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Eric Clapton, George Harrison and the Beatles: a guide to nearly 50 years' worth of studio collaborations

George Harrison (1943 - 2001, left) and Eric Clapton at Limehouse Studios in London during recording of the TV programme 'Blue Suede Shoes', spotlighting veteran rockabilly songwriter and guitarist Carl Perkins. In the background are drummers Slim Jim Phantom and Ringo Starr.
(Image credit: Dave Hogan/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In the late '60s, the Beatles and Eric Clapton kicked off a five-decade-long tradition of recorded collaborations.

Sure, While My Guitar Gently Weeps – the only official EMI Beatles recording Clapton ever played on – is a highlight, but Slowhand's fretwork also graces recordings by all four solo Beatles. In fact, the former Bluesbreaker is the only guitarist – ever – to play on a Beatles song and on official studio recordings by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

Clapton even wrote (and played on) a tune for Ringo – This Be Called a Song – in 1976. As we'll see, Clapton and the former Beatles also played on the same sessions for different artists throughout the decades.

It's only fitting that Clapton's best Beatles buddy was Harrison, the Fab Four's lead guitarist. The pair had the most in common; they certainly shared a guitar or two– not to mention a wife. Harrison wrote Here Comes the Sun at Clapton's country home; the duo toured with Delaney & Bonnie and Friends in 1969; they toured Japan in 1991 and recorded together countless times until Harrison's death in 2001.

Although they had already been friends since the Beatles' "moptop" period, Clapton and Harrison never got together in a recording studio (to actually record something) until late 1967 or early 1968 during the Wonderwall Music sessions. And, as the 17 songs below can attest, once they started, the floodgates were opened – at least through late 1970; they'd open again – to a lesser degree – a few years later.

Note that this is not a guide to every recorded Clapton-Beatle collaboration during this period, just highlights that happen to include all four Beatles. Be sure to check out whereseric.com for a list of Clapton's session work.

Also note that this story doesn't include live performances, such as the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus, Delaney & Bonnie and Friends concerts, Live Peace in Toronto 1969 and so on. Enjoy!

1. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles, 1968)

Eric, John, Paul, George and Ringo

Yes, it's the big one, the obvious one, the While My Guitar Gently Weeps one. During the recording of The Beatles (aka the White Album), Harrison, McCartney, Lennon and Starr were getting on each other's nerves – or so legend has it (although Abbey Road engineer Ken Scott has a different story). To lighten the mood, Harrison asked Clapton to play on his new song. Clapton originally wasn't into the idea, saying, "Nobody ever plays on the Beatles' records."

"So what?" Harrison said. "It's my song." So Clapton showed up – and, as it turned out, the battling Beatles were on their best behavior that day.

2. Ski-ing (George Harrison, 1968)

Eric, George and Ringo

In early January 1968, Clapton added some bluesy, fuzz-drenched guitar to Ski-ing, a simple, catchy and rocking instrumental from Harrison's first solo album of sorts, a wonderfully obscure movie soundtrack called Wonderwall Music, which came out in November 1968. The recording, 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 later. "You know, it was very experimental, and it was good fun." Classical musician/arranger John Barham, who assisted Harrison with the project, said, "I have never heard anyone play the guitar quite like Eric did on this track."

The video clip below gives you a good idea of what the film, Wonderwall, is like. If you're into the '60s, watch it for sure, man. It's groovy.

3. Sour Milk Sea (Jackie Lomax, 1968)

Eric, Paul, George and Ringo

Clapton was on hand in June 1968 when Harrison, McCartney and Starr recorded a masterful Harrison composition called Sour Milk Sea at Abbey Road. The song, which was the A-side of a single released by Jackie Lomax in August 1968, also appears on Lomax's 1969 album, Is This What You Want?, which was produced by Harrison.

"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 one or two notches away from being a bona fide Beatles song (and, by the way, it would've made a great standalone Beatles single). Besides Harrison and Clapton on guitar, McCartney on bass and Starr on drums, the recording also features ace U.K. session man Nicky Hopkins on keyboards – the same studio pro who played on the Beatles' Revolution and the White Album.

