The fabled quote from Eric Clapton goes like this: When asked how it felt to be the greatest guitar player alive, Clapton said, “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Prince.” Whether the quote is real or not doesn’t really matter at this point, because serious guitar nerds have always known that Prince has been one of the greatest guitar players to ever strut the stage. And any argument over Prince’s chops could quickly be shut down with a single viewing of Prince’s solo during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction of George Harrison.
In this performance of the Beatles song Prince joined Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood on the organ and Harrison’s son, Dhani, on the rhythm guitar. Prince took one of Clapton’s iconic solos and put it into the sexiest blender known to man. It’s mind-melting.
The song starts with the quiet vocals of Petty and Lynne, guiding the song along on a silky sea of rhythm, and for the first three minutes you don’t even know if Prince is there. Then, at 3:23, Dhani looks to the side of the stage and smiles, knowing that something special is about to happen.
What happens next can only be justified with a second by second breakdown in honor of Prince’s memory. Please read along as you reference the video if you wish.
3:30 – Prince, dressed like a Dick Tracy character, makes his presence known with the first notes of the solo. Eyes closed, head lifted he is master of the strings. His guitar is weeping. Everything makes sense.
3:37 – Prince is getting angry? Something is changing. Prince is still staying within the song and its mortal boundaries, but you can feel the tide coming.
This is the moment where people are like, “yeah Prince is great this is solid but he’s still not XYZ.” Then, a purple avalanche comes down a mountain.
4:02-4:07 – What the f*ck just happened?
4:15 – The guitar has moved on from weeping to screaming in ecstasy.
4:29 – This is how Obi Wan felt in his prime.
4:35 – Prince now has control of the song. It is his and the legendary musicians are no longer sharing the stage, they are guests of Prince.
4:43 – Prince falls back off the stage into the arms of his beefy bodyguard without missing a beat. DHANI LOVES IT!
4:57 – Prince looks at a few people on the stage and smiles, as if he’s putting on the show for them, and he hopes they’re ready for what comes next.
5:07 – Prince is losing control. He knows not what he does. Everyone orgasms. Everyone.
5:12 – Look away.
5:20 – Prince is currently seven feet tall.
For nearly a minute, Prince guides the song to its denouement with the elegance of a velvet buzzsaw. The energy is palpable. He makes everything look easy.
6:10 – Prince throws his guitar into the air and it never comes back down.
This performance changes people. It’s important. A watershed moment for many when it comes to Prince. He wasn’t just an incredibly talented, funky, sexy pop song writer from the ’80s. He wasn’t just a mythical Chappelle skit or Kevin Smith anecdote. He was simply one of the most gifted guitarists to ever play.