The Reason Eric Clapton Refused John Lennon’s Offer To Replace George Harrison In The Beatles

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The award-winning musician Eric Clapton is a rock and blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter who is cited among the most influential guitarists of all time. Besides, he is the only musician who was inducted three times to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame: as a solo artist, as a member of Yardbirds, and of Cream. Currently a solo musician, Clapton still continues to make musical efforts despite his 76 years of age.

During the early years of his musical career, Clapton joined the Yardbirds in 1963 to replace original guitarist Top Topham. Due to creative differences and being dissatisfied with the change in the band’s sound, Clapton left the Yardbirds in 1965 to play with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. Following his departure in 1966, the musician formed the power trio Cream along with Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce.

While he was still in the Yardbirds, in 1964, Clapton’s path crossed with the Beatles when the Yardbirds were supporting The Beatles for their Christmas Show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. In the following years, Clapton and George Harrison became close friends. On January 10, 1969, George Harrison left The Beatles, and Lennon thought of replacing him with Eric Clapton. However, Clapton didn’t want this to happen. Let’s learn why.

Eric Clapton Refused John Lennon’s Offer Due To His Friendship With George Harrison

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On September 3, 1968, Eric Clapton went into the studio at Harrison’s invitation to play on sessions for ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’ It became Clapton’s most popular guest recording session and appeared on the Beatles’ double album ‘The Beatles.’ During the recordings, George Harrison was on guitar and vocals, Clapton played the lead guitar, Paul McCartney played piano and bass, and Ringo Starr was on drums.

Three months after, on January 10, 1969, George Harrison left the Beatles. Following his departure, John Lennon, Ringo Starr, and film director Michael Lindsey-Hogg discussed the band’s future. According to the recordings of that discussion, John Lennon suggested inviting Clapton to play if Harrison doesn’t return. Moreover, he claimed Clapton left Cream because they were soloists, but the Beatles would give him the freedom to play his guitar.

Although they didn’t really approach Eric Clapton or discuss this matter again, Eric Clapton eventually heard about this incident. Back in 1998, he stated that he was developing a friendship with George Harrison at that time, and joining the Beatles would become a problem for him due to that. Moreover, Clapton talked about Lennon’s approach towards him and said the musician would use his name for clout and describe him as ‘the fastest gun.’

As reported by the Eric Clapton fan club magazine Where’s Eric!, Eric Clapton stated:

“There may have been [a suggestion that I would be asked to join The Beatles in January 1969]. The problem with that was I had bonded or was developing a relationship with George, exclusive of them. I think it fitted a need of his and mine, that he could elevate himself by having this guy that could be like a gunslinger to them. Lennon would use my name every now and then for clout as if I was the fastest gun. So, I don’t think I could have been brought into the whole thing because I was too much a mate of George’s.”

So, in the end, John Lennon couldn’t get Eric Clapton to play with them. However, he recruited him for the Plastic Ono Band in September 1969.

Eric Clapton Joined Plastic Ono Band Instead Of The Beatles

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Along with Eric Clapton, John Lennon and Yoko Ono performed ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’ during that performance. Later on, it turned out that Lennon sent Eric Clapton a letter to invite him to play together. In the letter, he praised Clapton’s musicianship and admitted that he was the one who came up in their mind as soon as they decided to form Plastic Ono Band.

According to ILoveClassicRock.com, John Lennon invited Eric Clapton to Plastic Ono Band in his letter, saying:

“You must know by now that Yoko and I rate your music and yourself very highly, always have. You also know the kind of music we’ve been making and hope to make. Anyway, the point is, after missing the Bangla-Desh concert, we began to feel more and more like going on the road, but not the way I used to with the Beatles—night after night of torture.

We mean to enjoy ourselves, take it easy, and maybe even see some of the places we go to! We have many ‘revolutionary’ ideas for presenting shows that completely involve the audience—not just as ‘Superstars’ up there—blessing the people—but that’s another letter really.

I’ll get more to the point. We’ve asked Klaus Voormann, Jim Keltner, Nicky Hopkins — Phil Spector even! — to form a ‘nucleus’ group (Plastic Ono Band). Between us, all would decide what, if any, augmentation to the group we’d like—e.g. sax, vocal group, they all agreed so far. And of course, we had ‘you’ in mind as soon as we decided.

Below, you can watch Eric Clapton perform ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ with George Harrison as well as his ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’ performance with Plastic Ono Band.