Harrison at the White House in 1974
|Born||25 February 1943
|Died||29 November 2001(aged 58)
Los Angeles, California, US
George Harrison,[nb 1] MBE (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001) was an English guitarist, singer-songwriter, and producer who achieved international fame as the lead guitarist of the Beatles. Often referred to as “the quiet Beatle”, Harrison embraced Hinduism and helped broaden the horizons of his bandmates as well as their American audience by incorporating Indian instrumentation in their music. Although most of the Beatles’ songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, most Beatles albums from 1965 onwards contained at least two Harrison compositions. His songs for the group included “Taxman“, “Within You Without You“, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps“, “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something“, the last of which became the Beatles’ second-most covered song.
Harrison’s earliest musical influences included George Formby and Django Reinhardt; Carl Perkins, Chet Atkinsand Chuck Berry were subsequent influences. By 1965, he had begun to lead the Beatles into folk rock through his interest in the Byrds and Bob Dylan, and towards Indian classical music through his use of the sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)“. Having initiated the band’s embracing of transcendental meditation in 1967, he subsequently developed an association with the Hare Krishna movement. After the band’s break-up in 1970, Harrison released the triple album All Things Must Pass, a critically acclaimed work that produced his most successful hit single, “My Sweet Lord“, and introduced his signature sound as a solo artist, the slide guitar. He also organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh with Indian musician Ravi Shankar, a precursor for later benefit concerts such as Live Aid. In his role as a music and film producer, Harrison produced acts signed to the Beatles’ Apple record label before founding Dark Horse Records in 1974 and co-founding HandMade Films in 1978.
Harrison released several best-selling singles and albums as a solo performer, and in 1988 co-founded the platinum-selling supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. A prolific recording artist, he was featured as a guest guitarist on tracks by Badfinger, Ronnie Wood, and Billy Preston, and collaborated on songs and music with Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Tom Petty, among others. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 11 in their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. He is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – as a member of the Beatles in 1988, and posthumously for his solo career in 2004.
Harrison’s first marriage, to model Pattie Boyd in 1966, ended in divorce in 1977. The following year he married Olivia Harrison (née Arias), with whom he had one son, Dhani. Harrison died in 2001, aged 58, from lung cancerattributed to years of cigarette smoking. His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India, in a private ceremony according to Hindu tradition. He left an estate of almost £100 million.
- 1Early years: 1943–1957
- 2The Beatles: 1958–1970
- 3Solo career: 1968–1987
- 4Later career: 1988–1996
- 5Later life and death: 1997–2001
- 7Personal life
- 8HandMade Films
- 13Further reading
- 14External links
Early years: 1943–1957
Born in Liverpool on 25 February 1943, Harrison was the youngest of four children of Harold Hargreaves Harrison (1909–1978) and his wife Louise (née French; 1911–1970). He had one sister, Louise, and two brothers, Harry and Peter. His mother was a shop assistant from a Catholic family with Irish roots, and his father was a bus conductor who had worked as a ship’s steward on the White Star Line.
According to Boyd, Harrison’s mother was particularly supportive: “All she wanted for her children is that they should be happy, and she recognized that nothing made George quite as happy as making music.” An enthusiastic music fan, she was known among friends for her loud singing voice, which at times startled visitors by rattling the Harrisons’ windows. While pregnant with George, she often listened to the weekly broadcast Radio India. Harrison’s biographer Joshua Greene wrote, “Every Sunday she tuned in to mystical sounds evoked by sitars and tablas, hoping that the exotic music would bring peace and calm to the baby in the womb.”
Harrison was born and lived the first six years of his life at 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool, a terraced house in a dead end street. The home had an outdoor toilet and its only heat came from a single coal fire. In 1949 the family were offered a council house and moved to 25 Upton Green, Speke. In 1948, at the age of five, Harrison enrolled at Dovedale Primary School. He passed the eleven-plus exam and attended Liverpool Institute High School for Boys from 1954 to 1959.Though the institute did offer a music course, Harrison was disappointed with the absence of guitars, and felt the school “moulded [students] into being frightened”.
Harrison’s earliest musical influences included George Formby, Cab Calloway, Django Reinhardt and Hoagy Carmichael; by the 1950s, Carl Perkins and Lonnie Donegan were significant influences. In early 1956 he had an epiphany: while riding his bicycle, he heard Elvis Presley‘s “Heartbreak Hotel” playing from a nearby house, and the song piqued his interest in rock and roll. He often sat at the back of the class drawing guitars in his schoolbooks, and later commented, “I was totally into guitars.” Harrison cited Slim Whitman as another early influence: “The first person I ever saw playing a guitar was Slim Whitman, either a photo of him in a magazine or live on television. Guitars were definitely coming in.”
Although apprehensive about his son’s interest in pursuing a music career, in late 1956 Harrison’s father bought him a Dutch Egmond flat top acoustic guitar, which according to Harrison, cost £3.10 (equivalent to £100 in 2017). A friend of his father’s taught Harrison how to play “Whispering“, “Sweet Sue” and “Dinah“, and, inspired by Donegan’s music, Harrison formed a skiffle group called the Rebels with his brother Peter and a friend, Arthur Kelly. On the bus to school, Harrison met Paul McCartney, who also attended the Liverpool Institute, and the pair bonded over their shared love of music.
The Beatles: 1958–1970
Harrison became part of the Beatles when they were still a skiffle group called the Quarrymen, with McCartney and John Lennon as members. McCartney told Lennon about his friend Harrison, who could play “Raunchy” on his guitar. In March 1958, Harrison auditioned for the Quarrymen at Rory Storm‘s Morgue Skiffle Club, playing Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith‘s “Guitar Boogie Shuffle“, but Lennon felt that Harrison, having just turned 15, was too young to join the band.During a second meeting, arranged by McCartney, he performed the lead guitar part for the instrumental “Raunchy” on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus. He began socialising with the group, filling in on guitar as needed, and became accepted as a member. Although his father wanted him to continue his education, Harrison left school at 16 and worked for several months as an apprentice electrician at Blacklers, a local department store. During the group’s first tour of Scotland, in 1960, Harrison used the pseudonym “Carl Harrison”, in reference to Carl Perkins.
In 1960, promoter Allan Williams arranged for the band, now calling themselves the Beatles, to play at the Kaiserkellerclub in Hamburg owned by Bruno Koschmider. The impromptu musical education Harrison received while playing long hours with the Beatles, as well as the guitar lessons he took from Tony Sheridan while they briefly served as his backing group, laid the foundations of his sound and of his role within the group; he was later known as “the quiet Beatle”. The band’s first residency in Hamburg ended prematurely when Harrison was deported for being too young to work in nightclubs. When Brian Epstein became their manager in December 1961, he polished their image and secured them a recording contract with EMI. The group’s first single, “Love Me Do“, peaked at number seventeen on the Record Retailer chart, and by the time their debut album, Please Please Me, was released in early 1963, Beatlemania had arrived. Their second album, With the Beatles (1963), included “Don’t Bother Me“, Harrison’s first solo writing credit.
