Written by a musician……
This is fun.
I have quite a list of guitar solos which moved me one way or the other, but the top of the list is very definitely taken by two usual suspects.
My vote goes to the solo Eric Clapton and George Harrison shared on the outro of the song ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, performed live in Japan and recorded for the live album ‘Live in Japan’ by George Harrison, backed up but Eric and his band.
Throughout the years Clapton had several attempts at this solo in a multitude of live concerts. He never got it quite right as he did on the original recording from 1968.
But what he did that day in this particular version is something I believe he never did in pretty much any other song he ever recorded before or since.
For context, the year was 1991. Clapton had lost his son and was undergoing one of his dark phases as an alcoholic, struggling with his demons and to be relevant again.
Even undergoing all this, he made a move to help bring his old pal George out a bit in a tour. George was always an introvert and very bitter regarding showbiz and presenting himself live.
Upon Clapton’s call inviting him to do a tour together, George was blunt: “I’ll go if you do all the rest. I only wanna come out on stage and play and sing. Everything else is on you”. Clapton took the challenge and provided George with his world class band including himself on the guitar. Sounds cool, huh?
Clapton’s team organized the tour, booked the venues, rehearsals, took care of business and everything else. And on George went on his first tour in 17 years and his last until his death in 2001.
The tour had 12 dates throughout Japan and was a success spawning a double live album with Harrison’s most well known tracks in and out of the Beatles.
In my opinion, Eric Clapton was on fire from 1985 to 1992. He was an interesting, melodic and solid guitar player with tremendous tone. He had an aggressiveness to his playing that he never quite showed ever since which is a shame to me. As to his work before that, it was fantastic in terms of songwriting but not that good in terms of tone and even melody in most of his work.
Clapton always seemed to be his best guitarist self alongside George, either live or in the studio. I don’t know why but I guess it’s because George’s beautiful written melodies that always bring the best in Clapton’s improvised playing. After 1992, I think Clapton became a much better singer than guitarist which is cool by me because he ended up writing more and more great songs but I digress.
Of course they recorded 12 versions of every song on the album but the one they choose to release is to me the definitive version of ‘While My Guitar’.
Clapton did the mid solo which was his on the original recording, and when it came the time to the final solo he and Harrison split the honors in two equal parts only to have one joining the other in the final bars of the song.
Clapton used his now famous “modern” Fender Stratocaster with mid-Boost and George used a Gibson Les Paul vintage sunburst. For those unfamiliar with Clapton’s Strat, he pretty much transformed his beloved Strat which always had a distinctive twangy sound into a guitar which sounded like a Gibson Les Paul when soloing. Of course it’s not the same guitar, it was a heavily modified Strat Fender made under his supervision.
I won’t describe the solo because it gets redundant and I could never put into words what it meant to me when I first heard it as a 16 year-old. To this day I am amazed by the expressiveness, melody, subtle guitar techniques and the killer tone that Clapton used to convey his inspiration.
On the other hand, Harrison’s melody is strikingly catchy when soloing but he never quite gets there in terms of technique, but that doesn’t detract one inch from the marvelous work these two friends did together in those long gone nights of rock ‘n’ roll.
If you have Spotify, go listen to it right now!