April 21, 2017 will mark the one-year anniversary of one of the most tragic and unexpected deaths in modern music history. To honor Prince’s loss, I’d like to offer a quick breakdown of what I believe to be one of his most impressive and influential guitar solos; his masterful “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” solo from the 2004 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony.
I’d set the stage, but there’s already plenty of blog posts and history about this performance already out there. My focus is the brilliant guitar solo. Our first glimpse of Prince comes at the wide pan shot at around the 1:24 mark of the video. He’s far stage left in a red cowboy hat, lurking in the shadows like a predator about to strike his unexpected prey.
At the 2:12 mark we get a better shot. In addition to the hat, he’s rocking a wide collared matching red button down and a sleek black pinstripe suit. Needless to say, he’s strapped with his trusty Hohner Telecaster that is basically the co-star of Purple Rain, and despite all of the strange and funky shaped guitars he’s famously donned throughout the years, a staple in the Prince axe arsenal.
At around the 3:09 mark you hear Prince’s first powerful licks. Very subtle, under Tom Petty’s vocal you can hear Prince slide in with a slick little nod to Eric Clapton’s original solo from the Beatle’s original recorded version. He closes out this section with a slow little warbly bend that he brilliantly allows to fade away to help set the tone for what he’s about to do next. At 3:24 you see the rhythm guitarist over Tom Petty’s shoulder smile and nod in Prince’s direction. He’s most likely heard a version of what’s about to happen in dress rehearsal and is unable to contain his glee.
3:29: Here’s where the badassery begins. Prince starts with a few slow and sorrowful string bends that while basic in technique take on an unbelievably somber tone beneath such skillful fingers. He follows this up with some scorching blues licks. And, again, while even the most modest guitar player knows these same pentatonic scales, Prince maneuvers through them with a remarkable combination of surgical precision and improvisational grace.
Around the 4:05 mark, Prince goes into some hellacious tap-on to pull-off to open string licks that are just insane for an off-the-cuff solo. I mean, nobody does this in an improvised solo. There are guitar players who might write a solo like this for a record and practice it over and over before committing it to wax over a couple of takes… but to do this live off on the fly is simply ridiculous.
From here until about the 4:30 mark he’s skillfully working a few more slow bends and blues licks to complement the vocals. However, when the vocals end, he opens it up into a funky chromatic octave run that culminates in some tricky trills and a few more open-string pull-offs while simultaneously doing a back bend off the front of the stage into a stagehand’s arms (I’m guessing he borrowed Jesse or Jerome from The Time for this stunt).
Once he’s been pushed back up on to the stage, Prince takes a short breather to let everyone absorb what they’ve just witnessed before he lays down the blistering outro that leaves even the band members smiling and shaking their heads. At about the 5:34 mark, Prince shoots Petty a look that says “Yeah, I just slayed this shit. You’re welcome.”
And, to top it all off, if all that wasn’t baller enough, at the 6:08 mark, he hits his last note and all in one motion pulls his guitar off over his head, tosses it off the stage and walks off…