By 1965’s Rubber Soul, Harrison had begun to lead the other Beatles into folk rock through his interest in the Byrds and Bob Dylan, and towards Indian classical music through his use of the sitar on “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)“.[nb 2] He later called Rubber Soul his “favourite [Beatles] album”. Revolver (1966) included three of his compositions: “Taxman“, “Love You To” and “I Want to Tell You“. His introduction of the drone-like tambura part on Lennon’s “Tomorrow Never Knows” exemplified the band’s ongoing exploration of non-Western instruments. The tabla-driven “Love You To” was the Beatles’ first genuine foray into Indian music. According to the ethnomusicologistDavid Reck, the song set a precedent in popular music as an example of Asian culture being represented by Westerners respectfully and without parody. Harrison continued to develop his interest in non-Western instrumentation, playing swarmandal on “Strawberry Fields Forever“.
By late 1966 Harrison’s interests had moved away from the Beatles, as reflected in his choice of Eastern gurus and religious leaders for inclusion on the album cover for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.[nb 3] His sole composition on the album was the Indian-inspired “Within You Without You“, to which no other Beatle contributed. He played sitar and tambura on the track, backed by musicians from the London Asian Music Circle on dilruba, swarmandal and tabla.[nb 4] He later commented on the Sgt. Pepper album: “It was a millstone and a milestone in the music industry … There’s about half the songs I like and the other half I can’t stand.”
In 1968 his song “The Inner Light” was recorded at EMI’s studio in Bombay, featuring a group of local musicians playing traditional Indian instruments.Released as the B-side to McCartney’s “Lady Madonna“, it was the first Harrison composition to appear on a Beatles single. Derived from a quotation from the Tao Te Ching, the song’s lyric reflected Harrison’s deepening interest in Hinduism and meditation, while musically it embraced the Karnatak discipline of Indian music, rather than the Hindustani style of his previous work in the genre. During the recording of The Beatles that same year, tensions within the group ran high, and drummer Ringo Starr quit briefly. Harrison’s songwriting contributions to the double album included “While My Guitar Gently Weeps“, which featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar, “Piggies“, “Long, Long, Long” and “Savoy Truffle“.
Dylan and the Band were a major musical influence on Harrison at the end of his career with the Beatles. While on a visit to Woodstock in late 1968, he established a friendship with Dylan and found himself drawn to the Band’s sense of communal music-making and to the creative equality among the band members, which contrasted with Lennon and McCartney’s domination of the Beatles’ songwriting and creative direction. This coincided with a prolific period in his songwriting and a growing desire to assert his independence from the Beatles, tensions among whom surfaced again in January 1969, during the filming of rehearsals at Twickenham Studios for what became the album Let It Be. Frustrated by the poor working conditions in the cold and sterile film studio, as well as by what he perceived as Lennon’s creative disengagement from the Beatles and a domineering attitude from McCartney, Harrison quit the group on 10 January, but agreed to return twelve days later.
Relations among the Beatles were more cordial, though still strained, during sessions for their final recorded album, Abbey Road. The LP included two of Harrison’s most respected Beatles compositions: “Here Comes the Sun” and “Something“, which became one half of the Beatles’ first number one double A-side single, Harrison’s first A-side, and the first Harrison song to reach the top of the charts. In 1969 Frank Sinatra recorded “Something”, and later dubbed it “the greatest love song of the past fifty years”. Lennon considered it the best song on Abbey Road, and it became the Beatles’ second most covered song after “Yesterday“. Author Peter Lavezzoli wrote: “Harrison would finally achieve equal songwriting status … with his two classic contributions to the final Beatles’ LP”.
In April 1970 when Harrison’s “For You Blue” was released in America as a double A-side with McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road“, it became the band’s second chart-topping double A-side and “For You Blue” became Harrison’s second number one hit. His increased productivity and the Beatles’ reluctance to include his songs on their albums meant that by the time of their break-up he had amassed a stockpile of unreleased compositions. While Harrison grew as a songwriter, his compositional presence on Beatles albums remained limited to two or three songs, increasing his frustration, and significantly contributing to the band’s break-up. Harrison’s last recording session with the Beatles was on 4 January 1970, when he, McCartney and Starr recorded the Harrison song “I Me Mine“.
Solo career: 1968–1987
Early solo work: 1968–1969
Before the Beatles’ break-up, Harrison had already recorded and released two solo albums: Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both of which contain mainly instrumental compositions. Wonderwall Music, a soundtrack to the 1968 film Wonderwall, blends Indian and Western instrumentation, while Electronic Sound is an experimental album that prominently features a Moog synthesizer. Released in November 1968, Wonderwall Music was the first solo album by a Beatle and the first LP released by Apple Records. Indian musicians Aashish Khan and Shivkumar Sharma performed on the album, which contains the experimental sound collage “Dream Scene“, recorded several months before Lennon’s “Revolution 9“.
In December 1969, Harrison participated in a brief tour of Europe with the American group Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. During the tour that included Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Gordon and band leaders Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, Harrison began to write “My Sweet Lord“, which became his first single as a solo artist. Delaney Bramlett inspired Harrison to learn slide guitar, significantly influencing his later music.
All Things Must Pass: 1970
After years of being restricted in his songwriting contributions to the Beatles’ albums, Harrison released All Things Must Pass, a triple album, with two discs of his songs and the third of recordings of Harrison jamming with friends. Regarded by many as his best work, the album topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.[nb 5] The LP produced the number-one hit single “My Sweet Lord” and the top-ten single “What Is Life“. The album was co-produced by Phil Spector using his “Wall of Sound” approach, and the musicians included Starr, Clapton, Gary Wright, Preston, Klaus Voormann, the whole of Delaney and Bonnie’s Friends band and the Apple group Badfinger.[nb 6] On release, All Things Must Pass was received with critical acclaim; Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone described it as being “of classic Spectorian proportions, Wagnerian, Brucknerian, the music of mountain tops and vast horizons”. Author and musicologist Ian Inglis considers the lyrics of the album’s title track “a recognition of the impermanence of human existence … a simple and poignant conclusion” to Harrison’s former band. In 1971 Bright Tunes sued Harrison for copyright infringement over “My Sweet Lord” owing to its similarity to the 1963 Chiffons hit “He’s So Fine“. When the case was heard in the United States district court in 1976, he denied deliberately plagiarising the song, but lost the case as the judge ruled that he had done so subconsciously.
In 2000 Apple Records released a thirtieth anniversary edition of the album and Harrison actively participated in its promotion, giving an interview during which he reflected on the work: “It’s just something that was like my continuation from the Beatles, really. It was me sort of getting out of the Beatles and just going my own way … it was a very happy occasion.” He commented on the production: “Well, in those days it was like the reverb was kind of used a bit more than what I would do now. In fact, I don’t use reverb at all. I can’t stand it … You know, it’s hard to go back to anything thirty years later and expect it to be how you would want it now.”
The Concert for Bangladesh: 1971
Responding to a request from Ravi Shankar, Harrison organised a charity event, the Concert for Bangladesh, which took place on 1 August 1971, drawing over 40,000 people to two shows in New York’s Madison Square Garden. The goal of the event was to raise money to aid starving refugees during the Bangladesh Liberation War. Shankar opened the show, which featured popular musicians such as Dylan, Clapton, Leon Russell, Badfinger, Preston and Starr.
