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Eric Clapton Almost Replaced George Harrison in the Beatles in 1969

Music | March 8, 2018

CIRCA 1974: Rock and roll guitarist Eric Clapton performs onstage with a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar wearing a gas station attendant jump suit in circa 1974. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

John Lennon wanted Eric Clapton to replace George Harrison in “The Beatles” in 1969.

Do the names John, Paul, George, Ringo mean anything to you? Of course, they do! They are the 4 names that have been imprinted in our (musical) brains! When we hear those four names, we automatically think, “The Beatles.” The fab 4 have quite an iconic history in music.

How many people were considered the 'Fifth Beatle'?

If you are one of those people that follow the epic band’s history, and have knowledge of the band, itself, you may be familiar with the story about the “fifth Beatle.” There have been countless stories that focus on the original drummer, Pete Best, as well as stories about some others who shuffled in and out of the group during their early days. There was one man, however, who came extremely close to officially being named a Beatle toward the end, replacing a core band member. This man was none other than the guitar legend Eric Clapton.

There is quite a history surrounding Eric Clapton’s relationship with “The Beatles.”

Eric Clapton first met the famous “Beatles” in December 1964, at their holiday Christmas Show in London, England. Clapton and his band the, “Yardbirds,” played back-up act, supporting the iconic “Beatles.” The fab 4 band members promptly befriended Clapton; especially George Harrison, who eventually became his closest friend.

George Harrison contributed many songs to the Beatles’ musical repertoire, including “Here Comes the Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” on which Eric Clapton accompanies and recorded the lead guitar at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios in London, creating his most popular guest recording sessions.

The Fab 4

As the story progressed, it was revealed that on September 3, 1968, George Harrison couldn’t get his guitar to “weep.” After dozens of takes and tricks he called Eric Clapton for a musical, helping hand. He said, “We’re going to do this song [While My Guitar Gently Weeps]. Come on and play on it.” Clapton responded, “Oh, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on The Beatles records.” Harrison answered, “Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it.” The song eventually appeared on the Beatles’ double album “The Beatles,” also known as “The White Album.”

John Lennon couldn’t make it to that particular session. That being the case, it turned out that Eric Clapton never actually recorded with the entire Beatles band. The completed sound track has Eric Clapton on lead guitar, Paul McCartney on bass guitar and piano, Ringo Starr on drums, and George Harrison on vocals and guitar; no John Lennon.

Eric Clapton in Barcelona, 1974.

About a year later, in January 1969, during the arduous sessions that culminated into the iconic, “Let It Be,” George Harrison, sadly and abruptly left “The Beatles.”

After Harrison’s sudden departure, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and the film director Michael Lindsay-Hogg discussed all of the possible outcomes of Harrison’s departure.

Due to all of the upcoming and pre-planned live performances, filming and recordings, John Lennon threw Eric Clapton’s name into the ring. Lennon was reported to have said that they should have Eric Clapton stand in Harrison’s place because, “He’s just as good and not such a headache.” Ouch!

There is also another part of the story involving George Harrison and Eric Clapton.  It involved the wife of George Harrison, Patti Boyd.

Harrison wrote and sang to her “Something in the way she moves,” while Clapton sang, “Layla, you’ve got me on my knees/Layla,”  wanting her love.

How do you choose between famous Beatle George Harrison and guitar legend Eric Clapton?  Pattie Boyd made her choice to divorce Harrison and a few years later marry Clapton.

After Boyd and Harrison were married, they began having troubles due to alcohol and drugs as well as Harrison's numerous affairs. It was during this time that Harrison became a close friend of Eric Clapton, performing and writing music with him.

One day,  a letter was sent to Boyd where someone signed just as “E,” and declared his love for her. She assumed it was a secret admirer until she attended a party one night and Eric, who she regarded as a friend, asked her if she received his letter!

In 1974, Boyd separated from Harrison due to his endless infidelities, including with Ringo Starr’s wife. Her description of the last year of her marriage with Harrison was “fueled by alcohol and intolerable.”

Boyd had always refused Clapton’s advances and Clapton descended into heroin addiction and deep depression.

In 1979, Boyd decided to move in with Clapton and soon after were married. The honeymoon was over after a short time and they began having marriage troubles.  They were divorced in 1989.

George Harrison and Eric Clapton continued to work together long in the early Seventies and the late Eighties, when Clapton appeared on Harrison's Cloud Nine (1987) and Harrison appeared on Clapton's Journeyman (1989).

