If you were to pick three of the most prominent artists during the boom of rock ‘n’ roll pop music that emanated from London in the sixties then chances are your list would include at least one of The Beatles’ John Lennon, The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and the empirical guitarist, Eric Clapton. In 1968 they all got together for a special show and the video has now gone down in history.
Alongside Jimi Hendrix’s Experience drummer Mitch Mitchell, the triumvirate of rock mentioned above came together to form one unfathomably star-studded supergroup. It’s the kind of supergroup that could have brought down entire civilisations so, perhaps fittingly, they were only ever sectioned off to one performance. The trio took to the stage only once, singing the Lennon-penned Beatles song ‘Yer Blues’, but left the audience, and the world, wanting more.
It’s hard to imagine these giants of rock and roll standing next to one another on stage in any kind of comfortable manner. Least of all because of the reported rivalry between Richards and Lennon and perhaps most of all because the footage of it happening remained buried for 30 years, leaving this show one of the biggest myths in rock. But that’s what happened when Lennon was invited to gather together a supergroup to perform at The Rolling Stones’ big event for the year of 1968, ‘The Rock and Roll Circus’.
‘The Rock and Roll Circus’ was a wild moment in the annals of musical history and especially for one band. The Rolling Stones were nearing the peak of their powers in 1968 and London was positively pulsating with musical talent and the kind of scene that follows it. Three of the biggest heartbeats in that regard came together on one stage to perform the song ‘Yer Blues’ on Wednesday 11th December in front of a star-studded audience, littered with the icons of the era.
The evening saw the likes of Marianne Faithfull, Taj Mahal and Jethro Tull (appearing with Black Sabbath’sTony Iommi), plus The Who—who arguably stole the show. But even The Rolling Stones must’ve been a bit worried about including such a behemoth of a supergroup of Richards, Lennon and Clapton. With their inclusion, the Stones were steadily increasing the chance of being upstaged. It may have been what led to the show being buried in the shelves of the rock library for nearly 30 years before it saw the light of day, or perhaps it was that the Stones were so poor that evening that they intentionally discarded the film.
Nevertheless, Lennon pulled together his group, took the band’s name from a play on the current Pete Green-led band tearing up the London blues circuit, Fleetwood Mac, and went about showing the Stones how it was done with a rollicking performance. After a brief, and frankly bizarre, exchange with Mick Jagger, Lennon joined the band made up of Clapton, Richards on bass and Mitchell on drums to perform the song which had recently featured on The Beatles’ White Album, which had been released only a few weeks prior.
The group also backed a venture from Lennon’s partner Yoko Ono as she, and violinist virtuoso Ivry Gitlis, improvised ‘Whole Lotta Yoko’ during the day’s filming. Afterwards, they put away their instruments and went back to their respective day jobs. It’s difficult when looking at the talent on stage and listening to the searing power with which they performed ‘Yer Blues’, to not only dream of the kind of records this supergroup could have made but the universal impact they could have had.
After all, Clapton’s Blind Faith and Lennon’s Beatles would be over within 18 months of the supergroup taking the stage, with Lennon even once suggesting Clapton could take George Harrison’s place during a particular Beatles dispute. But the group members would never join together again, leaving this performance of ‘Yer Blues’ as a reminder of what could have been.
Watch John Lennon, Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Mitch Mitchell join together as The Dirty Mac to perform ‘Yer Blues’ back in 1968.