Music

Let’s remember that amazing time Tom Petty and Prince played together

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Dave Fawbert
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Tom Petty Prince

So, we bid adieu to another bona fide rock legend in the shape of Tom Petty, who has sadly died at the age of 66.

But, as with those other heroes that have left us in the past few years, we can at least console ourselves with the fact that they’ve all left us a huge body of work to enjoy forevermore.

And, alongside all the hits - ‘Free Fallin’, ‘American Girl’, ‘Won’t Back Down’ and all the rest - people have been remembering an absolutely iconic performance given by Petty alongside a man who also left us recently: Mr Prince Rogers Nelson.

It took place at the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony when Petty, Prince, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood and some other sensational players came together to play the Beatles classic ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ to celebrate the induction of George Harrison, who wrote the song.

Petty, who played acoustic and shared lead vocals with Jeff Lynne, told the New York Times last year: Olivia Harrison [George’s widow] asked me if I would come along and induct George. I was told, “Well, Prince is going to play too,” and I was like, “Wow, that’s fantastic.”

In rehearsals, Jeff Lynne’s guitarist Marc Mann took both the solo in the middle and the end, with Joel Gallen, the producer and director of the ceremony, explaining:

“He says hello to Tom and Jeff and the band. When we get to the middle solo, where Prince is supposed to do it, Jeff Lynne’s guitar player just starts playing the solo. Note for note, like Clapton. And Prince just stops and lets him do it and plays the rhythm, strums along. And we get to the big end solo, and Prince again steps forward to go into the solo, and this guy starts playing that solo too! Prince doesn’t say anything, just starts strumming, plays a few leads here and there, but for the most part, nothing memorable.

 “They finish, and I go up to Jeff and Tom, and I sort of huddle up with these guys, and I’m like: “This cannot be happening. I don’t even know if we’re going to get another rehearsal with him. [Prince]. But this guy cannot be playing the solos throughout the song. So I talk to Prince about it, I sort of pull him aside and had a private conversation with him, and he was like: “Look, let this guy do what he does, and I’ll just step in at the end. For the end solo, forget the middle solo.” And he goes, “Don’t worry about it.” And then he leaves. They never rehearsed it, really. Never really showed us what he was going to do, and he left, basically telling me, the producer of the show, not to worry. And the rest is history. It became one of the most satisfying musical moments in my history of watching and producing live music.

Petty explained further that they decided to let Prince have free reign on the end solo, saying, “Look, we got Prince here willing to play lead guitar. Why should we give him an eight-bar solo? Over a solo that — the Beatles solo, everyone knows it by heart and would be disappointed if you didn’t play that particular solo there. And Prince was a great fan of George’s, and the Beatles in general, but I think he particularly admired George. I think George would have liked it a lot.”

Heartbreakers drummer Steve Ferrone added: “Tom sort of went over to him and said, “Just cut loose and don’t feel sort of inhibited to copy anything that we have, just play your thing, just have a good time.” It was a hell of a guitar solo, and a hell of a show he actually put on for the band. When he fell back into the audience, everybody in the band freaked out, like, “Oh my God, he’s falling off the stage!” And then that whole thing with the guitar going up in the air. I didn’t even see who caught it. I just saw it go up, and I was astonished that it didn’t come back down again. Everybody wonders where that guitar went, and I gotta tell you, I was on the stage, and I wonder where it went, too.”

Petty: “You see me nodding at him, to say, “Go on, go on.” I remember I leaned out at him at one point and gave him a “This is going great!” kind of look. He just burned it up. You could feel the electricity of “something really big’s going down here.”

It’s a wonderful story, and a magical performance, and the looks of admiration exchanged between the two guitarists during Prince’s solo are a joy to behold.

We imagine they’re up in heaven doing an encore right now.

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Dave Fawbert

ShortList.com staff writer Dave’s primary passions are pop, prose, punning and power ballads (and alliteration). A lower division football enthusiast and long-suffering cricket fan, he is one of only 110 people followed on Twitter by Chas Hodges from Chas ‘n’ Dave. Follow Dave on Twitter like Chas: @davefawbert

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