Tag Archives: Eric Clapton

Jan. 10: Knew it wouldn’t last

If I needed someone, George Harrison vs. Eric Clapton edition. (Insert Pattie Boyd joke here)

“You need Eric Clapton.”

“No, you need George Harrison.”

As the Beatles worked on the days-old “Get Back,” it was Harrison himself who suggested they call on his friend, the erstwhile Cream sharpshooter, to add an extra line or a solo to the quickly developing song.  John Lennon and Paul McCartney disagreed, trying to prop up George’s confidence and desire — and offer a specific instruction, too, as the band continued work after Dick James departed Twickenham on January 10, 1969.

With George the next to leave the venue and indeed the group, the exchange reads as a tidy — albeit exaggerated and deceptive — emblematic microcosm of the present situation. George was itching to leave, but maybe the rest of the band didn’t know it. Maybe George wasn’t certain just yet either.

The full group worked on “Get Back” and “Two of Us” that Friday, and both songs received a bit of tough love, mainly from its songwriter. But Paul pushed the others, too.

A deep, ongoing concern for Paul was George’s power chord that immediately followed the phrase “Get Back,” a chord he called “passe” in an earlier exchange with session arranger Glyn Johns.

“That suggests something to be, this chord,” Paul said. “We should try to get away from that,” as Paul subsequently refers to the chord as “passe” again, this time directly to George.

Paul: It was a couple of years ago.

George: No it wasn’t, it’s just a chord. … Some chords fit things.

Paul: Chords, like fashions and stuff. But it’s like drainies (drainpipe trousers).

George: Some drainies suit different occasions.

He eventually shrugged off the cross-talk, and the group continued to attack “Get Back,” with George searching for a power chord more in line with the latest trouser fashion.

“For the three of us, that’s good enough for the rock-and-roll thing,” Paul said just prior to George bringing up Clapton as a supplement to the song.

“Just doing simple things until it’s your go,” Paul told George. “Because otherwise you get the guitar conflicting with what you’re singing and all that. And then I’m trying to sing louder to get over the guitar. If you (George) vamp, then it takes away from his (John’s) vamping. It’s like the big, soft, lead guitarist, who just stands there and …”

Little, soft, lead guitarist” interrupted George — who at 5-foot-10 stood the same height as Clapton (who would famously be called on again soon, but that’s for another post).

“No, the big one in our head, who just sort of goes [Paul played straight, staccato power chords]. You can either do that soft or good. I really think it’ll happen better if we’re just keeping it going. A clipped offbeat. ‘She’s a Woman.’ That was just a better rhythm than we have. And ‘Sgt. Pepper’ on the organ.”

Facing this tall order, the group moved into other facets of “Get Back,” including Ringo’s drum pattern, the vocal combinations, guitar solos — including a proposal for both John and George to each have one — and the lyrical content. While “Pakistanis” and “Puerto Ricans” tracked well enough to remain useful to Paul (“Meanwhile back at home there’s 20 Pakistanis living in a council flat”), he didn’t try to further deepen the political discourse.  Instead characters like Sweet Loretta Martin and Jojo Jackson were introduced, and while the latter eventually lost the surname, both survived to the rooftop and into posterity.

“It fits — it’s a drag queen. ‘Get back to where you once belonged,’ Paul said.

John chipped in another line that mostly stuck: “But he knew it wouldn’t last.” Paul added the companion rhyme “California grass” although he conceded, “It’s daft, but we’ll straighten it out later.” (He didn’t).

While John and Paul actively hashed out the lyrics as a team, George was uninvolved and clearly disinterested in collaborating beyond defending his guitar parts (and later, making suggestions on a drum pattern to Ringo). Still, there was serious momentum toward building “Get Back,” and John was clearly into the song throughout, delivering a ripping vocal on several takes, at times singing the verses and chorus in unison with Paul or even solo.

Repeated stabs offered positive results, including funky takes featuring a groovy wah-wah solo by George. The song was fast and electric, and a strong example of the Twickenham sessions at their best, genuinely spirited.  

And while John was eager to deepen the arrangement, Paul again tempered the organic enthusiasm. “We still haven’t gotten one straight through yet.” If it wasn’t the guitar part in the chorus, it was the guitar in the verses that nagged him.

