Saturday (February 25th) would have been George Harrison‘s 80th birthday. Harrison, the first of the Beatles to embrace Eastern philosophies and culture, will also be remembered for his humanitarian efforts, such as his 1971 Concert For Bangladesh for famine relief. Harrison died of cancer on November 29th, 2001 at the age of 58.
Over the course of the group’s recording years — 1962 to 1970 — Harrison wrote such Beatles classics as “Don’t Bother Me,” “I Need You,” “Think For Yourself,” “If I Needed Someone,” “Taxman,” “I Want To Tell You,” “Within You, Without You,” “Blue Jay Way,” “Only A Northern Song,” “It’s All Too Much,” “The Inner Light,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Piggies” “I Me Mine,” “For You Blue,” “Old Brown Shoe,” “Something,” and “Here Comes The Sun,” among others.
Other solo hits included “What Is Life,” “Bangla Desh,” “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth),” “Dark Horse,” “You,” “This Song,” “Crackerbox Palace,” “Blow Away,” “All Those Years Ago,” and his 1987 comeback single “Got My Mind Set On You,” which is the last solo Number One single by any former Beatle to date.
In 1971, Harrison produced Ringo Starr‘s initial solo singles “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo,” as well also co-writing Starr’s first Number One hit “Photograph” with him in 1973. In 1974, Harrison became the first solo Beatle to tour North America. Shortly after his return to the spotlight in 1987, Harrison co-founded the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty. In 1991 he undertook a brief tour of Japan with Eric Clapton and his band.
Over 52 years since All Things Must Pass took the rock world by storm, its golden anniversary expanded reissue reminded people of the power of George Harrison’s post-Beatles debut. Harrison’s All Things Must Pass “50th Anniversary Edition” was released in a revamped and expanded set that paired the main album with assorted session outtakes and jams. In addition to the original album, the new collection features 42 previously unreleased demos and outtakes.
The 50th anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass topped the Billboard Top Rock Albums, Catalog Albums, and Tastemakers charts; hit Number Two on the magazine’s Top Album Sales and Vinyl Albums charts, and peaked at Number Seven on the all-important Billboard 200 albums chart. As with all the Harrison reissues, widow Olivia and son Dhani Harrison, supervised the recent box set. Both the Harrison’s shared the Grammy Award for Best Boxed Or Special Limited Edition Package.
The recent Bob Dylan copyright release The Bob Dylan — 50th Anniversary Collection 1970, featured material recorded during and around Dylan’s legendary New Morning album — including his heavily bootlegged May 1st, 1970 session with George Harrison on lead guitar. Harrison and Dylan collaborate on such favorites as Sam Cooke‘s “Cupid,” the Everly Brothers‘ “All I Have To Do Is Dream,” Carl Perkins‘ “Matchbox,” the Beatles’ “Yesterday,” along with takes on such Dylan standards as “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind,” “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues,” “If Not For You,” and “Gates Of Eden,” among others.
2017 saw the release of the multi-disc box set George Harrison – The Vinyl Collection. According to the official press release, “The vinyl box set includes all 12 of George’s studio albums with exact replicas of the original release track listing and artwork. Also included in the box set are George’s classic live album Live In Japan — on a double-LP — and two 12-inch single picture discs of ‘When We Was Fab’ and ‘Got My Mind Set On You’. All the discs are 180-gram heavyweight vinyl and are housed in a high-quality two-piece rigid slipcase box. The original analogue master tapes were used for the new re-masters and were cut at the legendary Capitol studios to ensure exceptional audio quality throughout.”
2017 also saw an expanded edition of Harrison’s autobiography, I, Me, Mine, which was originally released through Genesis Publications in 1980. The new extended version of the book now spans the complete length of Harrison’s career in music, told in his words and through 141 songs with hand written lyric sheets faithfully reproduced in full color. Now stretching to 632 pages it features lyrics to more than 50 songs not previously included, as well as new photographs, many unpublished until the new edition. Unlike the previous high-end version of the book, the new trade edition of I, Me, Mine prices out at around $40.
Out now on CD and DVD/Blu-ray is the live Harrison tribute, A Night To Celebrate: George Fest – The Music Of George Harrison. The concert, which was sanctioned by the Harrison family and featured son Dhani Harrison, took place on September 28th, 2014 at L.A.’s Fonda Theatre and included performances by Dhani, Beach Boys Brian Wilson and Al Jardine, Heart‘s Ann Wilson, Norah Jones, Perry Farrell, the Cult‘s Ian Astbury, Conan O’Brien, “Weird Al” Yankovic, the Strokes‘ Nick Valensi, the Flaming Lips, Ben Harper — and many more.
