For every epic jam session that alters the contours of popular music, sometimes the music gods deal fans a cruel hand. Not every experimental union is perfect. Sometimes the participants get as far as the studio (Bob Dylan and George Harrison), sometimes the results actually get released and do more harm than good (Mick Jagger/Joss Stone/Damian Marley’s godawful Superheavy band). Here’s a look back at some of the most spectacular fails of Superjam-esque sessions that almost happened, leaving us with mere traces of the greatness that could have transpired if only history hadn’t skipped a beat.
Miles Davis x Paul McCartney x Jimi Hendrix
As reported recently, an artifact owned by the Hard Rock Cafe in Prague is being newly scrutinized as it sheds light on a possible, previously unthinkable jam. Imagine a group made up of the world’s best performers shattering boundaries of rock, soul, and jazz. In October 1969, Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis, and monster drummer Tony Williams reached out to the Beatles’ Paul McCartney via telegram to join a recording session: “We are recording and [sic] LP together this weekend. How about coming in to play bass.”
The missive arrived at a time when tension riddled McCartney’s band. But McCartney was on holiday and never responded, and the short-lived promise of this paradigm-shifting session went unfulfilled. Beyond McCartney, the rest of the group has no known recordings, either – Hendrix and Davis reportedly jammed together at Davis’ New York apartment, but had not yet entered the studio together to record. The following year, Hendrix died. McCartney, the only remaining living member of the group, has yet to confirm or deny his receipt of the telegram. He does, however, regularly share a story and a riff in honor of Hendrix at his live shows.
The Band x Eric Clapton
In his speech inducting The Band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Eric Clapton declared an appreciation of the group to the highest order. Clapton admitted to dropping in on one of the group’s home studio sessions in the late 1960s. His end game: to make a case for becoming a member.
Clapton recalled, “I went to visit the Band in Woodstock, and I really sort of went there to ask if I could join the band. I mean, I didn’t have the guts to say it—I didn’t have the nerve. I just sort of sat there and watched these guys work. And I remember Robbie (Robertson) saying, ‘We don’t jam. We don’t jam, so there’s no point in sitting here and trying to, you know… We just write and work.‘”
Even though his plan faltered, Clapton said he was inspired from that moment to keep honing his craft. If only he spoke up, maybe they would have made a wise exception to their rule. Clapton and Robertson have since played together onstage at Clapton’s Crossroads guitar festival, and for decades have continued to push one another creatively.
But thinking back to that would-be jam session, Robertson admitted his own confusion at Clapton showing up without stating his intent. Roberston recalled, “I asked him, ‘Were you insinuating we needed a new guitarist? Were you coming to take my job? Or saying that we should have two guitars?‘ And he laughed and never answered me!”
Jay-Z x Jack White x Beyonce
More recently, the stars at Bonnaroo 2010 seemed poised to align Bonnaroo for a constellation of major musical figures to share the stage. Jay-Z was not only a headliner, but he had boasted in interviews of recorded collaborations with fellow festival favorite Jack White. There was word of a track called “Ray Bans,” and others waiting to be released. White was also on site that year, performing with his latest band, The Dead Weather. Add to this that Jay-Z’s better half, Beyonce, was in town, and was seen hours before the show with her entourage.
As Jay’s show went on, B posted up on the stage to watch, but remained on the sidelines. White was given the perfect moment to rush on stage, a shout-out from Jay-Z—“Jack White, I see ya, boy! I see ya!”—but the Jigga man carried his own show from beginning to end. Jay-Z gave one of the hypest and most well-received sets in the history of the ‘Roo by himself. But there’s no question this triumvirate would have left a deep impact.