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The Time Prince Blew Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Steve Winwood Off the Stage

George Harrison‘s posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame brought out some expected friends and collaborators – but it was fellow inductee Prince who stole the show.

Even though he was mostly associated with pop and soul music, Prince smashed expectations on March 15, 2004, with Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne — both collaborators with Harrison in the Traveling Wilburys — as well as with Steve Winwood, who’d been part of the sessions for 1979’s George Harrison, and George’s son, Dhani Harrison, during a thunderous rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

It didn’t start that way. The preceding verses – sung by Petty with Lynne – had been quietly reverent. Prince’s redemptive solo, however, was anything but. Just as notable, he never lost his sense of showmanship, despite the intensity of the performance.

At one point, Prince looked back at the typically stoic Petty and then fell backward over the monitors into the crowd. A stagehand is there to catch him, and he was gently pushed back up to the bandstand, even as his torrid exploration on the guitar continued. Dhani Harrison looked on in wide-eyed wonder. A smile, ever so brief, later curled up Prince’s face as his lengthy solo neared its end. Then Prince tossed his guitar into the air, presumably to be caught by the same stagehand who had earlier caught the man who played it, and calmly strutted offstage.

What could be more rock ‘n’ roll than that?

Prince talked about freedom in his acceptance speech that night at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His performance of this Beatles classic provided its own kind: freedom from genre classification.

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Next: How the Traveling Wilburys Transformed Our Concept of Supergroups

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