Paul also worked to manage a since-discarded introduction that featured the three guitarists playing a “big, long, clear chord” while Ringo was asked to work out an extended arrangement on tom toms, squeezing in as long an introduction as feasible.

“What are you trying to do, jazz?” John laughingly asked Ringo, who’d again be be on the end of a tongue-in-cheek jab when Paul called him “Dave Clark” after a particularly mundane drum part. (It was a running joke, too: John likewise invoked Clark months later during the recording of “Polythene Pam.”)

Despite the work, the mood at the moment was light. The melody line of “Get Back” reminded John of the old Perry Como hit “Catch a Falling Star,” prompting some giggles followed by a verse of that song.  An even more unlikely reference came moments earlier, when — in referencing “Long Tall Sally” — Paul broke into the closing theme to the Beatles cartoon, with Ringo joining in.

As the Beatles wrapped this early-day stab at “Get Back,” the song settled into a defined structure, really starting to resemble the song Paul still trots out in concert a half-century later.

With the group ready to shift to “Two of Us,” John took note of the overall pace of the sessions at Twickenham.

“We’ve never learned this many numbers at once, have we?”

The pace of new material strained John’s attention span. That’s not a surprise. But in the hours before George left the band on January 10, 1969, the message from Paul to the lead guitarist was clear: You need to keep up, too. It wasn’t about handling the quantity of songs, which was John’s problem. It was about keeping up with the quality.

George’s chord selection was “passe.” It was of “a couple years ago.”  George may have been matching Paul in productivity, consistently delivering new songs to the sessions, lapping John’s contributions. But he sill was very much the junior partner in this first month of the band’s final full year.

When George suggested the group bring in Clapton, it wasn’t a genuine dismissal of his own talents. It came from a clear weariness, an exhaustion. How could George not feel completely weary for the position he was put in by Paul, who was quick to call his own lyrics “daft” yet also describe George’s playing as “passe”?

And that only described the most recent hour. Only 72 hours before he called for a divorce. Since that moment, things were no more improved in the studio than they were at home.

The Beatles needed George Harrison, but did George Harrison need the Beatles?

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Jan. 9: Crossroads he’s standing at

During a brief transition immediately preceding the extensive “Let It Be” session late on January 9, 1969, George Harrison opened himself up to significant, retrospective armchair psychoanalysis in just five minutes of music.

He also became a human bootleg.

Everybody’s got somebody to lean on: Lucky and Nelson, November 1968.

Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes with the Band (a huge influence on the Beatles’ Get Back sessions) had been privately circulating since 1968, and the first true rock bootleg — Great White Wonder, which featured two LPs of his music that stretched back to as early as 1961 — surfaced in record shops starting in July 1969.

But this January 9, George — just a few weeks removed from his first collaboration with Dylan — seized a few moments of spotlight and shared a few of his friend’s songs, and ones that the others in the room hadn’t likely heard.

“I Threw It All Away” was so fresh a cut, Dylan wouldn’t record it for his forthcoming “Nashville Skyline” until Feb. 13, precisely two weeks after the Beatles’ rooftop performance and while George was in a London hospital recovering from a tonsillectomy.

Dylan first shared the song with George and wife Pattie Boyd around Thanksgiving 1968 at his home in upstate New York. George retained quite a bit of the song in performing at Twickenham, injecting intensity in his solo acoustic take.

George didn’t perfectly nail the lyrics, but he captured guts of the chorus and parts of the verses — “No matter what you think about it, you just can’t do without it. Take a tip from one who’s tried … And I threw it all away.”

The performance seamlessly went into “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” written in 1964, but to that point another unreleased Dylan track.

Perhaps it’s the color of the sun cut flat
An’ cov’rin’ the crossroads I’m standing at
Or maybe it’s the weather or something like that
But mama, you been on my mind

When you wake up in the mornin’, baby, look inside your mirror
You know I won’t be next to you

There could be no reason at all George plucked these songs out of thin air this Thursday afternoon, as meaningless as the group’s brief forays into “Tennessee” or “Slippin’ and Slidin‘” within the same hour. He’d been playing Dylan throughout the sessions, after all.

Or …

Maybe the songs reflected George’s mood as he was less than 24 hours from quitting the group. Paul transparently sang the blues about the Beatles in “The Long and Winding Road,” “Let It Be” and “Golden Slumbers,” so why wouldn’t George do likewise? It’s not a significant stretch to consider George was speculating about what he was throwing all away, at these crossroads he was standing at.