A triple album, The Concert for Bangladesh, was released by Apple Corps that year, followed by a concert film in 1972. Tax troubles and questionable expenses later tied up many of the proceeds, but Harrison commented: “Mainly the concert was to attract attention to the situation … The money we raised was secondary, and although we had some money problems … they still got plenty … even though it was a drop in the ocean. The main thing was, we spread the word and helped get the war ended.” The event has been described as an innovative precursor for the large-scale charity rock shows that followed, including Live Aid.[nb 7]
Living in the Material World to George Harrison: 1973–1979
Harrison would not again release an album that matched the critical and commercial achievements of All Things Must Pass; however, his next solo album, 1973’s Living in the Material World, held the number one spot on the Billboard album chart for five weeks, and the album’s single, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)“, also reached number one in the US. In the UK, the LP achieved number two, spending 12 weeks on the charts with the single peaking at number 8. The album was lavishly produced and packaged, and its dominant message was Harrison’s Hindu beliefs. In Greene’s opinion it “contained many of the strongest compositions of his career”. Stephen Holden, writing in Rolling Stone, felt the album was “vastly appealing” and “profoundly seductive”, and that it stood “alone as an article of faith, miraculous in its radiance”. Other reviewers were less enthusiastic, describing the release as awkward, sanctimonious and overly sentimental, a reaction that left Harrison despondent.
In November 1974 Harrison began his 45-date Dark Horse Tour, becoming the first ex-Beatle to tour North America. In addition to performances by Harrison with an ensemble of musicians such as Preston, Tom Scott, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark and Jim Horn, the tour also included traditional and contemporary Indian music performed by “Ravi Shankar, Family and Friends”. Despite numerous positive reviews the consensus reaction to the tour was negative, with complaints about the content, structure, and length; the show’s duration of two and a half hours was seen as excessive at the time. Some fans found Shankar’s significant presence a bizarre disappointment, having expected to see only Harrison perform, and many were affronted by what Inglis described as Harrison’s “sermonizing”. Further, he reworked the lyrics to several Beatles songs, and some of the substitutions were seen as “gratuitously offensive”.His laryngitis-affected vocals also disappointed fans and critics, who began calling the tour “dark hoarse”. Harrison was so deeply bothered by the caustic backlash that he did not tour again until the 1990s. The author Robert Rodriguez commented: “While the Dark Horse tour might be considered a noble failure, there were a number of fans who were tuned-in to what was being attempted. They went away ecstatic, conscious that they had just witnessed something so uplifting that it could never be repeated.” Simon Leng called the tour “groundbreaking” and “revolutionary in its presentation of Indian Music”.
In December Harrison released Dark Horse, an album that earned him the least favourable reviews of his career. Rolling Stone called it “the chronicle of a performer out of his element, working to a deadline, enfeebling his overtaxed talents by a rush to deliver a new ‘LP product’, rehearse a band, and assemble a cross-country tour, all within three weeks”. The album reached number 4 on the Billboard chart and the single “Dark Horse” reached number 15, but they failed to make an impact in the UK.[nb 8] The music critic Mikal Gilmore described Dark Horse as “one of Harrison’s most fascinating works – a record about change and loss”.
Harrison’s final studio album for EMI and Apple Records was the soul music-inspired Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975). He considered it the least satisfactory of the three he had recorded since All Things Must Pass. Leng identified “bitterness and dismay” in many of the album’s tracks; his long-time friend Klaus Voormann commented: “He wasn’t up for it … It was a terrible time because I think there was a lot of cocaine going around, and that’s when I got out of the picture … I didn’t like his frame of mind”. He released two singles from the LP: “You“, which reached the Billboard top 20, and “This Guitar (Can’t Keep from Crying)“, Apple’s final original single release.
Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976), Harrison’s first album release on his own Dark Horse Records label, produced the hit singles “This Song” and “Crackerbox Palace“, both of which reached the top 25 in the US.[nb 9] The surreal humour of “Crackerbox Palace” reflected Harrison’s association with Monty Python‘s Eric Idle, who directed a comical music video for the song. With an emphasis on melody and musicianship, and a more subtle subject matter than the pious message of his earlier works, Thirty Three & 1/3 earned Harrison his most favourable critical notices in the US since All Things Must Pass.[nb 10]
In 1979, following his second marriage and the birth of his son Dhani, he released George Harrison. The album and the single “Blow Away” both made the Billboard top 20. The album marked the beginning of Harrison’s gradual retreat from the music business, and the fruition of ideas introduced on All Things Must Pass. In 1978 the death of his father in May and the birth of his son in August had influenced his decision to devote more time to his family than to his career. Leng described the album as “melodic and lush … peaceful … the work of a man who had lived the rock and roll dream twice over and was now embracing domestic as well as spiritual bliss”.
Somewhere in England to Cloud Nine: 1980–1987
The murder of Lennon on 8 December 1980 disturbed Harrison and reinforced his decades-long concerns about stalkers. It was also a deep personal loss, although unlike McCartney and Starr, Harrison had little contact with Lennon in the years before his death.[nb 11] Following the murder, Harrison commented: “After all we went through together I had and still have great love and respect for John Lennon. I am shocked and stunned.”
Harrison modified the lyrics of a song he had written for Starr to make it a tribute song to Lennon. “All Those Years Ago“, which included vocal contributions from Paul and Linda McCartney, as well as Starr’s original drum part, peaked at number two in the US charts. The single was included on the album Somewhere in England in 1981.Harrison did not release any new albums for five years after 1982’s Gone Troppo received little notice from critics or the public.
During this period he made several guest appearances, including a 1985 performance at a tribute to Carl Perkins titled Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session.[nb 12] In March 1986 he made a surprise appearance during the finale of the Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert, an event organised to raise money for the Birmingham Children’s Hospital. The following year, he appeared at The Prince’s Trust concert at London’s Wembley Arena, performing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Here Comes the Sun”. In February 1987 he joined Dylan, John Fogerty and Jesse Ed Davis on stage for a two-hour performance with the blues musician Taj Mahal. Harrison recalled: “Bob rang me up and asked if I wanted to come out for the evening and see Taj Mahal … So we went there and had a few of these Mexican beers – and had a few more … Bob says, ‘Hey, why don’t we all get up and play, and you can sing?’ But every time I got near the microphone, Dylan comes up and just starts singing this rubbish in my ear, trying to throw me.”
In November 1987 Harrison released the platinum album Cloud Nine. Co-produced with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, the LP included Harrison’s rendition of James Ray’s “Got My Mind Set on You“, which went to number one in the US and number two in the UK. The accompanying music video received substantial airplay, and another single, “When We Was Fab“, a retrospective of the Beatles’ career, earned two MTV Music Video Awards nominations in 1988. Recorded at his estate in Friar Park, Harrison’s slide guitar playing featured prominently on the album, which included several of his long-time musical collaborators, including Clapton, Jim Keltner, and Jim Horn, who recalled Harrison’s relaxed and friendly demeanour during the sessions: “George made you feel at home, in his home … He once had me sit on a toilet and play my soprano sax, and they miked it at the end of the hall for a distant sound. I thought they were kidding … Another time he stopped me in the middle of a sax solo and brought me 3 p.m. tea—again I thought he was kidding.” Cloud Nine reached number eight and number ten on the US and UK charts respectively, and several tracks from the album achieved placement on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock chart – “Devil’s Radio”, “This Is Love” and “Cloud 9”.