Many of the band’s inner circle conversations were recorded and were later documented to confirm the band’s partiality for Eric Clapton. They were officially on record as being willing to have Clapton as a possible, eventual replacement for George Harrison. It was somewhat of a no-brainer as far as they were concerned. John Lennon has reportedly said that if George Harrison didn’t return, ready to carry on, by (that) Tuesday, they would approach Eric Clapton to play in his place.

“The Beatles” were so sold on Eric Clapton that they were ready and willing to have him and were known to have said that they, “would give him full scope to play his guitar.” John Lennon went even further by saying that he wanted the band to keep on playing regardless if Harrison continued with them or not. “Not” being the operative word in that sentence. The group had begun to tire of Harrison’s involvement.

John Lennon was reportedly all too willing to start a new band on his own if it became necessary!

That discussion, however, ended then and there. In true “Beatles” fashion, the conversation ended in a “jam session.” John Lennon’s statement is known as just one of his well-known episodes of shooting off his mouth. He was often known to be overly dramatic and frequently overstated circumstances and situations.

Even more interesting to note, however, is that this bold statement just may have been John Lennon’s scare tactic to force Harrison’s hand and call his bluff. It may have been an attempt to persuade Harrison to rejoin the group. It was Lennon’s hope that that his words would coerce and influence Harrison.

McCartney, Harrison, Swedish pop singer Lill-Babs and Lennon on the set of the Swedish television show Drop-In, 30 October 1963.

Regardless of John Lennon’s true ulterior motive (if there was one), Eric Clapton caught wind of the so-called proposition. Then in 1998, he finally began speaking out regarding his thoughts on the entire idea. Needless to say, Clapton’s speaking up had often triggered the media’s attention; never mind, although the media attention mostly relied on speculations: “There might have been a suggestion that I was to be asked to join the Beatles in 1969. The problem with that was I had bonded or was developing a relationship with George, exclusive of them. I think it fitted a need of his and mine, that he could elevate himself by having this guy that could be like a gunslinger to them. Lennon would use my name every now and then for clout, as if I was the fastest gun. So, I don’t think I could have been brought into the whole thing because I was too much a mate of George’s.”

George Harrison and Eric Clapton at the Prince’s Trust Concert, Wembley Arena, 1987.

“It was a very difficult, stressful time,” George Harrison said later when asked about his quitting the band. He did return 12 days later, however, only after discussions that included that a few demands of his that needed to be met. He felt he had the bargaining power and made his position known to his fellow band members.

George Harrison is not the only member of “The Beatles” to have walked away. As their notoriety grew, so did their egos and temperaments. Often, band members would clash about musical, creative and personal issues. Ringo Starr was known to have walked away after it all became too much.

Relations amongst the band members became more relaxed, although they were still strained, during recording sessions for their final recorded album, “Abbey Road.” The LP included two of George Harrison's most respected “Beatles’” compositions, "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something", which became one half of the Beatles' first number one double A-side single, Harrison's first A-side, and the first of Harrison’s song to reach the top of the charts.

In 1969 Frank Sinatra recorded "Something", and later called it, "the greatest love song of the past fifty years." 

John Lennon considered “Something” the best song on the “Abbey Road” album, and it became the Beatles' second most covered song after the iconic song, "Yesterday.” Author Peter Lavezzoli was quoted as saying, "Harrison would finally achieve equal songwriting status ... with his two classic contributions to the final Beatles' LP.”

In April 1970 when Harrison's "For You Blue" was released in America as a double A-side with McCartney's "The Long and Winding Road." It became the band's second chart-topping double A-side while "For You Blue" became Harrison's second number one hit. His increased productivity and the Beatles' reluctance to include his songs on their albums meant that by the time of the group’s ultimate break-up, he had amassed a stockpile of unreleased compositions.

While Harrison grew as a songwriter, his compositional presence on Beatles albums remained limited to 2 or 3 songs, which served to increase his frustration, and significantly contributed to the band's ultimate break-up. Harrison's last recording session with “The Beatles” was on 4 January 1970, when he, McCartney and Starr recorded the Harrison song "I Me Mine.”

For all of the negativity surrounding George Harrison for his career as a “Beatle,” he went on to achieve his dream of releasing his beloved songs. Each of the Fab 4 went on to have epically successful solo careers after “The Beatles” and the rest is history

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Rebeka Knott

Writer

Rebeka grew up in the 1960’s & 1970’s and has always subscribed to the theory that a positive attitude will take you far! She is a wife and mother of 3 with a fun-loving spirit, believing that family and relationships are invaluable.