In 2015, Harrison, the Bee Gees, and others were honored with the Recording Academy Lifetime Achievement Award just prior to the annual Grammy Awards. Harrison’s birthday in 2015 coincided with the release of his Apple Records-era albums box set, chronicling his solo releases between 1968 and 1975.
In September 2012, the Martin Scorsese HBO documentary George Harrison: Living In The Material World snagged two awards at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony held at L.A.’s Nokia Theatre. The doc won the prizes for Outstanding Nonfiction Special and Outstanding Directing for Nonfiction Programming.
Living In The Material World, which is out now on DVD, originally aired on HBO over two nights in October 2011. The three-and-a-half hour life-spanning documentary includes interviews with Harrison’s widow and son Olivia and Dhani Harrison, his brothers Harry and the late Pete Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Martin, Eric Clapton, first wife Pattie Boyd, Yoko Ono, Phil Spector, Jeff Lynne, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Tom Petty, and Jackie Stewart, among others.
Also available in the Living In The Material World DVD package — and sold separately — is Early Takes, Volume 1 – George Harrison. The majority of songs on 10-track CD are either demos or early alternate takes of tracks from his 1970 album, All Things Must Pass. Highlights also include a demo version of Bob Dylan’s “Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind” and the Everly Brothers’ “Let It Be Me” — as well as early versions of such post-Beatles classics as “All Things Must Past,” “My Sweet Lord,” “Awaiting On You All,” along with the Dylan co-write, “I’d Have You Anytime.” Early Takes peaked at Number 20 on the Billboard 200 charts.
HARRISON ON HARRISON
George Harrison admitted that he felt that it was all downhill for the Beatles as a band following their early Hamburg days: “In the Beatles, I think the sad bit came when we got famous. Because before that, we played all them clubs, little clubs all over the place and in — particularly in Germany, we played months and months in these nightclubs. We played eight hours a night. Then it was good, cause you were just. . . everybody was just dancing and drinking, the band was up there just drinking and playing and, y’know, there was no big emphasis on how groovy you were.”
Although Harrison was thought to be a bit of a hermit during his post-Beatles years, he explained that nothing could be further from the truth: “I just didn’t go places where the press hang out and there was no point doing interviews because there was nothing really to say. That’s how I got that Howard Hughes sort of image, because they just thought, ‘Oh, well, he never goes out.’ They said, ‘He never goes out’ — but I go out all the time. I just don’t go out and hang out in the nightclubs or wherever the press go.”
George Harrison was so turned off by the critical slamming he received for his lone solo North American tour in 1974, that he didn’t hit the road again until 1991. Harrison shed some light on the back-story to the legendary trek: “I hadn’t finished my album, with the rehearsal, my voice was going — you pick up a guitar and start singing eight to 10 hours a day. . . It was tough, I was, like, getting behind myself, and that’s just the way it happened. But it was still brilliant because that band was unbelievable. And I’ve got live stuff of that and I play it to people and they say, “Ah, that’s great!'”
Harrison chose to sit out a substantial part of the ’80s, letting half a decade lapse between 1982’s Gone Troppo and 1987’s Cloud Nine. He admitted that for the most part, the sounds of the new decade turned him off: “There’s certain music and sounds and music which I like and there are certain things I can’t stand. I can’t just tell you what it is that I hate, but there’s a lot of clatter going on. We call ‘clattering and banging’ that’s been going on musically, y’know, for a while.”
Upon his return to the charts in 1987 George Harrison revealed why he had abandoned recording for a five-year-stretch: “Y’know, the record business goes through all kind of different stages, and last time I made an album, they were so busy getting opinions from people on the side of the street on what’s supposed to be a hit song. Y’know, that’s what they tell me: ‘A hit single is love lost or gained between 13 and 21-year-olds.’ Now, what kind of chance does that give me? So I, y’know, I’ll just go gardening for a bit.”
Harrison explained that the late-’80s supergroup the Traveling Wilburys came to be almost by accident — with help from Jeff Lynne — when his record label demanded a new B-side for his latest single: “I was in Los Angeles and he was producing Roy Orbison and we were having dinner one night and I said, ‘I’m gonna have to write a song and just do it’,’ y’know? And we were saying ‘Where can we get a studio?’ And he said, ‘Well, maybe Bob’ — ’cause he’s got this little studio in his garage. And it was that instant, y’know, we just went back to his house, phoned up Bob, he said ‘Sure, come on over.’ Tom Petty had my guitar and said, when I went to pick it up, he said, ‘Ah, I was wondering what I was gonna do tomorrow,’ and Roy said, ‘Well give us a call tomorrow if you’re gonna do anything, ‘I’d love to come along.'”
