Tom Petty Thought George Harrison Would’ve Liked Prince’s Solo During His Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction

In 2004, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne inducted their fellow Traveling Wilbury, George Harrison, into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Then they, along with George’s only son, Dhani, took to the stage to perform George’s epic Beatles tune, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Although, there was a surprise guest.

Out of the ether, Prince materialized. Suddenly, he belted out a face-melting three-minute guitar solo that no one expected. Then, he threw his guitar out into the audience where it seemed to disappear. Now, the performance is famous. Petty thought George would have liked it too.

Tom Petty and Prince performing during George Harrison's Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction in 2004.
Tom Petty and Prince | KMazur/WireImage

Tom Petty didn’t know Prince was going to do a solo during George Harrison’s induction performance

The producer and director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, Joel Gallen, wrote to Prince and asked if he’d join Petty and Lynne during George’s induction performance.

“My dream right from the start was, imagine if I can get everybody up onstage at the end of the night to do ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ and Prince comes out and does the guitar solos. I wrote basically a personal letter to Prince, care of his lawyer,” Gallen told the New York Times.

Prince agreed to perform, but he was concerned about who would “own the performance.” Gallen said, “He wanted to make sure that his performance was not exploited without his knowledge.”

The Purple One hardly rehearsed with Petty and the rest. He stood idly by and let another guitarist take all the guitar solos, which worried Gallen. He wanted Prince to do the solos. Prince told him not to worry.

Later on, Prince told a friend that he “half-gased” it during rehearsals to surprise everyone during his solo. Dhani noticed.

“He turned up at soundcheck and he was really nice, very shy, but I was the only one that was talking to him, and I got the sense that he was holding back, he wasn’t gonna play like that in the real thing,” Dhani told Esquire.

“I said to Tom, ‘He’s being really nice, but he’s gonna come and blow us offstage later.’ And they said whatever, it’s gonna be great, whatever he does is going to be brilliant—it’s Prince, so obviously we’re not going to stop him.

“It was a funny ol’ night. Being the youngest Wilbury, they stuck me in between them and Prince to kind of be the buffer zone. We hadn’t been told that he was playing and then suddenly the promoter said, ‘He’s playing with you, and that’s final.’ So there was a lot of tension, like what is this?

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Petty thought George would’ve liked Prince’s solo

Despite Petty’s stern-looking face during the performance, he was actually quite happy with Prince’s solo. Petty didn’t feel that the singer took over the performance in any way and thought George would have loved it.

“Olivia Harrison [George’s widow] asked me if I would come along and induct George,” Petty told the New York Times. “I was told, ‘Well, Prince is going to play too,’ and I was like, ‘Wow, that’s fantastic.’

“Look, we got Prince here willing to play lead guitar. Why should we give him an eight-bar solo? Over a solo that — the Beatles solo, everyone knows it by heart and would be disappointed if you didn’t play that particular solo there.

“And Prince was a great fan of George’s, and the Beatles in general, but I think he particularly admired George. I think George would have liked it a lot.

“You see me nodding at him, to say, ‘Go on, go on.’ I remember I leaned out at him at one point and gave him a ‘This is going great!’ kind of look. He just burned it up. You could feel the electricity of ‘something really big’s going down here.'”

However, Olivia wasn’t too happy about Prince’s presence.

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Olivia Harrison didn’t want Prince to perform

George’s widow, Olivia, had specific plans for George’s induction. She wanted his friends to induct him, and she wanted them to be the ones who performed during the tribute.

Olivia didn’t want anyone on that stage that didn’t know George. So, when Gallen called her and asked if she was OK with adding Prince to the performance, Olivia initially denied his request. Prince and George didn’t know each other.

However, The Current writes that Gallen and Petty convinced Olivia to change her mind. If she hadn’t, it would have been a completely different performance.

At least Petty believed George would have liked it.

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