George Harrison, born February 25, 1943 in Liverpool and died November 29, 2001 in Los Angeles, is a British musician, guitarist, singer-songwriter and film producer, and the youngest member of The Beatles.
From a modest background, he was a childhood friend of Paul McCartney, who proposed him to John Lennon in early 1958 to join his band, The Quarrymen. The three of them formed the core of the group which in 1960 was renamed The Beatles and from 1963, after the arrival of the drummer Ringo Starr, and under the leadership of George Martin, became one of the greatest phenomena in the history of popular music in the 20th century.
Harrison”s influence on the Beatles” music grew over the years. He was first the lead guitarist and one of the four singers of the group, who quickly distinguished himself for the quality of his vocal harmonies. From 1965, he introduced spirituality, music and Indian instruments into the musical universe of the Fab Four. Finally, he composed some of their most beautiful songs during the last years of the group, such as While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Something or Here Comes the Sun. He also pioneered the use of the Moog synthesizer in rock music. As his songwriting talent grew, his frustration at being in the shadow of the Lennon
Harrison enjoyed great artistic and commercial success early in his solo career with his triple album All Things Must Pass and his song My Sweet Lord. In 1971, he organized a concert for Bangladesh, the first charity concert in rock history. He also started a film company, HandMade Films, which produced the Monty Python film Life of Brian, in which he made a brief appearance. He then experienced ups and downs in his solo career until the release of his album Cloud Nine (1987) allowed him to return to commercial and popular success, supported by the single Got My Mind Set on You. In 1988, he formed the supergroup Traveling Wilburys, with Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan, which produced two albums.
First married to Pattie Boyd from 1966 to 1977 (whom he met on the set of the film A Hard Day”s Night), he married for the second time in 1978 to Olivia Trinidad Arias, with whom he had a son, Dhani. His appearances are rare during the 1990s, during which he participates in the Anthology project of the Beatles and works episodically on a hypothetical album – finally published after his death under the title Brainwashed. He was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997. Weakened moreover by an attempt of assassination of which he was victim in 1999 in his property, he dies on November 29, 2001 at the age of 58 years. Twenty years after his death, he is still considered by the public as one of the great artists of his time.
Childhood and adolescence (1943 to 1958)
George Harrison was born in Liverpool on Thursday, February 25, 1943 (although some sources mention the 24th). Son of Harold Hargreaves Harrison and his wife Louise (born French), he is the last of four children. He has an older sister, born in 1931, named Louise like his mother, and two brothers, Harry and Peter, born in 1934 and 1940. The father, a former steward with the White Star Line, became a bus driver, and the mother was a commercial employee. For the first six years of George”s life, the family lived at 12 Arnold Grove (where he was born), in Wavertree, a district of Liverpool. The home was modest, with only four rooms on two floors, one of which was left abandoned because “it was freezing cold. Harrison also reports that the family crowded into the kitchen to keep warm by the fire. In a 1970 interview, “Mimi” Smith – John Lennon”s aunt who raised him – denied that the Beatles came from poor families, explaining, “certainly didn”t come from a slum! None of the boys did. The Harrisons weren”t doing as well as other families, that”s possible, but George didn”t come from a slum either, as the press said.” Eventually, the family moved to another public housing unit at 25 Upton Green in Speke.
As a child, Harrison attended Dovedale School, near Penny Lane, where his future partner John Lennon had gone a few years earlier. His schooling started a year late because of the high number of children in the local schools, due to a rise in the birth rate. This also explains why he was educated in a school far away from home. He also made his communion, but decided not to make his confirmation, not appreciating the “church talk”. He even took to running and hiding when the local priest visited his family. Although the Speke neighborhood was a rough one in which “there were some really ugly families,” Harrison considers himself to have had a happy childhood.
From 1954 to 1959, he attended the Liverpool Institute For Boys. This was a difficult period for him (he even went so far as to call it the worst time of his life), because of the strict discipline of this grammar school and the impression of being muzzled among the mass of his fellow students. He failed his final exams, amusing himself by saying that the few points he got were a reward for having written his name well at the top of the paper.
When he was 12 years old, he was hospitalized for an inflammation of the kidneys. It is during these six weeks of convalescence that he decides to buy a guitar from a classmate. However, the guitar was soon broken and remained unused for some time. Later, his father introduced him to a guitarist friend who taught him new chords and songs several hours a week. Two years later, the savings of the household allow to buy a better instrument. While Liverpool was alive with skiffle music, Harrison formed the band The Rebels with his brother Peter and a friend. They performed only once, replacing a band that had withdrawn.
At that time, he was dating Paul McCartney, who was nine months older than him, sharing the same bus home from school. Their shared love of music led to their friendship, and his performance with the Rebels helped him gain credibility. They became close friends and perfected their playing together. In the summer of 1957, they both hitchhiked to the South Coast with their guitars.
