Monday, December 3, 2012

Extraordinary John Lennon Letter To Eric Clapton: Join My New Band!

by Stephen J. Gertz

A spectacular, significant and revealing eight-page handwritten and signed  letter, undated but c. mid-late 1969, from John Lennon to Eric Clapton inviting him to team up in a new band, is being offered by auctioneer Profiles in History in its Property of a Distinguished American Private Collector sale on December 18, 2012. It is estimated to sell for $20,000 - $30,000.

Over a thousand words, it was written by Lennon on behalf of Yoko and him after the Beatles  split-up and Lennon and Ono were seeking an opportunity to create music of a more profound and artistic nature - and "revolutionary." Clapton had left Cream when it curdled, intent on pursuing a solo career. Lennon and Clapton had originally met in the mid-1960s when Eric was with The Yardbirds and they had remained friends.

Their careers were in a state of flux and John sensed a unique opportunity. "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."

The letter reads in full:

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.

Lennon's reference in his greeting to "Eric and" and later to  "you both" and "you and yours" refers to Paula Boyd, 17-year-old sister of Pattie Boyd, George Harrison's wife, with whom Clapton (a friend of Harrison) was involved in a thus far unrequited love affair painful for all concerned. Patty was the someone behind Harrison's Something; Paula subbed for Patty until she learned that the lady behind Clapton's  love-sick plea, Layla, was her sister. That's not the half of it; the entire saga is one of rock's greatest soap operas.

"'Becoming American' won't stop the pain..."

A few years ago I had a marvelous first edition association copy of Arthur Janov's The Primal Scream inscribed in March 1970 - within nine months of the letter under notice - by Lennon to Clapton pass through my hands with similar references, "Eric +" and "you and yours." Paula Boyd was, apparently, She Who Must Remain Nameless. Here, John reached out to his close friend once again to offer support during a time of personal turmoil for Eric. Nine months after the inscription's date Paula got the message and left Clapton..

Clapton played with The Plastic Ono Band in December 1969 during its Live Peace in Toronto performance but did not become a full-time member.

This historic letter from rock n' roll's most progressive voice and towering icon to the greatest guitarist of his generation is a draft. The content of the final version is unknown.

Images courtesy of Profiles in History, with our thanks.

Of Related Interest:

Yoko Ono Collects Rare Books: The Booktryst Interview.

Paul McCartney's Handwritten Lyrics To "Lovely Rite" Offered At $175,000.


  1. Clapton is coming to Nashville in a few months and I really hope I get to see him. I haven’t before and I know it would be something I would never forget. Clapton is god. Great post keep up the hard work. Check these out IStillGotMyGuitar.

  2. its from 1971 or 1972. He references Imagine and Fly albums and Concert for BanglaDesh, all from 1971.

  3. The and refers to Alice Ormsby-Gore I am sure.

  4. HOW could this letter be from 1969 if Lennon refers to the 1971 Bangladesh concert, Hmmm...


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