In marking the passing of Prince a couple of weeks ago, I embedded a video clip of a performance of George Harrison's famous song "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" during Prince's induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. He completely dominated the second half of the song, with one of the finest and most creative exhibitions of guitar work ever recorded by any artist. (I've embedded it again at the foot of this post, if you missed the first one.)
I've since come across two articles that provide additional background to that performance, and to Prince's contribution. Both are well worth your time to read in full. The first is from Jon Wiederhorn.
The night was never meant as an opportunity for Prince to show how dazzling and virtuosic he was on the guitar. For a star-studded performance of the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Prince was scheduled to play one of several solo spots to honor George Harrison.
. . .
Following some fairly gentle, bluesy leads from Lynne’s lead guitarist Marc Mann, Prince took over around halfway through the song with a jaw-dropping combination of Jimi Hendrix-style pyrotechnics, Eric Clapton sentimentality, and Eddie Van Halen shredding that left the musicians onstage and everyone watching in awe.
What made Prince’s guitar solo so fantastic was the way it was structured and how it paid reverence to Harrison while injecting a previously unexplored energy into the mid-paced classic. His dynamite stage presence didn’t hurt, either.
. . .
As the band finished, Prince stepped on a flanger effect pedal that made his guitar whoosh in waves, and he removed the instrument and tossed it in the air. Strangely, the guitar never returned to the ground. Either someone above the camera sightlines caught it, or it disappeared into the ether. Either way, it’s KISS member Gene Simmons’s favorite part of the solo.
Petty’s drummer Steve Ferrone was also blown away by Prince’s showmanship. “That whole thing with the guitar going up in the air. I didn’t even see who caught it,” he told the New York Times. “I just saw it go up, and I was astonished that it didn’t come back down again. Everybody wonders where that guitar went, and I gotta tell you, I was on the stage, and I wonder where it went, too.”
There's more at the link.
The second article is by Finn Cohen.
Prince, who essentially stood in the dark for most of the performance, burned the stage to the ground at the song’s end.
His three-minute guitar solo is a Prince milestone, a chance to see him outside of the purple-tinted (for once, he is dressed in red) context of his own meticulous studio craft. This was Prince the Lead Guitarist ... And when he tossed his instrument into the air at the very end of the song, it never appeared to land; it was almost as if Mr. Harrison had grabbed it himself in midair to signal, “That’s enough of that.”
Several people who were onstage or at the ceremony that night recalled Prince’s involvement and performance. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.
. . .
CRAIG INCIARDI (Curator at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum): You hear all this sort of harmonics and finger-tapping, sort of like what you’d hear Eddie Van Halen do. He runs through all these different sort of guitar techniques that are sort of astonishing. You hear what sounds like someone cocking a shotgun. There’s all these strumming power chords that really, really connected. Then he plays his version of the Eric Clapton solo. He evokes Eric’s solo in very sort of truncated fashion. As he ends the song, he plays this flourishing thing that sort of ends up sounding a little bit like Spinal Tap, but in a good way.
TOM PETTY (shared lead vocals with Jeff Lynne on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”): You see me nodding at him, to say, “Go on, go on.” I remember I leaned out at him at one point and gave him a “This is going great!” kind of look. He just burned it up. You could feel the electricity of “something really big’s going down here.”
Again, more at the link.
If you're a fan of rock music, I strongly urge you to read both articles in full. They shed new light on what's become an absolutely iconic performance, and are a fitting tribute to Prince's musical greatness. He may not have been a Beethoven or Bach (to put it in classical terms), but if he'd been alive in their day, he'd unquestionably have been a sought-after solo performer for their orchestral pieces. The man was simply head and shoulders above most of his peers. I say that even though I don't really like much of his music. Credit where credit is due. Rolling Stone ranks Prince at number 27 on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists, and I think that's well deserved.
Here's that wonderful performance again.