Before Live Aid and Farm Aid, there was one benefit concert which started them all. George Harrison’s incredible evening of entertainment known as the Concert For Bangladesh. The event saw George appear with Eric Clapton.
One such number saw George Harrison welcome Eric Clapton to the stage to perform The Beatles’ classic ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.
The event was a crowning moment for Harrison personally. The gig was in aid of Bangladesh’s victims of famine and war—something which had been brought to Harrison’s attention by Ravi Shankar. When asked why he created the event Harrison dryly replied: “Because I was asked by a friend if I would help, you know, that’s all”.
The concert would feature an all-star line up of Bob Dylan, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Klaus Voorman, Badfinger, and, of course, Ravi Shankar.
At the time of the event, Harrison was arguably the most successful Beatle. The singer-songwriter’s album All Things Must Pass had confirmed that he was equal to his bandmates in the Fab Four. As such, he enlisted the help of his friends to make the event a star-studded one. However, Harrison had originally intended to reunite with his former bandmates for the night and provide concert-goers with the first live performance from The Beatles in America since 1966, but it wasn’t to be.
It did nearly happen though for one particular Beatle. John Lennon had agreed to appear at the gig, even consenting to Harrison’s stipulation that Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono could not perform with him. But just a few days before the event Lennon left New York City in a cloud of contempt as he and Ono fell out over Lennon’s agreement with his former bandmate.
Next on the list was Paul McCartney. Macca almost outright refused to be a part of the benefit as he was still emotionally embroiled in the band’s breaking up and the nasty legal battles that went alongside it. He would later tell Rolling Stone about the opportunity to reunite The Beatles “George came up and asked if I wanted to play Bangladesh and I thought, blimey, what’s the point? We’re just broken up and we’re joining up again? It just seemed a bit crazy”. At least there was Ringo to the rescue. The Beatles drummer was more than happy to perform at the charity gig and was ready and raring to go in time for curtain up.
As well as welcoming a plethora of impressive performers, the coup of seeing Dylan on stage again was enough for most people to label it the best benefit concert ever, Harrison recruited none other than his friend, Eric Clapton. The former Cream guitarist had been working on his own solo career when Harrison asked him to lend a hand. It wasn’t the first time either.
Clapton had always provided Harrison with a place for respite as the tensions in The Beatles grew around George’s lack of opportunity to write songs. One he did write for the band is largely considered one of their best and it’s a song that even Clapton himself had a hand in, the brilliant ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’.
Harrison had been struggling to complete the White Album song and asked close friend Eric Clapton for help. Clapton turned up at Abbey Road Studio to do just that—but after a period of convincing. “Nobody ever plays on the Beatles’ records,” Clapton is thought to have said to Harrison with a moment of trepidation. “So what?” Harrison replied. “It’s my song.”
In a 1987 interview with Guitar Player Magazine, Harrison was asked whether it had hurt his ego: “No, my ego would rather have Eric play on it. I’ll tell you, I worked on that song with John, Paul, and Ringo one day, and they were not interested in it at all,” he said. “And I knew inside of me that it was a nice song.”
Harrison added: “The next day I was with Eric, and I was going into the session, and I said, ‘We’re going to do this song. Come on and play on it’. He said, ‘Oh, no. I can’t do that. Nobody ever plays on the Beatles records’. I said, ‘Look, it’s my song, and I want you to play on it’. So Eric came in, and the other guys were as good as gold because he was there.”