Later career: 1988–1996
The Traveling Wilburys: 1988–1990
In 1988 Harrison formed the Traveling Wilburys with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. The band had gathered in Dylan’s garage to record a song for a Harrison European single release. Harrison’s record company decided the track, “Handle with Care“, was too good for its original purpose as a B-side and asked for a full album. The LP, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, was released in October 1988 and recorded under pseudonyms as half-brothers, supposed sons of Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr. Harrison’s pseudonym on the first album was “Nelson Wilbury”; he used the name “Spike Wilbury” for their second album.
After Orbison’s death in December 1988 the group recorded as a four-piece. Their second release, issued in October 1990, was mischievously titled Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3. According to Lynne, “That was George’s idea. He said, ‘Let’s confuse the buggers.'” It reached number 14 in the UK, where it went platinum with certified sales of more than 3,000,000 units. The Wilburys never performed live and the group did not record together again following the release of their second album.
In 1989 Harrison and Starr appeared in the music video for Tom Petty’s song “I Won’t Back Down“. Starr is filmed playing the drums, but did not play on the track; Harrison played acoustic guitar and provided backing vocals.[nb 13] In December 1991, Harrison joined Clapton for a tour of Japan. It was Harrison’s first since 1974 and no others followed.[nb 14] On 6 April 1992, Harrison held a benefit concert for the Natural Law Party at the Royal Albert Hall, his first London performance since the Beatles’ 1969 rooftop concert. In October 1992 he performed at a Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City, playing alongside Dylan, Clapton, McGuinn, Petty and Neil Young.
The Beatles Anthology: 1995–1996
In 1994 Harrison began a collaboration with McCartney, Starr and producer Jeff Lynne for the Beatles Anthology project. This included the recording of two new Beatles songs built around solo vocal and piano tapes recorded by Lennon as well as lengthy interviews about the Beatles’ career. Released in December 1995, “Free as a Bird” was the first new Beatles single since 1970. In March 1996, they released a second single, “Real Love“. Harrison refused to participate in the completion of a third song. He later commented on the project: “I hope somebody does this to all my crap demos when I’m dead, make them into hit songs.”
Following the Anthology project, Harrison collaborated with Ravi Shankar on the latter’s Chants of India. Harrison’s final television appearance was a VH-1special to promote the album, taped in May 1997. In January 1998, Harrison attended Carl Perkins’s funeral in Jackson, Tennessee, performing a brief rendition of Perkins’s song “Your True Love”. In June 1998, he attended the public memorial service for Linda McCartney, and appeared on Starr’s album Vertical Man, playing guitar on two tracks.
Later life and death: 1997–2001
On 30 December 1999, Harrison and his wife were attacked at their home, Friar Park. Michael Abram, a 36-year-old fan, broke in and attacked Harrison with a kitchen knife, puncturing a lung and causing head injuries before Olivia Harrison incapacitated the assailant by striking him repeatedly with a fireplace poker and a lamp. Following the attack, Harrison was hospitalised with more than 40 stab wounds. He released a statement soon afterwards regarding his assailant: “[he] wasn’t a burglar, and he certainly wasn’t auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys.”[nb 15]
In May 2001, it was revealed that Harrison had undergone an operation to remove a cancerous growth from one of his lungs, and in July, it was reported that he was being treated for a brain tumour at a clinic in Switzerland. While in Switzerland, Starr visited him but had to cut his stay short to travel to Boston, where his daughter was undergoing emergency brain surgery, prompting Harrison to quip: “Do you want me to come with you?” In November 2001, he began radiotherapy at Staten Island University Hospital, in New York City, for non-small cell lung cancer that had spread to his brain. When the news was publicised, Harrison bemoaned his physician’s breach of privacy, and his estate later claimed damages.[nb 16]
On 12 November, in New York, Harrison, Starr and McCartney came together for the last time. Less than three weeks later, on 29 November 2001, Harrison died at a friend’s home in Los Angeles, aged 58. He was cremated at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and his funeral was held at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades, California. His ashes were then scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers near Varanasi, India, by his close family in a private ceremony according to Hindu tradition. He left almost £100 million in his will.
Harrison’s final album, the posthumously released Brainwashed (2002), was completed by his son Dhani and Jeff Lynne. Included in the album’s liner notes is a quotation from the Bhagavad Gita: “There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be.” A media-only single, “Stuck Inside a Cloud“, which Leng described as “a uniquely candid reaction to illness and mortality”, achieved number 27 on Billboard‘s Adult Contemporary chart. The single “Any Road“, released in May 2003, peaked at number 37 on the UK Singles Chart. “Marwa Blues” went on to receive the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance, while “Any Road” was nominated for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
George Harrison wrote his first song, “Don’t Bother Me”, while sick in a hotel bed in Bournemouth during August 1963, as “an exercise to see if I could write a song”, as he remembered. “Don’t Bother Me” appeared on the band’s second album, With the Beatles, later that year, then on Meet the Beatles! in the US in early 1964. In 1965, he contributed “I Need You” and “You Like Me Too Much” to the album Help!
Harrison’s songwriting ability improved throughout the Beatles’ career, but his material did not earn full respect from Lennon, McCartney and producer George Martin until near the group’s break-up. In 1969, McCartney told Lennon: “Until this year, our songs have been better than George’s. Now this year his songs are at least as good as ours”. Harrison often had difficulty getting the band to record his songs. Most Beatles albums from 1965 onwards contain at least two Harrison compositions; three of his songs appear on Revolver, “the album on which Harrison came of age as a songwriter”, according to Inglis.
An audio sample of Harrison’s “Within You Without You”, 1967
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Of the 1967 Harrison song “Within You Without You”, author Gerry Farrell claimed that Harrison had created a “new form”, calling the composition “a quintessential fusion of pop and Indian music”. Lennon called the song one of Harrison’s best: “His mind and his music are clear. There is his innate talent, he brought that sound together.” Beatles biographer Bob Spitz described “Something” as a masterpiece, and “an intensely stirring romantic ballad that would challenge ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Michelle’ as one of the most recognizable songs they ever produced”. According to Kenneth Womack, “Harrison comes into his own on Abbey Road … ‘Here Comes the Sun’ is matched – indeed, surpassed – only by ‘Something’, his crowning achievement”. Inglis considered Abbey Roada turning point in Harrison’s development as a songwriter and musician. He described Harrison’s contributions to the LP as “exquisite”, declaring them equal to any previous Beatles songs. During the album’s recording, Harrison asserted more creative control than before, proactively rejecting suggestions for changes to his music or lyrics, particularly from McCartney.
His interest in Indian music proved a strong influence on his songwriting and contributed to his innovation within the Beatles. According to Mikal Gilmore of Rolling Stone, “Harrison’s openness to new sounds and textures cleared new paths for his rock and roll compositions. His use of dissonance on … ‘Taxman’ and ‘I Want to Tell You’ was revolutionary in popular music – and perhaps more originally creative than the avant-garde mannerisms that Lennon and McCartney borrowed from the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Luciano Berio, Edgard Varèse and Igor Stravinsky …” In 1997, Gerry Farrell commented: “It is a mark of Harrison’s sincere involvement … that, nearly thirty years on, the Beatles’ ‘Indian’ songs remain the most imaginative and successful examples of this type of fusion.”
