On March 15th, 2004. Prince was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. He opened and closed the show. The closer is what the night is remembered for. Prince’s stunning guitar solo that blew everyone around him to smithereens.
2004 was an important year for Prince. He stepped back into the spotlight to remind the world of his genius. On February 8th, he had opened the 46th Grammy Awards show with a medley of his songs with a guest appearance by Beyoncé. A thrilling performance that re-introduced him to the American public.
On March 15th, he played at the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame induction show, garnering much excitement and respect. Later the same month he unleashed his new album and tour, Musicology, a number one album and tour.
Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Show
Prince was there as he was a nominee for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Musicians qualify for induction once they’ve been in the business for 25 years. They are then voted on by a committee of peers and industry professionals. Prince was eligible for the first time, as his career had started in 1978 with the release of For You. In 2003 he had his 25 year run, so in 2004 he could be inducted. And he was. Other nominees that year were Jackson Browne, The Dells, George Harrison, Bob Seger, Traffic, ZZ Top and Jann Wenner (founder of Rolling Stone magazine).
Prince himself opened the show with a rousing medley of some of his best-known songs: Let’s Go Crazy, Sign O’ The Times and Kiss.
He was introduced by Alicia Keys and Outkast’s Big Boi and André 3000, all three big admirers:
There are many kings – King Henry VII, King Solomon, King Tut, King James, King Kong, the three kings, but there is only one Prince … only one man who has defied restriction, defied the obvious and all the rules of the game.
In his acceptance speech Prince talked about freedom and thanked Warner Bros., the label he had such a rocky relationship with over the course his career:
When I first started out in this music industry, I was most concerned with freedom: freedom to produce, freedom play all the instruments on my records, freedom to say anything I wanted to. I embarked on a journey more fascinating than I could have ever imagined.
After much negotiation, Warner Bros. Records granted me my freedom, and I thank them for that.
Without real spiritual mentoring, too much freedom can lead to the soul’s decay. And a word to the young artists: a real friend and mentor is not on your payroll. I wish all of you the best on this fascinating journey. It ain’t over.
When My Guitar Gently Weeps
Because George Harrison was inducted as well, the idea came up for an all-star jam. Ceremony producer and director Joel Gallen wrote a personal letter to Prince, hoping to entice Prince to play along, as he would be there anyway.
Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne were there as well, as they would induct George Harrison. Petty was excited by the idea of playing with Prince and suggested leaving extra room for him to display his guitar prowess.
Reportedly, Prince was not too familiar with the Beatles’ catalog, he said he hadn’t heard While My Guitar Gently Weeps, but that seems a ludicrous claim. Prince was keen to play with Tom Petty as Free Fallin’ was one of his favorite songs.
During rehearsals Prince kept quiet and didn’t even solo. Gallen: “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”.
Gallen made sure everybody understood that Prince was to have the last solo. Prince assured the producer all would be fine come show time. The band and Prince never really rehearsed.
And at show-time Prince delivered. At 3 minutes and 28 seconds into the song, Prince steps forward and displays a dazzling array of musical weapons. Prince’s confidence is cocky, yet filled with joy. The other musicians (Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, Dhani Harrison and others) can’t hide their surprise and awe.
At the end of the solo, Prince throws his guitar up in the air and it never comes down, well not visibly anyway. After that he just walks off, cool as hell, knowing he had impressed everyone in the room and the viewers at home.
Maybe the fact he wasn’t part of the list of ‘100 greatest guitar players ever’, that was published in Rolling Stone magazine a year before, had something to do with it, but his performance was stunning and memorable. After his premature death, footage of that performance was shown all over the world, as a reminder of the genius that Prince was, and how underrated he was as a guitar player.
So, without further ado, I give you While My Guitar Gently Weeps:
So, did the guitar really never come down? As it turned out later, Prince had instructed his guitar technician Takumi Suetsugu to catch the guitar at the end of the performance and to then hand the MadCat Hohner Telecaster off to a special fan: Oprah Winfrey. However, Oprah returned (or had to return) the guitar to Takumi. It was Prince’s most beloved (and played) guitar, so that wasn’t to be given away.
Of course, Prince’s night wasn’t over yet. After the ceremony, he performed an exclusive show for members of his NPG Music Club at New York’s Club Black.