When George Harrison passed away in November 2001, the music world paid tribute to him through the now infamous, Concert for George. Held at the Royal Albert Hall a year after Harrison’s death, it was organized by Eric Clapton and contained performances from several of Harrison’s friends including Clapton, Tom Petty, and Paul McCartney. While that show was a very fitting tribute to his life and music, it often overshadows the performance of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
After being inducted by fellow Traveling Wilburys’ members Jeff Lynne and Petty, several musicians took to the stage for one of the best covers of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that’s out there. Petty played lead acoustic guitar alongside Dhani Harrison, now a member of thenewno2, while Lynne played rhythm electric guitar. Many other musicians packed the stage to fill in the sound of record. Both Lynne and Petty shared vocal duties with Petty singing the chorus and Lynne handling the verses. Both of their vocals help make this a great performance as they capture the sad tone of the song as well as holding true to Harrison’s original version found on The White Album.
Although Dhani doesn’t have much to do during the song besides play along and sing backing vocals on the chorus, you can’t help but watch him. While it’s clear that all the people on stage are emotionally invested in the performance, the late ex-Beatles’ son is on a whole different emotional level. Even though his face, an almost spot-on copy of a young George, doesn’t reveal this, it still feel like he’s making the most of what he can in honor of his father.
While the performance is good all around, it’s the ending that really takes it to another level. Just when it seems that the song is winding down, Prince, another 2004 inductee, appears out of nowhere and launches into a stunning solo that lasts for almost three minutes. Decked out in a red fedora and shirt, Prince shatters all the tricks in the book, as he runs the pick up and down the neck of the guitar, intentionally falls backwards off the stage only to be caught by a stagehand (earning a big smile from Dhani), and even appears to play with his teeth for a second. This might sound overdone for a song like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” but the solo really works for the performance due to the emotion put into it. The repeated singing of the last line of the chorus by Petty allows Prince to start up a new part of the solo every time it’s sung.
This cover version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is one of the best out there. The emotions of George Harrison’s friends and family seem to burst out through Prince’s solo at the end. At first, you may think the song is a mourning of Harrison’s death but by the end, you realize that it’s really a celebration of his life.