Without question, those two Dylan songs did hit home with George.

But …

Maybe it wasn’t necessarily only for the reasons we’ve always supposed.

The January 9 tapes begin with the Paul’s muse, Linda Eastman, visiting the studio. John’s girlfriend, Yoko Ono, had been a Beatles session fixture for months, and this day was no different.

George’s wife, Pattie, was very much not hanging around Twickenham. And when she looked inside her mirror, George wasn’t next to her, because she had walked out on him. But that didn’t mean he was alone at his Kinfauns home.

From Pattie’s autobiography Wonderful Tonight:

I was friendly with a French girl who was going out with Eric Clapton. She was always flirtatious with George, but so were a lot of girls and he, of course, loved it. Then she and Eric broke up — Eric told her to leave — and she came to stay with us at Kinfauns.

It was January 1, 1969, and George and I had seen in the new year at Cilla Black’s house. … We arrived home in good spirits but then everything went swiftly downhill. The French girl didn’t seem remotely upset about Eric and was uncomfortably close to George. Something was going on between them, and I questioned George. He told me my imagination was running away with me, I was paranoid.

Soon I couldn’t stand it so I went to London to stay with Belinda and Jean-Claude. Six days later George phoned me to say that the girl had gone and I went home.

The French girl was 20-year-old Charlotte Martin, and she had been dating Eric for more two years. Eric has since said he left Charlotte because of his growing feelings for Pattie. Why, you can almost say George tried to give her consolation when her old man let her down.

George’s fling was in its final day on January 9 — and after leaving the Beatles the next day, he asked Charlotte to leave Kinfauns, ending the affair.  He would  reconcile with Pattie, and separately, with the rest of the Beatles shortly thereafter.

The two Dylan songs George touched on wouldn’t drift far from his consciousness. Sixteen months after this date, George joined Bob in New York City, where they recorded both “I Threw It All Away” and “Mama, You Been On My Mind,” and the sessions have since surfaced on bootlegs.


George continued to show love for “Mama, You Been on My Mind,” laying down a solo studio version in the 1980s; this was still before Dylan’s first authorized release of the song in 1991. George’s recording would get a proper release in 2012 on Early Takes, Vol. 1.

From Giles Martin, who produced the compilation:

He recorded it at home in Friar Park at some point during the ‘80s, and it originally had programmed drums and loads of keyboards on it, and George had overdubbed himself for a three-part vocal harmony.

I asked [George’s widow] Olivia if it would be OK to break it down a bit, I thought it sounded a lot better stripped to its bones. You can still hear a bit of the drum sound in the background, because there was bleed on the tape — probably coming through from George’s headphones.

George did his own three-part harmonies in the ’80s, but his first vocal partners, John and Paul, were silent on the tapes during George’s brief Dylan set on January 9, 1969.  Walking out on the group, George silenced himself the next day, not only because of his increasingly tense relationship with John and Paul, but with trouble surrounding his marriage, as well.

***

Charlotte Martin remained in rock-and-roll’s inner circle. In a coincidence of the calendar, exactly one year after her last day involved with George, on January 9, 1970,  she met Jimmy Page after a Led Zeppelin concert. The couple would maintain a relationship into the 1980s. Their daughter, Scarlet Page, is a rock photographer of note; she’s shot Paul McCartney and contributed to the Visions of Dylan photo exhibition in 2007.

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TMBP Extra: Let it be first

Like so many of the outtakes on the “sessions” discs unearthed and unleashed on the most deluxe version of the Beatles eponymous double-album, this newest version of “Let It Be” — the oldest recording of the song — is acutely alive and profoundly captivating.

As performed on September 5, 1968 — the day after recording their iconic performance of “Hey Jude” for Frost on Sunday — here’s the world’s greatest tea-room orchestra:

Fifty years in the books, and Beatles history still has room for an edit.

In some ways, this one-minute, 18-second cosmic jam capturing the band in medias resbetween takes of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — is just what should be expected, even if its very existence is still something of a minor surprise. A White Album-era version of “Let It Be” felt apocryphal, despite established knowledge rooting it in fact. And so it is that the disjointed, driving performance sounds like it’s out of time — it was.