Harrison’s guitar work with the Beatles was varied and flexible; although not fast or flashy, his lead guitar playing was solid and typified the more subdued lead guitar style of the early 1960s; his rhythm guitar playing was as innovative, such as using a capo to shorten the strings on an acoustic guitar, as on the Rubber Soul album and “Here Comes the Sun“, to create a bright, sweet sound. Eric Clapton felt that Harrison was “clearly an innovator” as he was “taking certain elements of R&B and rock and rockabilly and creating something unique”. Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner described Harrison as “a guitarist who was never showy but who had an innate, eloquent melodic sense. He played exquisitely in the service of the song”. Harrison’s friend and former bandmate Tom Petty agreed: “He just had a way of getting right to the business, of finding the right thing to play.” The guitar picking style of Chet Atkinsand Carl Perkins influenced Harrison, giving a country music feel to many of the Beatles’ recordings. He identified Chuck Berry as an early influence and Ry Cooder as an important later influence.
In 1961 the Beatles recorded “Cry for a Shadow“, a blues-inspired instrumental co-written by Lennon and Harrison, who is credited with composing the song’s lead guitar part, building on unusual chord voicings and imitating the style of other English groups such as the Shadows. The musicologist Walter Everett noted that while early Beatles compositions typically held close to the conventional patterns in rock music at the time, he also identified significant variations in their rhythm and tonal direction. Harrison’s liberal use of the diatonic scale in his guitar playing reveals the influence of Buddy Holly, and his interest in Berry inspired him to compose songs based on the blues scale while incorporating a rockabilly feel in the style of Perkins. Within this framework he often used syncopation, as during his guitar solos for the Beatles’ covers of Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Too Much Monkey Business“. Another of Harrison’s musical techniques was the use of guitar lines written in octaves, as on “I’ll Be on My Way“. He was the first person to own a Rickenbacker 360/12, a guitar with twelve strings, the low eight of which are tuned in pairs, one octave apart; the higher four being pairs tuned in unison. The Rickenbacker is unique among twelve-string guitars in having the lower octave string of each of the first four pairs placed above the higher tuned string. This, and the naturally rich harmonics produced by a twelve-string guitar provided the distinctive overtones found on many of the Beatles’ recordings. His use of this guitar during the recording of A Hard Day’s Night helped to popularise the model, and the jangly sound became so prominent that Melody Maker termed it the Beatles’ “secret weapon”.[nb 17]
Harrison wrote the chord progression of his first published song, “Don’t Bother Me” (1963), almost exclusively in the Dorian mode, demonstrating an interest in exotic tones that eventually culminated in his embrace of Indian music. The dark timbre of his guitar playing on the track was accentuated by his use of uncomplicated yet effective C+9 chord voicings and a solo in the minor pentatonic scale. By 1964 he had begun to develop a distinctive personal style as a guitarist, writing parts that featured the use of nonresolving tones, as with the ending chord arpeggios on “A Hard Day’s Night“. In 1965 he used an expression pedal to control his guitar’s volume on “I Need You“, creating a syncopated flautando effect with the melody resolving its dissonance through tonal displacements. He used the same volume-swell technique on “Yes It Is“, applying what Everett described as “ghostly articulation” to the song’s natural harmonics.
Of Rubber Soul‘s “If I Needed Someone“, Harrison said: “it’s like a million other songs written around the D chord. If you move your fingers about, you get various little melodies … it amazes me that people still find new permutations of the same notes.” His other contribution to the album, “Think for Yourself“, features what Everett described as “ambiguous tonal coloring”, using chromaticism in G major with a “strange” mixture of the Dorian mode and the minor pentatonic; he called it a “tour de force of altered scale degrees”. In 1966 Harrison contributed innovative musical ideas to Revolver. He played backwardsguitar on Lennon’s composition “I’m Only Sleeping” and a guitar counter-melody on “And Your Bird Can Sing” that moved in parallel octaves above McCartney’s bass downbeats. His guitar playing on “I Want to Tell You” exemplified the pairing of altered chordal colours with descending chromatic lines and his guitar part for Sgt Pepper‘s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” mirrors Lennon’s vocal line in much the same way that a sarangi player accompanies a khyal singer in a Hindu devotional song.
Harrison’s guitar solo from “Old Brown Shoe”, April 1969
An excerpt from Harrison’s guitar solo to “Something”, May 1969
An excerpt from Harrison’s slide guitar solo from Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?”, 1971
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Everett described Harrison’s guitar solo from “Old Brown Shoe” as “stinging [and] highly Claptonesque”. He identified two of the composition’s significant motifs: a bluesy trichord and a diminished triad with roots in A and E. Huntley called the song “a sizzling rocker with a ferocious … solo”. In Greene’s opinion, Harrison’s demo for “Old Brown Shoe” contains “one of the most complex lead guitar solos on any Beatles song”.
Harrison’s playing on Abbey Road, and in particular on “Something”, marked a significant moment in his development as a guitarist. The song’s guitar solo shows a varied range of influences, incorporating the blues guitar style of Clapton and the styles of Indian gamakas. According to author and musicologist Kenneth Womack: “‘Something’ meanders toward the most unforgettable of Harrison’s guitar solos … A masterpiece in simplicity, [it] reaches toward the sublime”. Harrison received an Ivor Novello award in July 1970 for “Something”, as “The Best Song Musically and Lyrically of the Year”.
After Delaney Bramlett inspired him to learn slide guitar, Harrison began to incorporate it into his solo work, which allowed him to mimic many traditional Indian instruments, including the sarangi and the dilruba.Leng described Harrison’s slide guitar solo on Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” as a departure for “the sweet soloist of ‘Something'”, calling his playing “rightly famed … one of Harrison’s greatest guitar statements”. Lennon commented: “That’s the best he’s ever fucking played in his life.”
A Hawaiian influence is notable in much of Harrison’s music, ranging from his slide guitar work on Gone Troppo (1982) to his televised performance of the Cab Calloway standard “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” on ukulele in 1992. Lavezzoli described Harrison’s slide playing on the Grammy-winning instrumental “Marwa Blues” (2002) as demonstrating Hawaiian influences while comparing the melody to an Indian sarod or veena, calling it “yet another demonstration of Harrison’s unique slide approach”. Harrison was an admirer of George Formby and a member of the Ukulele Society of Great Britain, and played a ukulele solo in the style of Formby at the end of “Free as a Bird“. He performed at a Formby convention in 1991, and served as the honorary president of the George Formby Appreciation Society. Harrison played bass guitar on numerous tracks, including the Beatles songs “She Said She Said“, “Golden Slumbers“, “Birthday” and “Honey Pie“. He also played bass on several solo recordings, including “Faster“, “Wake Up My Love” and “Bye Bye Love“.
When Harrison joined the Quarrymen in 1958 his main guitar was a Höfner President Acoustic, which he soon traded for a Höfner Club 40 model. His first solid-body electric guitar was a Czech-built Jolana Futurama/Grazioso. The guitars he used on early recordings were mainly Gretsch models, played through a Vox amplifier, including a Gretsch Duo Jet that he bought secondhand in 1961, and posed with on the album cover for Cloud Nine (1987). He also bought a Gretsch Tennessean and a Gretsch Country Gentleman, which he played on “She Loves You“, and during the Beatles’ 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1963 he bought a Rickenbacker 425 Fireglo, and in 1964 he acquired a Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar, which was the second of its kind to be manufactured. Harrison obtained his first Fender Stratocaster in 1965 and used it in recording Rubber Soul, notably on the song “Nowhere Man“.
