We’re taking a look back at the moment two of the most prominent artists of the 1960s nearly ended up forming an immense supergroup, a time when John Lennon penned a personal letter to Eric Clapton, pitching the idea of joining forces in what would have been a swirling artistic tornado like no other.
Of course, John Lennon was a part of a pretty decent group of his during the height of his creatic career. A little known band called The Beatles, you may have heard of them. However, after the Fab Four disbanded and Lennon formed the Plastic Ono Band with his wife Yoko Ono, he wanted to take things to another level and, to do so, he reached out to his friend, Eric Clapton, asking him to form a gigantic supergroup.
It all began after Eric Clapton joined the Plastic Ono Band for a one-off performance in Toronto, a show in which the guitarist noodled his way through a powerful rock ‘n’ roll set littered with iconic tracks. The performance has gone down in legend, Clapton seamlessly gelling with Lennon’s classic caustic wit and Ono’s unmistakable shriek.
We can’t be sure of how Clapton felt sharing the stage with Lennon and Ono, but the guitarist has never been overawed easily. However, even he looks a little swept up in the madness that was following Lennon and Ono around the globe in 1969. As Lennon jams through with his usual rock and roll swagger, Ono adds her unique tone across the performance of ‘Don’t Worry Kyoko’.
His admiration went beyond that performance, though. Lennon had previously suggested Clapton should replace George Harrison in The Beatles when Harrison had left the rest of the group stranded in the studio. Lennon said: “I think if George doesn’t come back by Monday or Tuesday, we ask Eric Clapton to play,” he told Get Back director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. “We should just go on as if nothing’s happened.”
The Toronto show had merely confirmed Clapton’s worthiness to Lennon. It was a performance that sparked Lennon’s imagination into gear, and he dreamed of sharing the stage with Clapton full time—or at least for a world tour. What’s more, he wanted it all to go down while the band travelled around on a cruise ship.
While the plot sounds somewhat farfetched, the reality wasn’t so far out of the realm of possibility. Clapton’s CV reads like a who’s who of a legendary supergroup. It sees the overqualified guitarist lend his work to The Yardbirds, Cream and Blind Faith, all of whom were empowered by the serious musicians within them.
Whether or not Clapton honestly considered the idea is unfortunately not known; he certainly didn’t consider joining The Beatles. At the time of the rumours, he stated that he would avoid the band as, at times, “The cruelty and the viciousness was unparalleled”.
The letter seen below is a draft from Lennon’s cutting room floor. But with it, we get an accurate idea of the kind of admiration Lennon truly reserved for Clapton as well as the “revolutionary” ideas he had for the Plastic Ono Band. The eight-page letter sees Lennon seizing his opportunity with The Beatles and Clapton’s Cream disbanding and hoping that the two could pursue a higher artistic plane: “I’ve/we’ve long admired your music—and always kept an eye open to see what you’ve been up to lately. I really feel I/we can bring out the best in you,” he wrote.
Lennon continued: “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.” The Beatles man didn’t want to replicate the “torture” of touring with his former band, instead saying that the message is more important than the money: “We don’t ask you/them to ratify everything we believe politically—but we’re certainly interested in ‘revolutionising’ the world thru music, we’d love to ‘do’ Russia, China, Hungary, Poland, etc.”
Lennon went on: “I know we have to rehearse sometimes or other, I’m sick of going on and jamming every live session. I’ve also always wanted to go across the Pacific from the US thru all those beautiful islands—across to Australia, New Zealand, Japan — wherever, you know—Tahiti—Tonga—etc, so I came up with this.
“How about a kind of ‘Easy Rider’ at sea. I mean we get EMI or some film co., to finance a big ship with 30 people aboard (including crew)—we take 8 track recording equipment with us (mine probably) movie equipment—and we rehearse on the way over—record if we want, play anywhere we fancy,” he added, in what sounds like a dream to us but it didn’t grab the attention of Clapton.
You can read the letter, which has been transcribed in full, below. While we dream of Lennon and Clapton sharing Mai-tais on the deck of the sunset-bathed yacht, heading off towards the next big show, you can look back at the moment the idea first entered Lennon’s head.
See the letter in full, below.