4. Badge (Cream, 1969)

Eric and George

When Cream decided to call it quits in late 1968, each member of the band, including Clapton, bassist Jack Bruce and drummer Ginger Baker, was required to come up with a new song for the group’s 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 bit, I wrote Bridge,” Harrison said. “And from where [Eric] was sitting, opposite me, he looked and said, ‘What’s that – Badge?’

Clapton wound up calling the song Badge because it made him laugh. For the session, which took place only a month after While My Guitar 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.

5. That's the Way God Planned It (Billy Preston, 1969)

Eric and George

In early 1969, when Cream were history and the Beatles were quickly heading in that direction, Harrison invited Clapton to sit in on sessions for Billy Preston’s fourth studio album, which Harrison was co-producing. Clapton’s brilliance is best represented on the album’s powerful title track, which you can hear below.

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 Cream drummer Ginger Baker, who also plays on the track.

Clapton and Harrison also worked together on Preston's next album, 1970's Encouraging Words, which is a must-own for Harrison fans.

6. 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 ridiculous but rocking Yoko Ono composition.

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

7. 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 (see below), Art of Dying and several other outstanding tracks. Below, check out the wah-tastic Art of Dying, which 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.

8. I'd Have You Anytime (George Harrison, 1970)

Eric and George

We're not going to leave this era without pausing to hear I'd Have You Anytime, the Harrison/Bob Dylan tune that opens All Things Must Pass. Clapton's emotive guitar playing is front and center, where it belongs. His solo – which sounds a bit like Something, as if he were trying to play Harrison-style guitar for a Harrison track – is exquisite.

"It just seemed like a good thing to do [to open the album with I'd Have You Anytime]," Harrison said in 2000. "Maybe subconsciously I needed a bit of support. I had Eric playing the solo, and Bob had helped write it."

9. Roll It Over (Derek and the Dominos, 1970)

Eric and George

During the All Things Must Pass sessions, Clapton and the pre-Allman Dominos recorded Roll It Over, which features Harrison – plus early Dominos member Dave Mason – on guitar.

Roll It Over was the B-side of the band's first single, which featured a rushed, Phil Spector-produced version of Tell the Truth on the A-side. It was pulled from shelves very soon after its release.

10. 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 American blues legend Howlin' Wolf's booming voice.

Note Clapton's 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-'70s 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.

11. Ain't That Cute (Doris Troy, 1970)

Eric and George

Harrison was very busy immediately following the breakup of the Beatles. In addition to working on All Things Must Pass, Lennon's Instant Karma (We All Shine On) single, Leon Russell's debut solo album, Billy Preston's Encouraging Words album and 47.666667 other things, he also co-produced and played on American soul singer Doris Troy's self-titled 1970 album.

Not surprisingly, Clapton took part in the sessions, and you can hear his unmistakable lead tone (it sounds like a Gibson) right out of the gate on the sadly overlooked Ain't That Cute, which was written by Harrison and Troy and released as a single on Apple Records.

12. 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-'70s straight-into-the-amp Fender Strat tone.

13. 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.

14 and 15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

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Damian Fanelli
Damian Fanelli

Damian is Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine. In past lives, he was GW’s managing editor and online managing editor, and his non-Pulitzer-Prize-winning stories have appeared in Guitar Aficionado, Vintage Guitar, Total Guitar and countless other publications, including 13.7 metric tons of daily newspapers. He's written liner notes for major-label releases, including Stevie Ray Vaughan's 'The Complete Epic Recordings Collection' (Sony Legacy) and has interviewed everyone from Yngwie Malmsteen to Kevin Bacon (with a few memorable Eric Clapton and Ty Tabor chats thrown into the mix). Damian, a former member of Brooklyn's The Gas House Gorillas, was the sole guitarist in Mister Neutron, a trio that toured the U.S. and released three albums (one of which appears in the 2015 Disney film 'Tomorrowland' starring George Clooney and Britt Robertson). He's in two NYC-area bands and plays Teles with four-way switches, B-benders and semi-snazzy aftermarket pickups. He quotes Terry-Thomas twice daily.