In early 1966 Harrison and Lennon each purchased Epiphone Casinos (McCartney had owned one since 1965), which they used on Revolver. Harrison also used a Gibson J-160E and a Gibson SG Standard while recording the album. He later painted his Stratocaster in a psychedelic design that included the word “Bebopalula” above the pickguard and the guitar’s nickname, “Rocky”, on the headstock. He played this guitar in the Magical Mystery Tour film and throughout his solo career. In mid-1968 he acquired a Gibson Les Paul that he nicknamed “Lucy“. Around this time, he obtained a Gibson Jumbo J-200, which he used for early demos of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. In late 1968 Fender Musical Instruments Corporation gave Harrison a custom-made Fender Telecaster Rosewood prototype, made especially for him by Philip Kubicki (who years later would start his own business, Factor), a Fender master builder who also crafted a prototype Stratocaster for Jimi Hendrix. In August 2017, Fender released a “Limited Edition George Harrison Rosewood Telecaster” modeled after a Telecaster Roger Rossmeisel originally created for Harrison.
From 1968 onward Harrison collaborated with other musicians; he brought in Eric Clapton to play lead guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” for the 1968 Beatles’ White Album, and collaborated with John Barham on his 1968 debut solo album, Wonderwall Music, which included contributions from Clapton again, as well as Peter Tork from the Monkees. He played on tracks by Dave Mason, Nicky Hopkins, Alvin Lee, Ronnie Wood, Billy Preston and Tom Scott. Harrison co-wrote songs and music with Dylan, Clapton, Preston, Doris Troy, David Bromberg, Gary Wright, Wood, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty, among others. Harrison’s music projects during the final years of the Beatles included producing Apple Records artists Doris Troy, Jackie Lomax and Billy Preston.
Harrison co-wrote the song “Badge” with Clapton, which was included on Cream‘s 1969 album, Goodbye. Harrison played rhythm guitar on the track, using the pseudonym “L’Angelo Misterioso” for contractual reasons. In May 1970 he played guitar on several songs during a recording session for Dylan’s album New Morning. In addition to his own work, between 1971 and 1973 he co-wrote and/or produced three top ten hits for Starr: “It Don’t Come Easy“, “Back Off Boogaloo” and “Photograph“. In 1971 he played electric slide guitar on “How Do You Sleep?” and a dobro on “Crippled Inside“, both from Lennon’s Imaginealbum. Also that year, he produced and played slide guitar on Badfinger’s top ten hit “Day After Day“, and a dobro on Preston’s “I Wrote a Simple Song“.[nb 18] He worked with Harry Nilsson on “You’re Breakin’ My Heart” (1972) and with Cheech & Chong on “Basketball Jones” (1973). In 1973 he produced and made a guest appearance on the album Shankar Family & Friends.
In 1974 Harrison founded Dark Horse Records. In addition to eventually releasing his own albums on the label, he initially used the company as an avenue for collaboration with other musicians. He wanted Dark Horse to serve as a creative outlet for artists, as Apple Records had for the Beatles. Harrison explained: “Most of the stuff will be what I produce”. Eric Idle commented: “He’s extremely generous, and he backs and supports all sorts of people that you’ll never, ever hear of.” The first acts signed to the new label were Ravi Shankar and Splinter, whose album Harrison produced, which provided Dark Horse with their first hit, “Costafine Town”. Other artists signed by Dark Horse include Attitudes, Henry McCullough, Jiva, and Stairsteps.
Harrison collaborated with Tom Scott on Scott’s album New York Connection (1976), and in 1981 he played guitar on “Walk a Thin Line”, from Mick Fleetwood‘s The Visitor. In 1996 he recorded “Distance Makes No Difference With Love” with Carl Perkins, and played slide guitar on the title track of Dylan’s Under the Red Sky album. In 2001 he performed as a guest musician on Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra’s comeback album Zoom, and on the song “Love Letters” for Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. He also co-wrote a new song with his son Dhani, “Horse to the Water“, which was recorded on 2 October, eight weeks before his death. It appeared on Jools Holland‘s album Small World, Big Band.
Sitar and Indian music
During the Beatles’ American tour in August 1965, Harrison’s friend David Crosby of the Byrds introduced him to Indian classical music and the work of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Harrison described Shankar as “the first person who ever impressed me in my life … and he was the only person who didn’t try to impress me.” Harrison became fascinated with the sitar and immersed himself in Indian music. According to Lavezzoli, Harrison’s introduction of the instrument on the Beatles’ song “Norwegian Wood” “opened the floodgates for Indian instrumentation in rock music, triggering what Shankar would call ‘The Great Sitar Explosion’ of 1966–67”. Lavezzoli recognises Harrison as “the man most responsible for this phenomenon”.[nb 19]
In June 1966 Harrison met Shankar at the home of Mrs Angadi of the Asian Music Circle, asked to be his student, and was accepted. Before this meeting, Harrison had recorded his Revolver track “Love You To“, contributing a sitar part that Lavezzoli describes as an “astonishing improvement” over “Norwegian Wood” and “the most accomplished performance on sitar by any rock musician”. On 6 July, Harrison travelled to India to buy a sitar from Rikhi Ram & Sons in New Delhi. In September, following the Beatles’ final tour, he returned to India to study sitar for six weeks with Shankar. He initially stayed in Bombay until fans learned of his arrival, then moved to a houseboat on a remote lake in Kashmir. During this visit, he also received tutelage from Shambhu Das, Shankar’s protégé.
Harrison studied the instrument until 1968, when, following a discussion with Shankar about the need to find his “roots”, an encounter with Clapton and Hendrix at a hotel in New York convinced him to return to guitar playing. Harrison commented: “I decided … I’m not going to be a great sitar player … because I should have started at least fifteen years earlier.” Harrison continued to use Indian instrumentation occasionally on his solo albums and remained strongly associated with the genre. Lavezzoli groups him with Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel as the three rock musicians who have given the most “mainstream exposure to non-Western musics, or the concept of ‘world music‘”.
By the mid-1960s Harrison had become an admirer of Indian culture and mysticism, introducing it to the other Beatles. During the filming of Help! in the Bahamas, they met the founder of Sivananda Yoga, Swami Vishnu-devananda, who gave each of them a signed copy of his book, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. Between the end of the last Beatles tour in 1966 and the beginning of the Sgt Pepper recording sessions, he made a pilgrimage to India with his wife Pattie; there, he studied sitar with Ravi Shankar, met several gurus, and visited various holy places. In 1968 he travelled to Rishikesh in northern India with the other Beatles to study meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.[nb 20] Harrison’s use of psychedelic drugs encouraged his path to meditation and Hinduism. He commented: “For me, it was like a flash. The first time I had acid, it just opened up something in my head that was inside of me, and I realized a lot of things. I didn’t learn them because I already knew them, but that happened to be the key that opened the door to reveal them. From the moment I had that, I wanted to have it all the time – these thoughts about the yogis and the Himalayas, and Ravi’s music.”
