John Lennon Writes Eric Clapton an 8‑Page Letter Asking Him to Join the Plastic Ono Band for a World Tour on a Cruise Ship


Most every­one who com­ments on the phe­nom­e­non of the super­group will feel the need to point out that such bands rarely tran­scend the sum of their parts, and this is most­ly true. But it does seem that for a cer­tain peri­od of time in the late six­ties, many of the best bands were super­groups, or had at least two or more “super” mem­bers. Take the Yard­birds, for exam­ple, which con­tained, though not all at once, Jim­my Page, Jeff Beck, and Eric Clap­ton. Or Cream, with Clap­ton, Jack Bruce, and Gin­ger Bak­er. Or Blind Faith—with Clap­ton, Bak­er, and Steve Win­wood…. Maybe it’s fair to say that every band Clap­ton played in was “super,” includ­ing, for a brief time, John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Plas­tic Ono Band.

It start­ed with the one-off per­for­mance above in Toron­to, which led to an undat­ed eight-page let­ter Lennon wrote Clap­ton, either in 1969, accord­ing to Book­tryst, or 1971, accord­ing to Michael Schumacher’s Clap­ton bio Cross­roads. The let­ter we have–well over a thou­sand words–is a draft. Lennon’s revised copy has not sur­faced, and, writes Book­tryst, “the con­tent of the final ver­sion is unknown.” In this copy (first page at top), Lennon prais­es Clapton’s work and details his and Yoko’s plans for a “rev­o­lu­tion­ary” project quite unlike Lennon’s for­mer band. As he puts it, “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!”

Lennon explic­it­ly states that he does not want the band to be a super­group, even as he recruits super mem­bers like Clap­ton and Phil Spec­tor: “We have many ‘rev­o­lu­tion­ary’ ideas for pre­sent­ing shows that com­plete­ly involve the audience—not just as ‘Super­stars’ up there—blessing the peo­ple.” While Lennon and Ono don’t expect their recruits to “rat­i­fy every­thing we believe polit­i­cal­ly,” they do state their inten­tion for “’rev­o­lu­tion­iz­ing’ the world thru music.” “We’d love to ‘do’ Rus­sia, Chi­na, Hun­gary, Poland, etc.,” writes Lennon. Lat­er in the mis­sive, he explains his detailed plan for the Plas­tic Ono Band tour he had in mind—involving a cruise ship, film crew, and the band’s “fam­i­lies, chil­dren what­ev­er”:

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 […] The whole trip could take 3–4‑5–6 months, depend­ing how we all felt.

It sounds like an out­landish pro­pos­al, but if you’re John Lennon, I imag­ine noth­ing of this sort seems beyond reach—though how he expect­ed to get to East­ern Europe from the Pacif­ic Rim on his ship isn’t quite clear. The prob­lem for Clap­ton, biog­ra­ph­er Michael Schu­mach­er spec­u­lates, would have had noth­ing to do with the music and every­thing to do with his addic­tion: “after all his prob­lems with secur­ing drugs in the biggest city in the Unit­ed States, Clap­ton couldn’t begin to enter­tain the notion of spend­ing lengthy peri­ods at sea and try­ing to obtain hero­in in for­eign coun­tries.” In any case, “in the end, Lennon’s pro­pos­al, like so many of his improb­a­ble but com­pelling ideas, fell through.” This may have had some rela­tion to the fact that Lennon had a hero­in prob­lem of his own at the time.

The clip of Clap­ton per­form­ing with the band comes from Sweet Toron­to, a 1971 film made by D.A. Pen­nebak­er of the band’s per­for­mance at the 1969 Toron­to Rock and Roll Revival Fes­ti­val (see the full film above). That event had a whol­ly improb­a­ble line­up of ‘50s stars like Chuck Berry, Lit­tle Richard, Jer­ry Lee Lewis, and Bo Did­dley along­side bands like Alice Coop­er, Chica­go, and The Doors. As the title open­ing of the film states, “John could at last intro­duce Yoko to the heroes of his child­hood.” Pen­nebak­er gives us snip­pets of the per­for­mance from each of Lennon’s heroes—opening with Did­dley, then Lewis, Berry, and Lit­tle Richard—before the Plas­tic Ono Band with Clap­ton appear at 16:43. (This per­for­mance also pro­duced their first album.) The Bea­t­les Bible has a full run­down of the fes­ti­val and the band’s some­what sham­bol­ic, bluesy—and with Yoko, screechy—show.

Read the full tran­script and see more scans of Lennon’s draft let­ter to Clap­ton over at Book­tryst, who also explain the cryp­tic ref­er­ences to “Eric and,” “you both,” and “you and yours”—part of the “soap opera” affair involv­ing Clap­ton, George Harrison’s (and lat­er Clap­ton’s) wife Pat­tie Boyd, and her 17-year-old sis­ter Paula.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

In 1969 Telegram, Jimi Hen­drix Invites Paul McCart­ney to Join a Super Group with Miles Davis

Eric Clap­ton and Steve Win­wood Join Forces at the His­toric Blind Faith Con­cert in Hyde Park, 1969

John Lennon Plays Bas­ket­ball with Miles Davis and Hangs Out with Allen Gins­berg & Friends

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness


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Comments (6)
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  • P says:

    What the hell was Yoko doing??? WTF????

  • J says:

    Still too far ahead of our time

  • Jerry Di Trolio says:

    Very inter­est­ed arti­cle about John Lennon&Miles Davie play­ing bas­ket­ball, here you got two dif­fer­ent mus­cians from two musi­cal spec­trum.

  • Tim says:

    No doubt what­so­ev­er that the let­ter is 1971: it refers to miss­ing the Con­cert for Bangladesh (Aug 1 1971), and men­tions that they’re stay­ing at the St. Reg­is Hotel like­ly until the end of Octo­ber. The arrived there and Sep­tem­ber, and they moved into their Green­wich Vil­lage apart­ment on Octo­ber 16, so there’s actu­al­ly a fair­ly nar­row win­dow in which the let­ter could have been writ­ten in late sum­mer 1971. This is a great arti­cle though! I’d nev­er seen that Sweet Toron­to clip before!

  • SME says:

    Giv­ing a hot Michi­gan to Yoko Ono is nev­er a good idea. I wish Clap­ton would pro­vide hon­est com­men­tary on his thoughts about shar­ing the stage with that scream­ing ban­shee. Then again, he may not remem­ber much of those days. Yoko should apol­o­gize to human­i­ty for this.

  • SME says:

    Hot micro­phone. Not Michi­gan. Damn spell check.

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