Eric Clapton and the Beatles: A Guide to Nearly 50 Years' Worth of Studio Collaborations

George Harrison (left) and Eric Clapton at London's Limehouse Studios in October 1985

George Harrison (left) and Eric Clapton at London's Limehouse Studios in October 1985
(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

The Beatles’ White Album—officially titled The Beatles—turns 50 this year. The Fab Four’s only double album is a sprawling masterpiece, a snapshot of the best that rock and roll had to offer in late 1968. You’ve got your classic rock staples (“Back in the U.S.S.R.,” “Birthday,” “Blackbird”), your fuzzed-out scream fests and heavy rockers (“Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” “Helter Skelter”) and your ultra-personal, warm-and-tender acoustic gems (“Julia,” “Long, Long, Long”). But you’ve also got a little something called “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which—as it turns out—is the only official EMI Beatles recording to feature the fretwork of one Eric Clapton.

We’ve written about “Gently Weeps” several times over the decades—and you should keep an eye out for our transcription in an upcoming issue—but we’ve never really discussed the fact that Clapton’s recorded work with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr didn’t begin or end with this classic White Album track. In fact, the former Cream axman is the only guitarist—ever—to play on a Beatles song and on studio recordings by all four solo Beatles.

Below, we present a handful of highlights of almost 50 years’ worth of Clapton/Fab Four studio collaborations—besides “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” that is. Be sure to check out whereseric.com for a more complete guide to Clapton’s studio work.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

SKI-ING | George Harrison | 1968

ERIC, GEORGE AND RINGO

In January 1968, Clapton added fuzz-drenched guitar to this simple, catchy instrumental from Harrison’s first solo album of sorts, an obscure movie soundtrack called Wonderwall Music. The track, which marks the first recorded collaboration between Harrison and Clapton, also features Starr on drums.

“George told me he’d like me to play on something, or we’d write something as we went along,” Clapton said. “It was very experimental, and it was good fun.” John Barham, who assisted Harrison with the project, said, “I’ve never heard anyone play the guitar quite like Eric did on this track.”

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

SOUR MILK SEA | Jackie Lomax | 1968 

ERIC, PAUL, GEORGE AND RINGO

Harrison, McCartney and Starr recorded this Harrison composition at EMI/Abbey Road Studios. The song, the A-side of a single released by Jackie Lomax in 1968, also appears on Lomax’s 1969 album, Is This What You Want?.

“With Clapton playing on it, it was on fire,” Lomax said. “When the backing tape was played back, I thought it worked as an instrumental. ‘You want me to sing on top of that?!’ There I am in the studio and there are three Beatles in the control room watching me...I guess I was nervous at first, but after a couple of takes I was into it.”

“Sour Milk Sea” is just a notch or two away from being a bona fide Beatles song; besides Harrison, Clapton, McCartney and Starr, it features ace U.K. session man Nicky Hopkins on keyboards—the same pro who played on the Beatles’ “Revolution.”

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

BADGE | Cream | 1969

ERIC AND GEORGE

When Cream decided to call it quits in late 1968, each member of the band, including Clapton, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker, was required to come up with a new song for their final album, Goodbye, which was released in February 1969. Clapton called on Harrison for assistance.

“I was writing the words down, and when we came to the middle, I wrote ‘Bridge,’ ” Harrison said. “From where [Eric] was sitting, he looked and said, ‘What’s that—Badge?’ ” Clapton wound up calling it “Badge” because it made him laugh. For the session, which took place only a month after “Gently Weeps,” Harrison played rhythm guitar. Clapton, playing a shimmering, Beatles-inspired arpeggio riff through a Leslie rotary-speaker cabinet, enters the song at 1:06 and plays the rest of the way through. His solo was overdubbed later.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

THAT’S THE WAY GOD PLANNED IT (PARTS 1 & 2) | Billy Preston | 1969 

ERIC AND GEORGE

In early 1969, when Cream were history and the Beatles were heading in that direction, Harrison invited Clapton to sit in on sessions for Billy Preston’s fourth album, which Harrison was co-producing. Clapton’s brilliance is best represented on the album’s title track (Note: Be sure to track down the extended vesion, which is labeled “Parts 1 & 2.”)

