WHILE THEIR GUITARS GENTLY WEEP
Here are the main axes that wailed at the Bangladesh benefit.
AS PETER FRAMPTON noted, there was no shortage of guitarists at the Concert for Bangladesh. And while some of the guitars that were played at one or both shows are famous — consider Eric Clapton’s “Brownie” Strat, which he used for the second show after abandoning the Gibson Byrdland he played in the first set — others remain mired in mystery. Here’s a guide to the main examples wielded at the concerts.
1 GEORGE HARRISON’S MYSTERY STRAT
Harrison spent much of the show playing a stripped Fender Strat with a ’50s maple neck, a guitar whose background has baffled many. Its only known appearances were at the Concert for Bangladesh and on The Dick Cavett Show two months later, when Harrison sat in on slide guitar with Gary Wright and the Wonder Wheel. Some believe he rented it from Manny’s Music in Manhattan, but it’s unlikely he would have had the same guitar twice. And as Molland says, “I don’t think he would’ve rented a guitar for a show like that.” Perhaps it was a gift from Clapton, who had purchased six mid-’50s Strats for a bargain price at the Sho-Bud guitar shop in Nashville, and given three of them to Pete Townshend, Steve Winwood and Harrison. Another theory is that the Bangladesh Strat is a late ’50s–early ’60s transitional model that featured a maple neck and three-ply pickguard, and that Harrison had simply stripped it of its finish, just as he and Lennon had done with their Epiphone Casinos around the time of the White Album.
“There was a phase in England, where everybody wanted their Fender guitars stripped,” Frampton says, “including me, [Humble Pie bassist] Greg Ridley and [Small Faces/Faces multi-instrumentalist] Ian McLagan. Ian and I were pretty handy, so we got a paint stripper, got all the paint off and put polyurethane varnish on. None of us realized at the time how we were destroying the value of those guitars.”
Of course, many players of the time simply gave their now-priceless guitars — like Harrison’s rosewood Telecaster [see page 36] — away to friends. Harrison related the story of how he gave this particular Strat to Spike Milligan: “He was at my house one day with Peter Sellers. Peter was playing the drums, Spike was playing the piano, and I was playing guitar. Then Spike got off the piano and wanted to play the guitar, so I plugged him in to this Strat through a little Champ amplifier. He said, ‘Oh, I haven’t played for 30 years,’ but he just picked it up and it sounded like Django Reinhardt or something. And I thought, Well, that’s good. So when he left, I put it in the case, and put it and the Champ in Peter Sellers’ boot and told him, ‘When you drop Spike off give him this. It’s the Strat from the Concert for Bangladesh.’”
2 1963 MARTIN D-28
Bob Dylan bought this Martin in the late ’60s and used it for 10 years, according to his repairman, Larry Cragg, who bought the guitar from him in 1977 for $500. Cragg, who nicknamed it Bob, kept the guitar unplayed in its original case and in a humidity- and temperature-controlled environment until he sold it at auction in 2017 for $396,500.
3 HARPTONE L-6NC
This six-string acoustic guitar, with its zero-fret design and unique headstock shape and double-neck truss rod, is currently on display at the Hard Rock Cafe in New York City. It’s said to have been a gift to Harrison from Peter Drake, the pedal-steel master who played on All Things Must Pass. Harptone asked Drake to give a few guitars to the Beatles to try out, and Ringo Starr liked his so much that the company made him a signature model. Harrison owned and used at least four, including this guitar and an L-12NC 12-string that he purchased for approximately $150 prior to recording the White Album. Badfinger members used the 12-string on the sessions for All Things Must Pass and Badfinger bassist Tom Evans played it at the Concert for Bangladesh. Harrison played the L-12 when he guested on Splinter’s 1974 debut album, The Place I Love, and gave it to member Bobby Purvis. The guitar was auctioned in 2005 and sold to a private collector. It appeared at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum’s Concert for Bangladesh exhibit in 2005–2006.
4 1958 GIBSON KORINA EXPLORER
This is the Explorer on which Don Preston delivered his fiery solo on “Jumpin Jack Flash,” inspiring Eric Clapton to get one of his own. The Explorer was among the futuristic 1950s designs Gibson launched, along with the Flying V and Moderna. Preston’s guitar is from the model’s first year, when Gibson shipped just 19 copies, making it one of the most valued guitars on the vintage market.