Let’s dig in on some finer points:

Brother Malcolm, Paul and George Martin during the White Album sessions in 1968

Brother Malcolm, Mother Mary and the lyrics of “Let It Be”
Notably, the lyrics of the song hardly advanced in the three months between September 5, 1968 and January 3, 1969, the first recorded performance of “Let It Be” at the sessions that would ultimately bear its name.

Here’s Paul grooving alone at the piano for the song’s debut on the Nagra tapes:

The lone addition, lyrically: “In my darkest hour, she is standing right in front of me.”

“She,” of course, is Mother Mary, who presumably was in the very original lyric sourced from Paul’s dream about his mother but was absent in the 1968 early attempt. That featured “Brother Malcolm,” a nod to do-it-all assistant Mal Evans. The reference to Mal was inconsistent over January 1969 but endured to the very end of the sessions. Here are the Beatles on the final day of the sessions, January 31, 1969:

It wasn’t until a few days into the sessions at Savile Row, on January 25, 1969, that most of the verses had been added. But Paul started teaching “Let It Be” to others in the band on January 8, when we hear Paul naming chords to the others to learn. That’s also when Paul disclosed that, even at this early stage, he planned to have Aretha Franklin cover the song.

Interludes
Students of the Beatles’ January 1969 sessions have heard this sort of thing several times before, someone in the group veering into an original, a cover, an improvisation between songs, during a transition during a rehearsal or purely as an aside.

Some of these drop-in songs were even the same for the White Album and Get Back/Let It Be sessions:

And just as future songs were sampled and explored during jams in 1968, they were in ‘69 too. And probably long before that as well. A few examples:


Divine intervention
This initial iteration of “Let It Be” may not have had “Mother Mary” but it did feature the hand of “God.”

The September 5 session of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was the one that featured Eric Clapton as the Beatles’ guest on lead guitar. That places Eric at the origin of “Let It Be,” and he can be heard adding a few guitar licks to the improvisation. (Listen to the very end and you can hear George close the track imploring his friend to don his headphones: “Cans on, Eric.”)

A full 31 years later Eric would get to play the song again, joining Paul on stage at the 1999 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions. Paul was inducted for his solo career, but the show closed with, naturally, “Let It Be.”

Clapton didn’t take the solo — that’s Robbie Robertson of the Band, the group whose sound the Beatles sought to emulate during the Get Back/Let It Be sessions.

This same induction ceremony honored producer George Martin, who happened to miss the September 5, 1968, session whilst on vacation.

Times of trouble?
Even Paul called the White Album “the tension album.” John said worse in the early ’70s. Ringo literally left the band for a few weeks in the summer of ’68.  Four Beatles, each recording in a separate studio — we all know the stories.

But while history is static, perceptions are variable.

The 2018 reissue’s promotional campaign works to dispense with some of the darker sides of the session, from Giles Martin’s interviews to the numerous dismissals of dysfunction in the lovely hardbound book packaged with the deluxe edition. Indeed, there’s plenty of laughter and carefree spirit throughout the White Album outtakes. The outtake set even begins with laughter among John, Paul and Yoko, as if to hammer the point home.

The Get Back/Let It Be sessions inherit the same sour reputation, yet it would be very easy to compile 50 tracks from January 1969 filled with laughter, chatter and the indication that nothing could ever tear these guys apart. And I bet if and when we do see a formal reissue campaign of Let It Be (which I suspect will be attached to a larger Abbey Road/”Beatles in ‘69” re-release), we’ll see that very recalibration of Beatles history. More “Suzy Parker,” and not quite so many calls for a divorce.

And that’s OK. I’ve long posited that things weren’t necessarily so bad — or at least that much worse — for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions than in the period immediately before and after. Naturally, the reality lies somewhere in between. Neither the White Album nor Let It Be are outliers — that’s just how the group was post-1967.

On January 7, 1969, the day before the rest of the Beatles learned the chords to “Let It Be,” George Harrison made it clear: “Ever since Mr. Epstein passed away, it hasn’t been the same…  [the Beatles had] “been in doldrums for at least a year.” That takes the group to before their trip to India in February 1968.

Together at the beginning of that trip, the individual Beatles returned to England separately. For the final stage of their career, they produced enduring music, though they may be parted.