In line with the Hindu yoga tradition, Harrison became a vegetarian in the late 1960s. After being given various religious texts by Shankar in 1966, he remained a lifelong advocate of the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda – yogis and authors, respectively, of Raja Yoga and Autobiography of a Yogi. In mid-1969, he produced the single “Hare Krishna Mantra“, performed by members of the London Radha Krishna Temple. Having also helped the Temple devotees become established in Britain, Harrison then met their leader, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whom he described as “my friend … my master” and “a perfect example of everything he preached”. Harrison embraced the Hare Krishna tradition, particularly japa-yoga chanting with beads, and became a lifelong devotee.[nb 21]
Regarding other faiths he once remarked: “All religions are branches of one big tree. It doesn’t matter what you call Him just as long as you call.” He commented on his beliefs:
Krishna actually was in a body as a person … What makes it complicated is, if he’s God, what’s he doing fighting on a battlefield? It took me ages to try to figure that out, and again it was Yogananda’s spiritual interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita that made me realise what it was. Our idea of Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield in the chariot. So this is the point – that we’re in these bodies, which is like a kind of chariot, and we’re going through this incarnation, this life, which is kind of a battlefield. The senses of the body … are the horses pulling the chariot, and we have to get control over the chariot by getting control over the reins. And Arjuna in the end says, “Please Krishna, you drive the chariot” because unless we bring Christ or Krishna or Buddha or whichever of our spiritual guides … we’re going to crash our chariot, and we’re going to turn over, and we’re going to get killed in the battlefield. That’s why we say “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna“, asking Krishna to come and take over the chariot.
Before his religious conversion, the only British performer known for similar activities had been Cliff Richard, whose conversion to Christianity in 1966 had gone largely unnoticed by the public. “By contrast,” wrote Inglis, “Harrison’s spiritual journey was seen as a serious and important development that reflected popular music’s increasing maturity … what he, and the Beatles, had managed to overturn was the paternalistic assumption that popular musicians had no role other than to stand on stage and sing their hit songs.”
Family and interests
Harrison married the model Pattie Boyd on 21 January 1966, with McCartney as best man. Harrison and Boyd had met in 1964 during the production of the film A Hard Day’s Night, in which the 19-year-old Boyd had been cast as a schoolgirl. They separated in 1974 and their divorce was finalised in 1977. Boyd said her decision to end their marriage and leave Harrison was due largely to his repeated infidelities, culminating in an affair with Ringo Starr’s wife Maureen, which Boyd called “the final straw”. She characterised the last year of their marriage as “fuelled by alcohol and cocaine”, and she stated: “George used coke excessively, and I think it changed him … it froze his emotions and hardened his heart.” She subsequently moved in with Eric Clapton, and they married in 1979.[nb 22]
Harrison married Dark Horse Records’ secretary Olivia Trinidad Arias on 2 September 1978. They had met at the A&M Records offices in Los Angeles in 1974, and together had one son, Dhani Harrison, born on 1 August 1978.
He restored the English manor house and grounds of Friar Park, his home in Henley-on-Thames, where several of his music videos were filmed including “Crackerbox Palace“; the grounds also served as the background for the cover of All Things Must Pass.[nb 23] He employed ten workers to maintain the 36-acre (150,000 m2) garden. Harrison commented on gardening as a form of escapism: “Sometimes I feel like I’m actually on the wrong planet, and it’s great when I’m in my garden, but the minute I go out the gate I think: ‘What the hell am I doing here?'” His autobiography, I, Me, Mine, is dedicated “to gardeners everywhere”. The former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor helped Harrison write the book, which said little about the Beatles, focusing instead on Harrison’s hobbies, music and lyrics. Taylor commented: “George is not disowning the Beatles … but it was a long time ago and actually a short part of his life.”
Harrison had an interest in sports cars and motor racing; he was one of the 100 people who purchased the McLaren F1 road car. He had collected photos of racing drivers and their cars since he was young; at 12 he had attended his first race, the 1955 British Grand Prix at Aintree. He wrote “Faster” as a tribute to the Formula One racing drivers Jackie Stewart and Ronnie Peterson. Proceeds from its release went to the Gunnar Nilsson cancer charity, set up after the Swedish driver’s death from the disease in 1978. Harrison’s first extravagant car, a 1964 Aston Martin DB5, was sold at auction on 7 December 2011 in London. An anonymous Beatles collector paid £350,000 for the vehicle that Harrison had bought new in January 1965.
Relationships with the other Beatles
For most of the Beatles’ career the relationships in the group were close. According to Hunter Davies, “the Beatles spent their lives not living a communal life, but communally living the same life. They were each other’s greatest friends.” Harrison’s ex-wife Pattie Boyd described how the Beatles “all belonged to each other” and admitted, “George has a lot with the others that I can never know about. Nobody, not even the wives, can break through or even comprehend it.”
Starr said, “We really looked out for each other and we had so many laughs together. In the old days we’d have the biggest hotel suites, the whole floor of the hotel, and the four of us would end up in the bathroom, just to be with each other”. He added, “there were some really loving, caring moments between four people: a hotel room here and there – a really amazing closeness. Just four guys who loved each other. It was pretty sensational.”
Lennon stated that his relationship with Harrison was “one of young follower and older guy … [he] was like a disciple of mine when we started.” The two later bonded over their LSD experiences, finding common ground as seekers of spirituality. They took radically different paths thereafter, Harrison finding God and Lennon coming to the conclusion that people are the creators of their own lives. In 1974 Harrison said of his former bandmate: “John Lennon is a saint and he’s heavy-duty, and he’s great and I love him. But at the same time, he’s such a bastard – but that’s the great thing about him, you see?”
Harrison and McCartney were the first of the Beatles to meet, having shared a school bus, and often learned and rehearsed new guitar chords together.McCartney stated that he and Harrison usually shared a bedroom while touring. McCartney was best man at Harrison’s wedding in 1966, and was the only Beatle in attendance. McCartney has referred to Harrison as his “baby brother”. In a 1974 BBC radio interview with Alan Freeman, Harrison stated: “[McCartney] ruined me as a guitar player”. Perhaps the most significant obstacle to a Beatles reunion after the death of Lennon was Harrison and McCartney’s personal relationship, as both men admitted that they often got on each other’s nerves. Rodriguez commented: “Even to the end of George’s days, theirs was a volatile relationship”.
Harrison was involved in humanitarian and political activism throughout his life. In the 1960s, the Beatles supported the civil rights movement and protested against the Vietnam War. After the band’s break-up, Ravi Shankar consulted Harrison about how to provide aid to the people of Bangladesh after the 1970 Bhola cyclone and the Bangladesh Liberation War. Harrison recorded the song “Bangla Desh“, and pushed Apple Records to release his song alongside Shankar’s “Joy Bangla” in an effort to raise funds. Shankar then asked for Harrison’s advice about planning a small charity event in the US. Harrison responded by organising the Concert for Bangladesh, which raised more than $240,000. In June 1972, UNICEF honoured Harrison and Shankar with the “Child Is the Father of Man” award at an annual ceremony in recognition of their fundraising efforts for Bangladesh.
The George Harrison Humanitarian Fund for UNICEF, a joint effort between the Harrison family and the US Fund for UNICEF, aims to support programmes that help children caught in humanitarian emergencies. In December 2007, they donated $450,000 to help the victims of Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh. On 13 October 2009, the first George Harrison Humanitarian Award went to Ravi Shankar for his efforts in saving the lives of children, and his involvement with the Concert for Bangladesh.