After his 1999 stabbing by a delusional assailant from which he suffered a collapsed lung, among other injuries, in this clip featured in the new Living In The Material World documentary, George Harrison spoke candidly about facing his own mortality: “I had an experience, where, y’know, if you have something happen to you physically, then people can go in hospital or have something wrong with them, or have a shock or something like that, and then you think, ‘Wow, yeah, I could be dying now.’ Now if I was dying now, what would I think? What would I miss? If I had to leave my body, y’know, in an hour’s time — what is it that I would miss? I think, ‘I’ve got a son who needs a father, I have to stick around for him as long as I can.’ But other than that, I can’t think of much reason to be here (laughs).”
FAMILY & FRIENDS REMEMBER GEORGE
Olivia Harrison told us that George learned to balance his often hectic and surreal life through spirituality: “Y’know, he was a wild guy too. He was spiritual and he was living in the material world too. And whether he was bad or good or crabby or happy — whatever he was, he always tried to do it with a consciousness that would keep him safe.”
In 2007, Harrison’s first wife Pattie Boyd published her memoir on her marriages to Harrison and Eric Clapton titled Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton And Me. Boyd was amazed at what a loving and supportive family Harrison had away from the madness of “Beatlemania”: “They were so warm as a family and really were most inviting and kind to me, and I was very fond of them. And I’m still in touch with Harry, George’s eldest brother. And so I had spent a lot of time with him and his wife Irene, and with (his brother) Pete and his wife and their children. So. . . we all grew up together.”
It was at John Lennon‘s urging that George Harrison receive his first original Beatles A-side with 1969’s “Something” — which shared double A-side status with Lennon’s own Abbey Road classic “Come Together.” Prior to the album’s release in September 1969, Lennon was full of praise for “Something”: “I think we’ll probably put ‘Something’ out as a single out there (in the U.S.) I think that’s about the best track on the album, actually — George’s track. And they had it. . . Y’know how they always get our records before they’re out over there, somehow, and they were playing ‘Something’ so much. They had an advance thing of it. They’re red hot for it over there, so we’ll probably release it over there as a single. I don’t know what’ll happen here.”
One of Harrison’s closest friends, Eric Clapton, was on hand to witness the birth of one of Harrison’s greatest Beatles-era classics: “It was one of those beautiful spring mornings, and I think it was April, and we were just walking through the (laughs) garden with our guitars — and that, I don’t do that! Y’know, I only ever do. . . This is what George brought to the situation. He was just a magical guy and he would show up with his guitar, get out of the car with the guitar, and come in and you’d start playing. And we walked around the garden and sat down at the bottom of the garden, looking out and the sun was shining and it was a beautiful morning and he started to sing ‘Here Comes The Sun.’ The opening lines, y’know?”
Harrison often played his favorite standards at home on the ukulele and was known to give ukuleles to his nearest and dearest friends so they too could plonk away at their leisure. Paul McCartney plays the uke that Harrison sent to him a number of years ago during his current performances of Harrison’s Abbey Road classic, “Something”: “It was a Christmas gift. He sent it around, and it was a really nice ukulele — it’s a very good one, it says on top ‘The Gibson.’ So, it’s just really cool, y’know, it was a gift. And I’ve always loved it. Y’know, I had one myself, I have a Martin, actually they make a nice little ukulele, which I, in the early days on the album Ram, one of my first sort of albums after the Beatles, I did ‘Ram On’ on there, and so that was my little one I used to carry around. But this one’s special, so I brought it on tour and I do the tribute to George with it.”
The late-Tom Petty credited George Harrison for teaching him how to play the ukulele during the 1988 sessions for the first Traveling Wilburys album: “Yeah, he taught me to play and gave me a ukulele years ago. And, of course, we were close friends for a lot of years, and we did a lot of ukulele playing. It was kinda fun. They’re really fun little things, which I, I never would’ve known if it weren’t for George. I’m still grateful that he taught me how to play it.”
