‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ from Hell To Pay (Arista BMG 1990)

Welcome to the latest instalment of our Essential series.  Although we do plan to cover the album as a whole at some point, today we are taking a look at a specific track from the 1990 Jeff Healey Band release, Hell To Pay;  the George Harrison penned classic, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

Riding high on the tremendous success of their debut album, See The Light, and with almost two more years of experience and a clear vision of what they wanted to accomplish, the band headed up to world-famous, Le Studio in Morin Heights, Quebec to cut their sophomore release.  Production chores were being handled by veteran studio master Ed Stasium, who’s resume includes the Ramones, Living Colour, Talking Heads (and so much more)…  It was Stasium’s stellar work with Living Colour that helped bring him to the band’s attention. 

Jeff Healey:…Ed Stasium was a godsend.  He just came in and knew exactly how to work with us.

While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was something we’d wanted to do for the first album.  We’d been doing it in our live stage act, playing in bars and so forth, pretty much since we started.  I felt two years ago wasn’t a good time to do it, so we didn’t.  And it’s just as well because we probably wouldn’t have wound up with the version we have now.  So our decision to record it now was a matter of ‘right time, right place’.

“Somewhere through the grapevine he (Harrison) had heard that we were performing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”  Well obviously, he had to be checked for the rights to record it.  So he contacted us and asked whether we wanted any advice or maybe even collaboration.  We said: “Sure.”  …due to schedule incompatibilities, we had to send the tapes to Los Angeles, where he made a stopover on his way back to London.  Jeff Lynne joins him – on his time, thank you very much to Jeff.  They went in and recorded their stuff, some backing vocals and acoustic guitar, on the tune.  It’s fantastic.” (Guitar World  Sept. 1990)

“It was good fortune.  It began as a little idea and then he expressed some interest in doing it and it just fell together.”  (Guitar School Sept. 1990)

Ed Stasium:I spoke with George Harrison, who was in Hawaii at the time, and sent a slave tape to him.  We kept eight tracks open, and I sent him instructions – if you want to call it that; “requests” is more like it  – that we’d like him to play acoustic and play backup.  And that’s what he and Jeff Lynne did – they put their parts down together in L.A. when Lynne was working on his solo record there.(Guitar World Sept. 1990)

Jeff Healey:George plays acoustic on the song, as does Jeff Lynne. I did all the electric stuff.(Guitar School Sept. 1990)

Where the collaboration really shines is on George Harrison’s wonderful harmony vocals (and of course Jeff Lynne’s as well), taking a fantastic cover and pushing it that extra bit further into classic territory; harmonies and lead vocals perfectly blended in performance and production.

Jeff Healey:It works.  On the verse, “Look at you all, see the love that is sleeping,” that’s me singing the harmony; he then comes in and sings the harmony on “while my guitar gently weeps.(Guitar World Sept. 1990)

Jeff’s guitar is brilliant as always, suggesting Clapton’s signature work in the original Beatles recording, without ever stepping into strict imitation or pastiche.

Jeff Healey:The original is a classic. It was sort of like improvising around an old standard, like “I Got Rhythm” – obviously you’re going to allude back to the original to some degree.  I approached it with a jazz mentality – in other words, I tried to paraphrase certain lines.  I wouldn’t even attempt to try one of the song’s little licks, because that’s what Eric did twenty years ago.  And everybody else would say that.” (Guitar School Sept. 1990)

It is quite simply one of the great rock covers, and has achieved eternal rotation on radio stations around the world. The Jeff Healey Band took a track that was already recognized as a classic and indelibly stamped it as their own. From Jeff’s soulful vocals, to his stunning guitar work (in his leads and also in the body of the track – subtle descending harmonies evocative of Harrison’s later solo work); The tasteful keyboards of Paul Schaffer, always supporting, never overpowering the track; Sass Jordan’s incredible soaring vocals in the outro… The Jeff Healey Band’s recording of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” definitely merits status as ‘Essential Jeff Healey’.

Have a listen for yourself…

…and here’s a cool live version from 1997…