While the verses and chorus feature Clapton’s sympathetic fills, things take off during the song’s final two and a half minutes. It’s as if Preston and Harrison pulled Clapton aside and said, “Okay, man, go nuts!” Maybe he was inspired by the presence of drummer Ginger Baker, who also plays on the track.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

COLD TURKEY | Plastic Ono Band | 1969 

ERIC, JOHN AND RINGO

In late September 1969, John Lennon rounded up Clapton, Starr and bassist Klaus Voormann to record his second solo single, the grippingly chaotic “Cold Turkey,” backed with “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking for Her Hand in the Snow),” a rocking Yoko Ono composition.

Clapton was no stranger to either song; he had played them with Lennon, Ono, Voor-mann and drummer Alan White (who joined Yes a few years later) just a few weeks earlier in Toronto. You can hear that performance on Lennon’s Live Peace in Toronto 1969.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

ART OF DYING | George Harrison | 1970 

ERIC AND GEORGE

In mid 1970, Clapton played on Harrison’s solo masterpiece, All Things Must Pass. Although the album’s liner notes didn’t bother mentioning it, Clapton can be heard on “I’d Have You Anytime,” “Art of Dying” and several other tracks. The wah-tastic “Art of Dying” is the closest Harrison got to hard rock as a solo artist.

“It was awesome when we were doing ‘Art of Dying’ [with] Eric on that wah-wah and it was all cooking—Derek and the Dominos with George Harrison,” wrote Derek and the Dominos’ Bobby Whitlock in his 2010 autobiography. The sessions actually led to the formation of Derek and the Dominos, whose original (pre-Duane Allman) lineup—Clapton, Whitlock, Carl Radle and Jim Gordon—all played on the track.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

I AIN’T SUPERSTITIOUS | Howlin’ Wolf | 1971 

ERIC AND RINGO

Clapton and Starr found themselves in the same recording studio in early May 1970 while working on “I Ain’t Superstitious,” a track from The London Howlin’ Wolf Sessions. The album features a who’s who of British rockers, all of whom provide a smooth—and occasionally gritty—backdrop for Howlin’ Wolf’s booming voice.

Note Clapton’s Fender Strat tone, and remember this was recorded in the spring of 1970. It’s basically the same guitar sound he’d use on his mid-to late-Seventies albums, including No Reason to Cry, Slowhand and Backless, plus 1981’s Another Ticket. It is not the same Strat tone heard on his two 1970 albums, Eric Clapton and Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

THIS BE CALLED A SONG | Ringo Starr | 1976 

ERIC AND RINGO

Ringo’s 1976 album, Ringo’s Rotogravure, is a fun, laid-back, star-studded affair. The disc features appearances by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Peter Frampton, Harry Nilsson, pedal steel guitar master Sneaky Pete Kleinow and—you guessed it—Clapton. In fact, he even wrote this song. As expected for the time, Clapton is employing his mid-Seventies straight-into-the-amp Fender Strat tone.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

CLOUD 9 | George Harrison | 1987 

ERIC AND GEORGE

Much to the delight of his patient and devoted fans, Harrison released one of his best albums—Cloud Nine—in late 1987. Although Clapton can be heard on four Cloud Nine tracks, we’ll offer up this one, which features dueling guitar solos by Clapton and Harrison, who plays slide. By the way, if you’re heading to YouTube, be sure to track down the live version of this song from Harrison and Clapton’s 1991 Japanese tour.

And, if you need some more tasty Clapton fretwork from Cloud Nine, be sure to check out “Devil’s Radio,” “Wreck of the Hesperus” and “That’s What It Takes.”

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

RUN SO FAR and THAT KIND OF WOMAN | Eric Clapton | 1989

ERIC AND GEORGE

Clapton recorded two Harrison compositions for his 1989 album, Journeyman; however, only “Run So Far” made the cut. “That Kind of Woman” would eventually see the light of day when it was released on Nobody’s Child: Romanian Angel Appeal in 1990.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

Never Without You | Ringo Starr | 2003 

ERIC AND RINGO

Behold Ringo’s tribute to Harrison, who had died of cancer only two years earlier. It features some great Clapton riffs, from the solo through the end of the song.

(Image: © Dave Hogan/Getty Images)

ALL OF ME | Eric Clapton | 2013

ERIC AND PAUL

This Clapton recording—a harmless Old Sock album track—features McCartney on backing vocals and standup bass. It’s the same bass once owned by Bill Black, the bassist in Elvis Presley’s early trio.