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Music

When Paul McCartney recalled the moment Jimi Hendrix asked Eric Clapton to tune his guitar

@TomTaylorFO

It’s the Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo debate of the music world: Who was the better guitarist, Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton. On both occasions, the answer is quite obvious and only a lobotomised goon would think otherwise, but I won’t be betraying any of my humble opinions here.

Similarly, both guitarists had an almost banal level of respect for each other, refusing to joust for the public’s amusement (and journalistic column inches) and shaking hands instead. However, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t aware of the comparisons and were happy to have a little bit of fun with it… or a the very least Hendrix was. 

Their friendship and respect began on their very first meeting. Hendrix was fresh to the grey shores of Blighty and his manager Chas Chandler was eager to give his virtuoso some stellar exposure. “We got up on stage,” Eric Clapton recalled to Planet Rock of a fateful Cream gig, “and Chas Chandler says, ‘I’ve got this friend who would love to jam with you’.”

Continuing: “It was funny, in those days anybody could get up with anybody if you were convincing enough that you could play. He got up and blew everyone’s mind. I just thought ‘ahh, someone that plays the stuff I love in the flesh, on stage with me.’I was actually privileged to be (on stage with him).”

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This was a moment he would never forget. Concluding: “It’s something that no one is ever going to beat; that incident, that night, it’s historic in my mind but only a few people are alive that would remember it.” Thus, when he was back on London shores a year later, just a couple of days after Sgt. Pepper had been released, he was eager to join his elite pals in attendance. 

Paul McCartney, who describes Hendrix as his favourite guitarist of all time, recalled in an interview with Stephen Colbert: “I was there, Clapton was there, [Pete] Townshend was there. We’d all come to see this new guitar God.” And that God was about to give fans a rendition of Sgt. Peppers even though the album had only been out for a few days. 

“He played a great version of it,” McCartney buoyantly adds, “But he had this vibrator on, whammy bar, call it what you will.” And the minute he started making his wild sounds with it, ragging it about like a squirrel with a bag of nuts in a true act of smile-inducing showmanship, the musicians in the room were hit with a revelation beyond the skill. 

“We’re going woah great, great…but we knew,” Macca adds, “now he’s out of tune. It was his first number! So, we’re looking, and what is he going to do.” Unperturbed, Hendrix’s guitar could’ve been aflame and he still would’ve weaved his way out of it, in fact, he did just that on a couple of occasions, but those are tales for another day because this trick was rather more wry than that.

“He starts looking for Eric Clapton in the audience,” McCartney continues, “He says, ‘Is Eric out there man?’ But Eric is hiding. Jimi spots him and says, ‘Hey man, will you come up here and tune this thing for me?’” Now if that’s not a power move, I don’t know what is. Did Clapton go up and tune it? Well, what do you think! Of course he didn’t. 

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