t blink. “Let’s get in Eric,” he said. Since George came back shortly after, that never happened, of course. But Clapton told an interviewer he considered the idea, however briefly.

Clapton saw ‘massively extreme’ pros and cons re: joining The Beatles

Eric Clapton, John Lennon, and Keith Richards perform together at the Rolling Stones ‘Rock And Roll Circus’ in December 1968. | Andrew Maclear/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In Martin Scorsese’s Living in the Material World documentary, Clapton spoke extensively of his long friendship with George and his interactions with the other Beatles. Regarding the White Album sessions he’d taken part in, Clapton had nothing but praise for the Fab Four.

At one point in the film, an interviewer asks Clapton if he’d heard the story about John saying “bring in Eric” after George walked out on the group in January 1969. “Yeah,” Clapton replies. As a follow-up, Clapton gets asked if ever considered what it would be like being in The Beatles.

Clapton responds by breaking into an extended laughing fit. Afterward, he replies, “Yeah … the pros and cons of being in a band like that were massively extreme.” On the pro side, the self-described “lone wolf” saw a certain closeness the band had.

“There were times when it was like the closest-knit family you’ve ever seen in your life,” he said. But the flip-side was just as discouraging. “The cruelty and the viciousness was unparalleled,” Clapton remarked.

John did invite Clapton to join his band after the Beatles’ breakup

John Lennon with Julian Lennon and Eric Clapton at the Rolling Stones’ “Rock & Roll Circus” TV show filming, 1968 | Chris Walter/WireImage

The Beatles never did make that offer. Once George returned (about 10 days later), the Fab Four would stay with the original lineup until breaking up the following year (April 1970). Not even the brilliant guest work by Billy Preston on Let It Be could mess with the Beatles’ makeup.

After making his second solo record (1971’s Imagine), John got back to thinking about playing with Clapton. In fact, he wrote a lengthy letter to the guitar player describing how the band (which would include Yoko and Phil Spector) would work.

We don’t know exactly how Clapton responded. However, we do know he never formed a band with John and Yoko after receiving that letter in ’71. That performance at Rock and Roll Circus (and a few collaborations with the Plastic Ono Band shortly after) were the closest they’d ever get.

Also see: Who The Beatles Were Trying to Outdo When They Recorded ‘Helter Skelter’