5 GIBSON BYRDLAND
A rental or a guitar that he owned? Nobody seems to know when Clapton picked up the Byrdland he played at the early show on August 1, but his choice of the guitar continues to be a source for discussion among guitarists. Some believe it was a 1950s model, pointing to the rounded cutaway, which was sharper on 1960s models. Others point to the double parallelogram inlays and black pickguard, which are typical for the 1960s ES-350T thinline model. Some claim that the body looks deeper than a Byrdland or 350T, suggesting that it’s an L-5 CES. But other features — including the headstock’s “torch” inlay, white-outlined truss-rod cover, gold-plated tuners, f-hole bindings, multi-ply body binding and the tailpiece — strongly suggest it’s a Byrdland. Even Clapton said so.
concerts. Harrison played a stripped Fender Stratocaster of unknown provenance, as well as a pair of Harptone acoustics: an L-6NC and an L-12NC [see sidebar, page 48]. While Clapton played the Byrdland for the first show, he switched to his “Brownie” Stratocaster for the second concert. Don Preston arrived with his Gibson ’58 Explorer, a model that particularly excited Molland. “It’s just an incredible guitar,” he enthuses. “It always astounded me how good they sound, and how light they were.”
Molland has a clear recollection of the acoustics he and his Badfinger bandmates played. “All of them were late-’60’s models, and they were used when we got them. I played a Gibson J-50, as I enjoyed the smoother tone. Tommy had brought his D-41, but he never played it; George had his Harptones and said he might be able to get some for us, but that never came together, so Tommy borrowed George’s 12-string. Pete played a Martin D-28. And there were no acoustic amps or pickups back then, so we were all mic’d up, and we sat next to the horn section. I was worried people wouldn’t be able to hear the acoustic guitars. But it turned out okay, because you can hear us on the record.
“We were a little bit nervous about playing right and doing the job well, so it wasn’t fun for us, but it was really exciting: the place being sold out, people losing their minds and doing something for the good of it all.” For Molland, one of the show’s highlights was organist Billy Preston’s impromptu dance during the band’s performance of his hit “That’s the Way God Planned It.” “He started to dance across the stage toward us, rolling his arms and skittling his legs,” the guitarist recalls. “And we were sitting on stools playing acoustic guitars, thinking, My God, he’s gonna run into us! But both shows went off as planned.”
In the end, Dylan showed up. Following his performance of “Here Comes the Sun” with Pete Ham, Harrison picked up his Fender Stratocaster and reviewed the set list taped to its body to see what was next: “Bob?” it read. Harrison looked around anxiously. To his relief, Dylan was making his way to the stage, his 1963 Martin D-28 strapped on and a harmonica in the holder around his neck. “He had his guitar on and his shades,” Harrison recalled. “He was sort of coming on, coming [pumps his arms and shoulders]… It was only at that moment that I knew for sure he was going to do it.”
Harrison turned to the microphone to deliver the biggest applause line of the show: “I’d like to bring on a friend of us all, Mr. Bob Dylan!”
The Concert for Bangladesh was a triumph of ingenuity and musical talent, a spur-of-the-moment project that launched a new concept in concerts. Its benefits would take years to reach the afflicted country. Those involved in the concert’s planning, including Apple manager Allen Klein, neglected to register the event for tax-exempt status in the U.S. and U.K., with the result that millions in tax dollars were held up for years. But ultimately, the album and film would raise and deliver an estimated $45 million, and Harrison would pass along the wisdom he gained from the experience to Bob Geldof when he launched Live Aid, ensuring that event’s estimated £50 million found its way to victims of the Ethiopian famine. Harrison’s groundbreaking humanitarian work continues to inspire musicians around the world.
“WE WERE ALL MIC’D UP, AND WE SAT NEXT TO THE HORN SECTION. I WAS WORRIED PEOPLE WOULDN’T BE ABLE TO HEAR THE ACOUSTIC GUITARS” — JOEY MOLLAND