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Jan. 6: Icing Cream

When the Beatles reconvened at Twickenham Film Studios the morning of Jan. 6, 1969, it was the prior evening’s television that dominated early conversation between the band and director Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

And, hey, why not? Twickenham is their office, and the piano is the water cooler, so what else would the grunts talk about as another work day begins?

Just seconds into the day’s tapes  the discussion goes right into the Cream farewell concert that aired on BBC the evening before. And with it, it’s the Beatles’ first reasonable reference point* for their eventual film. Or, at least, a great example of what they didn’t want to do.

The documentary is, in fact, really lousy — I watched the whole damn thing in prepping this post. Cream, as a band, is great. But what a terrible program, from the seizure-inducing cuts to the wildly melodramatic narration and ridiculous band interviews. The camera’s always on the wrong thing, the songs aren’t complete, there’s continuity errors and it’s just an effort to get through.  (Try it yourself here!)

“Ginger Baker’s was the only interesting interview,” Lindsay-Hogg said to Paul, explaining that he himself is “really uncoordinated” and learned a bit of drum technique from Baker.

“I just thought they were interviewed badly,” Paul said.

Paul likened the interviewer to “a 3-year old kid” in suggesting Eric Clapton play his parts again on guitar.

The talk shifts to a tangent when Lindsay-Hogg compares the Cream production to the grandiose “Eloise” by Barry Ryan (the song itself, not the promo clip below), a chart-topper from a few weeks earlier.

“All form and no substance,” the director said of the song after using the same term to describe the Cream doc.

“It’s great I thought,” Paul replied. “I loved it.”

“All form, no substance, I hated it,” Lindsay-Hogg said before again repeating “All form and no substance.”

“That’s too big a put-down,” Paul said. “All form, and not much substance.”

“It was my least favorite record from the last five years,” Lindsay-Hogg insisted before adding under his breath,”I really hate it.”

Paul then sings a bit of “Eloise,” and Lindsay-Hogg is incredulous, although he would admit he liked the musical break.

The conversation wandered a bit, and included a quick take of “Oh Darling!” by Paul solo on the piano. But after Ringo, and then John and Yoko arrived, discussion of the Cream documentary resumed.

“We ought to think this week sometime about the show,” Lindsay-Hogg said to the group. “We could do it at the Albert Hall with those quick cuts.” Paul again expresses his disappointment, especially focusing on those edits.

Paul asked Ringo if he saw the show.

“Bits,” said the drummer.

“That’s all there were! Just bits, terrible quick-cutting,” replied Lindsay-Hogg.

Hard to tell what John or Yoko said as they were well off-mic.

George is the last to arrive. He was already good friends with Clapton — who contributed his part on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” four months earlier and had played in Lennon’s Plastic Dirty Mac just weeks earlier on the Rock & Roll Circus. Despite the friendship, George doesn’t shy from criticizing his friend’s production.

“There were some nice bits, but … what was … with the photography? You don’t see anything,” George said.

George calls Baker “great,” and Paul asks Ringo if he’s met him “as star drummers.”

George & Eric

Conversation shifted again, George talks about a new song he wrote (“Hear Me Lord”) and then his equipment arrives at the studio (“like an ambulance for ailing documentaries” according to Lindsay-Hogg).

But they can’t shake talking about Cream’s own doc, again mocking the interviewer.

Then, finally after 40 minutes of the tapes, the band’s finally ready to start the business of making music, and a documentary of their own.

I found it interesting, in retrospect, is they’re discussing a farewell concert, which is what Let it Be ended up being — not planned that way, of course (of course?) —  and that’s what they would spend so much of the sessions attempting to organize. Not that Lindsay-Hogg would end up producing anything that looked like the Cream special — nothing he’d done I’ve seen had given that indication — but Let it Be was certainly not anything like the Cream farewell.

But having that reference point so early in the sessions could only have helped light even the smallest of sparks in encouraging the band to do what they always have done, and that’s do something better than every other band.

*(Of course, Lindsay-Hogg had directed the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus weeks earlier, but it wouldn’t see the light of day for another 25 years . And, while Lindsay-Hogg was behind the camera and John Lennon in front of it, I can’t imagine the film was edited to any significant degree at this point to be considered a comparison piece for the eventual Let it Be/Get Back film barely in-progress. It wasn’t the same concept anyway — the Stones weren’t trying to document the making-of the show; it was just the show itself that was being produced.)

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