The Mystery of Who Played Bass on The White Album’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”

George Har­ri­son, the qui­et Bea­t­le, was the first to break out on his own in 1970 with his glo­ri­ous triple album All Things Must Pass. “Gar­bo talks! — Har­ri­son is free!” wrote Melody Mak­er’s Richard Williams in a review, a ref­er­ence to the reclu­sive silent film star who, like the Bea­t­les’ gui­tarist, kept her mys­tique and star pow­er even after fans first heard her voice. Har­rison’s rev­e­la­tion could­n’t have been as dra­mat­ic as all that.

Sure­ly, no fan of “Tax­man,” “With­in You With­out You,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Some­thing” — and espe­cial­ly The White Album’s stun­ning “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Sleeps” — doubt­ed that George had it in him all along. But the oth­er Bea­t­les would only humor him dur­ing The White Album ses­sions. That is, until he brought Eric Clap­ton into the stu­dio. “That then made every­one act bet­ter,” Har­ri­son remem­bers in Anthol­o­gy. “Paul got on the piano and played a nice intro and they all took it more seri­ous­ly.”

The ques­tion in the You Can’t Unhear This video above is whether Paul played bass on the final stu­dio record­ing and, if not, who did?  It’s an inte­gral part of the song’s feel — the grit­ty, restrained growl, slow­ly grow­ing in inten­si­ty until it sounds like it might give Har­rison’s gui­tar some­thing else to weep about. The mys­tery of the aggres­sive-yet-mut­ed part “has per­plexed schol­ars and Bea­t­les fans for decades.” If you’ve remained unper­plexed, you might find your­self ques­tion­ing assump­tions about this most beloved of Bea­t­les’ tunes.

Ses­sions for the song began in late July of 1968, then picked up again in August, but Har­ri­son decid­ed to scrap every­thing and start over in Sep­tem­ber once Ringo returned from a “self-imposed exile” in the Mediter­ranean. The band seemed refreshed: “the qual­i­ty of the per­for­mances on the new Sep­tem­ber ver­sion seemed to reflect that renewed spir­it.” Ses­sions for the track wrapped on Sep­tem­ber 24. “For many years it was believed that this was the record­ing ses­sion in which Eric Clap­ton over­dubbed his lead gui­tar solo,” writes the Bea­t­les Bible. Not so — Clap­ton sat in on all of the live takes record­ed with the band. Ah, but who played bass? See the mys­tery take shape above and post your the­o­ries below.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Bea­t­les’ 8 Pio­neer­ing Inno­va­tions: A Video Essay Explor­ing How the Fab Four Changed Pop Music

Is “Rain” the Per­fect Bea­t­les Song?: A New Video Explores the Rad­i­cal Inno­va­tions of the 1966 B‑Side

Hear the Beau­ti­ful Iso­lat­ed Vocal Har­monies from the Bea­t­les’ “Some­thing”

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

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Comments (13)
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  • Glenn says:

    Klauss Voor­mann?

  • Bob Cataliotti says:

    McCart­ney dis­cuss­es the bass part he played on While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps with Rick Rubin on the 321 McCart­ney series that debuted on Hulu this past sum­mer.

  • Paul Tatara says:

    Yeah, I’m of the mind­set that McCart­ney would know if it’s him. There’s not even any men­tion in the arti­cle of why one might think it’s NOT him!

  • Bobby says:

    It was Paul McCart­ney.

    There are some drum tracks that were played by a ses­sion play­er when Ringo quit. There are some key­board parts played by oth­ers. But Paul played bass on this. It’s very obvi­ous­ly him too.

  • Ian Dickinson says:

    It’s Paul

    There’s noth­ing in the videos that remote­ly ques­tions this. In fact, what does that even mean — “The mys­tery of the aggres­sive-yet-mut­ed part “”has per­plexed schol­ars and Bea­t­les fans for decades.”

    No it hasn’t.

    Ian Mac­Don­ald (Rev­o­lu­tion in the Head) says it was McCart­ney. Mark Lewisohn (The Bea­t­les Com­plete Record­ing Ses­sions) says it was McCart­ney. McCart­ney 321 says it was McCart­ney.

    Please don’t turn Open Cul­ture into click­bait. If you need some­one to write intel­li­gent­ly about The Bea­t­les there are plen­ty of peo­ple dojng pod­casts out there.

    And fyi Paul played drums on the White Album tracks when Ringo left for a bit. Not a ses­sion drum­mer.


  • Peter Guy Myrand says:

    It sounds total­ly McCart­ney. If it was some­one else, who­ev­er that be, they were emu­lat­ing his style. And very well may I add.

  • Dennis J. Duffy says:

    Too late! Open Cul­ture has been spew­ing click­bait for some time now. (Like every time they fea­ture a colour­ized, mod­i­fied film and say that it’s been ‘restored”.…)

  • Barry Feldman says:

    The Wal­rus was Paul

  • David Brady says:

    Peo­ple who have stud­ied that par­tic­u­lar pho­to look at the Wal­rus’ build and height and seem to think that the Wal­rus was John.

  • Jake Forrest says:

    Open cul­ture already is click bait.

  • Gates Perron says:

    I think it could be Lennon or Har­ri­son did you know that both could play drums or base but nev­er real­ly paid atten­tion to it they actu­al­ly pre­ferred play­ing gui­tar but the media puts McCart­ney as a mul­ti­ple instru­ment play­er when in real­i­ty the three McCart­ney Lennon Haris­son played pret­ty much any instru­ment

  • j says:

    Her­bie Flow­ers.
    They actu­al­ly use the same make of semi-rare strings.

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