In 1973 Peter Sellers introduced Harrison to Denis O’Brien. Soon after, the two went into business together. In 1978, in an effort to produce Monty Python’s Life of Brian, they formed the film production and distribution company HandMade Films. Harrison explained: “The name of the company came about as a bit of a joke. I’d been to Wooky Hole in Somerset … [near] an old paper mill where they show you how to make old underpants into paper. So I bought a few rolls, and they had this watermark ‘British Handmade Paper’ … So we said … we’ll call it Handmade Films.”
Their opportunity for investment came after EMI Films withdrew funding at the demand of their chief executive, Bernard Delfont. Harrison financed the production of Life of Brian in part by mortgaging his home, which Idle later called “the most anybody’s ever paid for a cinema ticket in history”. The film grossed $21 million at the box office in the US. The first film distributed by HandMade Films was The Long Good Friday (1980), and the first they produced was Time Bandits (1981), a co-scripted project by Monty Python‘s Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin. The film featured a new song by Harrison, “Dream Away“, in the closing credits. Time Bandits became one of HandMade’s most successful and acclaimed efforts; with a budget of $5 million, it earned $35 million in the US within ten weeks of its release.
Harrison served as executive producer for 23 films with HandMade, including Mona Lisa, Shanghai Surprise and Withnail and I. He made several cameo appearances in these films, including a role as a nightclub singer in Shanghai Surprise, for which he recorded five new songs. According to Ian Inglis, Harrison’s “executive role in HandMade Films helped to sustain British cinema at a time of crisis, producing some of the country’s most memorable movies of the 1980s.” Following a series of box office bombs in the late 1980s, and excessive debt incurred by O’Brien which was guaranteed by Harrison, HandMade’s financial situation became precarious. The company ceased operations in 1991 and was sold three years later to Paragon Entertainment, a Canadian corporation. Afterwards, Harrison sued O’Brien for $25 million for fraud and negligence, resulting in an $11.6 million judgement in 1996.
In June 1965, Harrison and the other Beatles were appointed Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE). They received their insignia from the Queen at an investiture at Buckingham Palace on 26 October. In 1971 the Beatles received an Academy Award for the best Original Song Score for the film Let It Be. The minor planet 4149 Harrison, discovered in 1984, was named after him, as was a variety of Dahlia flower. In December 1992 he became the first recipient of the Billboard Century Award, an honour presented to music artists for significant bodies of work. The award recognised Harrison’s “critical role in laying the groundwork for the modern concept of world music” and for his having “advanced society’s comprehension of the spiritual and altruistic power of popular music”. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 11 in their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.
In 2002, on the first anniversary of his death, the Concert for George was held at the Royal Albert Hall. Clapton organised the event, which included performances by many of Harrison’s friends and musical collaborators, including McCartney and Starr. Eric Idle, who described Harrison as “one of the few morally good people that rock and roll has produced”, performed Monty Python’s “Lumberjack Song“. The profits from the concert went to Harrison’s charity, the Material World Charitable Foundation.
In 2004, Harrison was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist by his former bandmates Lynne and Petty, and into the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame in 2006 for the Concert for Bangladesh. On 14 April 2009, the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce awarded Harrison a star on the Walk of Fame in front of the Capitol Records Building. McCartney, Lynne and Petty were present when the star was unveiled. Harrison’s widow Olivia, the actor Tom Hanks and Idle made speeches at the ceremony, and Harrison’s son Dhani spoke the Hare Krishna mantra.
A documentary film entitled George Harrison: Living in the Material World, directed by Martin Scorsese, was released in October 2011. The film features interviews with Olivia and Dhani Harrison, Klaus Voormann, Terry Gilliam, Starr, Clapton, McCartney, Keltner and Astrid Kirchherr.
- Wonderwall Music (1968)
- Electronic Sound (1969)
- All Things Must Pass (1970)
- Living in the Material World (1973)
- Dark Horse (1974)
- Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975)
- Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976)
- George Harrison (1979)
- Somewhere in England (1981)
- Gone Troppo (1982)
- Cloud Nine (1987)
- Brainwashed (2002)
- Some published sources give Harold as Harrison’s middle name; others dispute that, based on the absence of any middle name on his birth certificate.
- Harrison also contributed the songs “If I Needed Someone” and “Think for Yourself” to Rubber Soul.
- The Self-Realization Fellowship gurus Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Sri Yukteswar and Paramahansa Yogananda appear on the Sgt Pepper cover at his request.
- Further examples of Indian instrumentation from Harrison during his Beatles years include his tambura parts on McCartney’s “Getting Better” (1967) and Lennon’s “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” (1967), and sitar and tambura on Lennon’s “Across the Universe” (1968).
- In July 2006, it was determined that All Things Must Pass should have been credited as a number one album in the United Kingdom when first released in 1970–71. Because some sales were not properly counted, the album originally peaked at number four in Britain.
- Early in the sessions, Clapton, Whitlock, Gordon and Carl Radle formed the short-lived band Derek and the Dominos.
- In November 1971 Harrison appeared on The Dick Cavett Show, performing “Two-Faced Man” with Gary Wright.
- In December 1974 the single, “Ding Dong, Ding Dong“, reached number 38 in the UK.
- Released during the same month, The Best of George Harrison (1976) combined several of his Beatles songs with a selection of his solo Apple work. After Harrison’s departure from the label, Capitol was able to license releases featuring Beatles and post-Beatles work on the same album.
- Tom Scott provided production assistance on “Thirty Three & 1/3”. In November 1976, Harrison appeared on Saturday Night Live with Paul Simon.
- Their estrangement had been marked by Harrison’s longstanding dislike of Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono, his refusal to allow her to participate in the Concert for Bangladesh, and, during the last year of Lennon’s life, by Harrison’s scant mention of Lennon in his autobiography, I, Me, Mine.
- Harrison’s set included “That’s Alright Mama“, “Glad All Over” and “Blue Suede Shoes“.
- In October 1989, Harrison assembled and released Best of Dark Horse 1976–1989, a compilation of his later solo work. The release also included two new songs, “Poor Little Girl” and “Cockamamie Business”, as well as “Cheer Down“.
- In 1992, Dark Horse Records released an album of recorded material from the shows titled Live in Japan.
- Abram, who believed he was possessed by Harrison and that he was on a mission from God to kill him, was later acquitted of attempted murder on grounds of insanity and was detained for treatment in a secure hospital. He was released in 2002.
- Harrison’s estate complained that during a round of experimental radiotherapy at Staten Island University Hospital, the oncologist Dr Gilbert Lederman repeatedly revealed Harrison’s confidential medical information during television interviews and forced him to autograph a guitar. The suit was ultimately settled out of court under the condition that the guitar be “disposed of”.
- Roger McGuinn liked the effect so much that it became his signature guitar sound with the Byrds.
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|Wikiquote has quotations related to: George Harrison|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to George Harrison.|
- George Harrison at Encyclopædia Britannica
- George Harrison at AllMusic
- RollingStone.com – George Harrison’s Greatest Musical Moments
- “George Harrison”. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- George Harrison – Daily Telegraph obituary
- George Harrison in the Hollywood Walk of Fame Directory