Although Jeff Lynne was perhaps George Harrison’s closest musical collaborator apart from the Beatles, he never stopped being a die-hard fan: “George was in town, and I played him this track, and he, he liked it. I said, ‘Would you put a bit of slide on that for us?’ and he said, ‘OK, then.’ And I was taken aback, because usually he says, ‘No, do it yourself.’ He says, ‘You can do it. Go on, you can do it.’ I said, ‘No, I can’t do it like you do it. I want it like you do it.’ I don’t why he doesn’t understand how much better he is at it than me. And he did it — ‘couple of takes and it was done. And it was sounding great, and he, and he enjoyed it.”
Longtime Beatles confidante and solo session bassist Klaus Voormann says that he was never more proud of Harrison than when he took charge of The Concert For Bangladesh concert at the urging of friend Ravi Shankar: “I really appreciated in later days that he actually went in front of that audience on the Bangladesh concert, because he did it for his friends. That he actually went up there and talked to an audience. I think it must’ve been about the first time that he’s ever done this. Y’see, a few things in English, or a few things in German on a stage where it didn’t matter is a big difference than to an audience where he knew it’s going to be filmed and it’s going to be used to talk to an audience.”
George’s son Dhani Harrison says that ultimately he learned his way around the studio directly from his father: “Dad was very good at making records. And I spent a lot of time with him in the studio, and he was often just by himself. He didn’t really think of himself as a very good guitarist or singer even. He thought of himself as a better producer or record maker. And I spent a lot of time with, like, the (Traveling) Wilburys and stuff, and their philosophy was ‘get in a room with a microphone and hit something.’ Y’know?”
Joshua Greene, the author of Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison, recorded with Harrison in 1970 while a part of the Krishna sect Radha Krishna Temple, and recalled how practical Harrison was in the recording studio: “We came in, he said hello to his friends, slapped a few old buddies on the back. Then he started laughing and yukking it up about people’s reactions to a rock group with shaved heads — because he was putting out these albums of Sanskrit mantras. Then he looked at his watch and said ‘Y’know, we better get started, this studio is costing us 40 pounds an hour.’ That was impressive. He might’ve been a Beatle, he might’ve been one of the richest, most successful guys around — but he was very practical.”
Graham Nash, who first saw the Beatles perform in 1959, became friends with Harrison and the “Fab Four” while touring with the Hollies in 1963. Nash regrets that he and Harrison never got to connect any further on a musical level: “I think it would have been easier earlier. I think both he and I got wrapped up in our respective band’s fame. Obviously the Beatles were way more famous than we were, and even trying to penetrate their scene was difficult. They were completely surrounded by people that handled them. They didn’t have time. It just never worked out. But I know that had George and I ever made music together, it would’ve been quite interesting because we’re very similar, and yet very different.”
Kiss‘ Paul Stanley — a die-hard Beatles fan since he was 12-years-old, told us that Harrison’s influence and legacy should never underestimated: “Everybody knows that George Harrison is part of the fabric of rock n’ roll and he’s been an influence on everybody no matter what kind of music they play. Probably more so than they even know. He’s been an influence on every kind of music that exists at this point because the Beatles are woven into everything that rock n’ roll is about.”
Toto guitarist Steve Lukather developed a close friendship with Harrison in the early ’90s and recalled how easily a night out on the town would turn musical with the former Beatle: “He invites me out for dinner one night, and he’s a vegetarian, so he goes — ‘You know, a good Italian (restaurant)?’ — or something like that. He goes, ‘Yeah, I’m inviting a few friends out.’ And it’s (drummer) Jim Keltner, who’s a good friend of mine — so I said ‘Great!’ So, I show up and I say, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ Then Bob Dylan walks in — then Jeff Lynne. And then the next thing you know there’s a jam up at Jeff Lynne’s house with Dylan playing bass, me and George Harrison on guitars, Jeff Lynne on keyboards, and Jim Keltner on drums. We’re just playing Beatles songs.”
Ringo Starr spoke about his final meeting with Harrison only weeks before his death: “The last weeks of George’s life, he was in Switzerland and I went to see him — and he was very ill. Y’know, he could only lay down. And while he was being ill and I’d come to see him, I was going to Boston, ’cause my daughter had a brain tumor. And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got to go, I’ve got to go to Boston,’ and he goes (laughs, holds back tears) — it’s the last words I heard him say, actually, and he said, ‘Do you me to come with ya?’ (Laughs tearfully) I thought, ‘God.’ So, that’s the incredible side of George.”
Olivia Harrison told us that George felt blessed to enjoy many incredibly close relationships over his lifetime: “If you were his friend, you were his friend, and he gave everything. Y’know, you weren’t sort of a friend, or y’know, kind of a friend. If you were in his world, that was it, you had the ‘A’ key to everything. But of course Ringo was probably his best friend.”