The Anatomy of Prince’s Legendary 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Guitar Solo
Saturday - 30/04/2016 03:18
The night was never meant as an opportunity for Prince to show how dazzling and virtuosic he was on the guitar.
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.
The Beatles guitarist was being posthumously celebrated at the event, with one Harrison’s most emotional and melodic songs. And Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne (who played with him in the Traveling Wilburys), Steve Winwood (who took part in the 1979 sessions for George Harrison), and his son, Dhani Harrison, were there to play their respects gently. Prince blew them all away. n the days since Prince’s shocking April 21 death, musicians, celebrities, and fans have turned to that Hall of Fame solo as proof that Prince was a guitar hero as well as a brilliant songwriter, singer, and performer. And they’ve voiced their opinions on Twitter.
Princes' guitar solo on this performance on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" makes grown men weep. https://t.co/CHxcpB2nt7
As much as Prince’s two-minute, 45-second solo was the highlight of the evening, and arguably one of the greatest Hall of Fame performances ever, there was a period of time when it looked like Prince might not even perform in the tribute, since Harrison’s widow Olivia wanted everyone onstage to be someone that was close to her late husband,Rolling Stone reported. Prince, as it turns out, had never met the Beatles guitarist, and said he hadn’t even heard the song before he was sent the track so he could learn it for the tribute.
Realizing Prince would bring a different approach to the all-star jam, event organizers told Olivia it would be a good move to let him take the stage. They had no idea what an understatement that was.
Following some fairly gentle, bluesy leads f-rom Lynne’s lead guitarist Marc Mann, Prince took over around halfway through the song with a jaw-d-ropping 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.
Feeding off the end of a chorus, Prince began with six slow, painstricken string bends, sustaining the last one with a lengthy vibrato before segueing into a melodic lick that matched the original spirit of the song. Then he launched into a brief flurry of notes and dramatically slid his left hand f-rom the bottom to the top of the fretboard, as if foreshadowing what was to come.
“I leaned out at him at one point and gave him a ‘This is going great!’ kind of look,” Petty told the New York Times. “He just burned it up. You could feel the electricity of ‘something really big’s going down here.’”
At 3:45, Prince played more slow blues bends that led into a speedy ascending then descending fret run. Then he propped his woodgrain Fender Telecaster on his right thigh and launched into a dissonant repeating chromatic scale, which he followed with fleet metal-style finger tapping that was just slow enough to not overshadow the song.
Even when Petty started singing “look at you all’ at the 4:18 mark, Prince remained the center of attention, turning more string bends into rapid-fire axe excursions before transcending the conventional and entering the sublime. He coaxed another flurry of notes f-rom his wailing instrument, then turned around and fell backwards into the crowd and into the arms of a handler, who held Prince for a few seconds while he continued to play.
“When he fell back into the audience, everybody in the band freaked out, like, ‘Oh my God, he’s falling off the stage!’” Petty’s drummer Steve Ferrone told the New York Times.
Harrison’s son, who seemed to be enjoying himself throughout the song, grinned widely, realizing, perhaps, that he was taking part in the ultimate tribute to his dad. Prince was gently propped back on the stage and for a moment it seemed like he was done wowing the crowd.
Even Petty broke into a smile and shook his head with wonderment, then Prince started anew, beginning with another slow, emotive lick that led into the fastest part of his extended solo. All the while, he made the kind of cool squinting, wide-mouthed faces only rock stars can pull off. Near the end of the solo, Prince raised his arm several times between more melodic bends and then shifted into a textural, rhythmic passage, relying on ascending, strummed chords. He blended in with the other guitarists for a few bars then rode the song to its conclusion with a catchy hook and some vibrato intercut with single-note embellishments.
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.
Watch PRINCE, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynn, Dani Harrison WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS. Wait till the end!!! https://t.co/VufaBg6IPy
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 theNew York Times. “I just saw it go up, and I was astonished that it didn’t come back down again. Everybody wonders whe-re that guitar went, and I gotta tell you, I was on the stage, and I wonder whe-re it went, too.”
Paul Shaffer, who led the band during the performance, said Prince hinted at what he was going to do during the rehearsals for the show, but held himself back, perhaps because he didn’t want anyone to tell him to tone it down.
“Prince kept a little something in reserve for the actual performance itself,” Shaffer toldRolling Stone. “He really did show what a great guitarist he was. He just killed it that night.“