“Dear Eric and
I’ve been meaning to write or call you for a few weeks now. I think maybe writing will give you and yours more time to think.
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)—and between us all would decide what—if any—augmentation to the group we’d like—e.g. saxs, vocal group, they all agreed so far—and of course we had YOU!!! in mind as soon as we decided.
In the past when Nicky was working around (Stones, etc.) bringing your girl/woman/wife was frowned on—with us it’s the opposite, Nicky’s missus—will also come with us—on stage if she wants (Yoko has ideas for her!)—or backstage. Our uppermost concern is to have a happy group in body and mind. Nobody will be asked to do anything that they don’t want to, no-one will be held to any contract of any sort—(unless they wanted to, of course!).
Back to music. I’ve/we’ve long admired your music—and always kept an eye open to see what you’ve been up to lately. I really feel I/we can bring out the best in you—(same kind of security, financial or otherwise will help) but the main thing is the music. I consider Klaus, Jim, Nicky, Phil, Yoko, and you could make the kind of sound that could bring back the Balls in rock ‘n’ roll.
Both of us have been thru the same kind of shit/pain that I know you’ve had—and I know we could help each other in that area—but mainly Eric—I know I can bring out something great—in fact greater in you that had been so far evident in your music, I hope to bring out the same kind of greatness in all of us—which I know will happen if/when we get together. I’m not trying to pressure you in any way and would quite understand if you decide against joining us, we would still love and respect you. We’re not asking you for your ‘name,’ I’m sure you know this—it’s your mind we want!
Yoko and I are not interested in earning bread from public appearances, but neither do we expect the rest of the band (who mostly have families) to work for free—they/you must all be happy money wise as well—otherwise what’s the use for them to join us. We don’t ask you/them to ratify everything we believe politically—but we’re certainly interested in “revolutionizing” the world thru music, we’d love to ‘do’ Russia, China, Hungary, Poland, etc.
A friend of ours just got back from Moscow, and the kids over there are really hip—they have all the latest sounds on tape from giant radios they have. ‘Don’t come without your guitar’ was the message they sent there are millions of people in the East—who needed to be exposed to our kind of freedom/music. We can change the world—and have a ball at the same time.
We don’t want to work under such pressure we feel dead on stage or have to pep ourselves up to live, maybe we could do 2 shows a week even, tentatively (nothing definite) goes like this:
I know we have to rehearse sometimes or other, I’m sick of going on and jamming every live session. I’ve also always wanted to go across the Pacific from the U.S. thru all those beautiful islands—across to Australia, New Zealand, Japan,–wherever, you know—Tahiti—Tonga—etc, so I came up with this.
How about a kind of ‘Easy Rider’ at sea. I mean we get EMI or some film co., to finance a big ship with 30 people aboard (including crew)—we take 8 track recording equipment with us (mine probably) movie equipment—and we rehearse on the way over—record if we want, play anywhere we fancy— say we film from L.A. to Tahiti, we stop there if we want—maybe have the film developed there—stay a week or as long as we want—collect the film (of course) we’ll probably film wherever we stop (if we want) and edit it on board etc. (Having just finished a movie we made around our albums ‘Imagine’ & ‘Fly’—it’s a beautiful surreal film, very surreal, all music, only about two words spoken in the whole thing! We know we are ready to make a major movie). Anyway it’s just a thought, we’d always stay as near to land as possible, and of course, we’d take doctors etc, in case of any kind of bother. We’d always be able to get to a place where someone could fly off if they’ve had enough. The whole trip could take 3-4-5-6 months, depending how we all felt—all families, children whatever are welcome etc. Please don’t think you have to go alone with the boat trip, to be in the band. I just wanted to let you know everything we’ve been talking about. (I thought we’d really be ready to hit the road after such a healthy restful rehearsal.)
Anyway, there it is, if you want to talk more please call us, or even come over here to N. York. We’re at the St. Regis, here til Nov. 30 at least (753-4500- ext/room 1701) all expenses paid of course! Or write. At least think about it, please don’t be frightened, I understand paranoia, only too well, I think it could only do good for you, to work with people who love and respect you, and that’s from all of us.
Lots of love to you both from, John & Yoko.”