McCartney eventually moved to another part of the city, where he became involved with John Lennon, who also had his own band, The Quarrymen, which Paul joined after proving his abilities. Soon after, McCartney suggested to Lennon that Harrison be included in the band. Lennon, although embarrassed by the newcomer”s young age, ended up listening to him perform the instrumental Raunchy in the back of a double-decker bus and was impressed by his talents. Harrison joined the Quarrymen in February 1958 as a temporary replacement for Eric Griffiths. He finally imposes himself by his talent, and it is to the new drummer of the group, Colin Hanton, that falls the ungrateful task of announcing to Griffiths that his services are no longer required. During the summer, the band records two songs in a private studio: That”ll Be the Day, a Buddy Holly cover, and In Spite of All the Danger, credited to Harrison
From Hamburg clubs to international popularity (1958 to 1966)
Over the next two years, the Quarrymen”s lineup evolved and the group changed names several times. Formed by John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison on guitars, Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums, the group left for Hamburg in August 1960, performing in the city”s red light districts. It finally takes the name The Beatles. Sutcliffe soon left the band, forcing McCartney to take over the bass, as Harrison and Lennon refused to leave their guitar spots. In mid-November, the Beatles had a serious setback: having chosen to play in a club rivaling their usual scene, they turned their former boss against them, who reported Harrison to the authorities. This one, still minor, has indeed not the right to work in Germany and is sent back to Liverpool, November 21, 1960, followed soon by the rest of the group.
In England, the group performs at the Cavern Club in Liverpool and acquires good stage experience, before leaving to play in Germany in April 1961. The Beatles are then hired to accompany the singer Tony Sheridan in concert, and record with him his record My Bonnie. They interpret in particular the instrumental Cry for a Shadow, composed by Harrison.
The group returns to Liverpool and performs again at the Cavern, during the fall. It is then spotted by Brian Epstein, who becomes the manager in December 1961. On June 6, 1962, the group managed to get an audition in front of producer George Martin, and signed with Parlophone in the process. That day, when Martin played them the recordings and asked if anything was wrong, Harrison immediately replied: “Well, for starters, I don”t like your tie. Martin is attracted to the band, but does not like Pete Best, who does not really fit in with the other members, who have already considered changing drummers before. George likes a young drummer named Ringo Starr very much, and suggests that he joins the band. The Beatles thus separate from Best without even announcing his eviction: it is Brian Epstein who takes care of it, on August 16, 1962. “We weren”t very bright on this one”, George Harrison will note later. In the days that followed, the fans complained about this change, and at the Cavern Club, a spectator gave Harrison a black eye because he defended the new member of the group.
The Beatles were hired and recorded their first single, Love Me Do, followed in early 1963 by their first album, Please Please Me, which topped the British charts. For Harrison, who plays lead guitar, as for the rest of the group, success begins to be born, and the concerts accumulate.
The band members took a vacation in September 1963. Harrison, accompanied by his brother Peter, crossed the Atlantic to visit his sister Louise in Benton, Illinois. He was invited to play a few songs on stage with a local band, the Four Vests. Harisson was the first Beatles to perform in the United States. With two members of this group, he visited Fenton”s Music Store in Mount Vernon, where he bought a Rickenbacker 420 electric guitar for $400 US.
Within the Beatles, George Harrison is primarily a lead guitarist and a backup singer. Lennon and McCartney write and sing the songs of the group, with a few exceptions. George does the harmonies, with one or the other, according to who holds the main vocal. Some songs are also sung entirely in three voices, like This Boy. In addition, Harrison and Ringo Starr perform a small number of songs on each album. However, Harrison quickly became interested in songwriting with his first personal song on the second album, Don”t Bother Me, which was still very classic. At the same time, the group became internationally known and stayed at the top of the British charts for more than a year. Harrison was dubbed the “Quiet Beatle” by the media, his attitude and personality as perceived by the public contrasting with the exuberance of John Lennon, the quirky humor of Ringo Starr or the ease of Paul McCartney. In fact, when he arrived in the United States in February 1964, he suffered from pharyngitis caused by a strep infection that left him momentarily speechless, partially explaining this perception.
At the height of Beatlemania, the group also made its first film, A Hard Day”s Night. If it is especially Ringo Starr who illustrates himself by his acting, the experience is no less decisive for Harrison who meets on the set his future wife, Pattie Boyd. The director, Richard Lester, recognizes that the character of George Harrison is certainly the one who stands out the least in the film, but he nevertheless has some scenes of prominence, and later said he enjoyed the experience.
Harrison does not impose a new song for the group in 1964, but enjoys, like the other Beatles, the euphoria of Beatlemania – the whirlwind of tours, the screams of the crowds, the countless interviews where we delight in the slightest of their anecdotes … During the American tour in the summer of 1964, the group was also introduced to marijuana by Bob Dylan. During the shooting of Help! at the beginning of 1965, the four musicians smoke a lot of it. This shooting also marks a new break for Harrison, who discovers the Indian culture, which occupies an important place in the scenario of the film. The guitarist goes so far as to declare on this subject: “I guess that”s where it all started for me.
George begins to assert himself timidly as a composer. Two of his compositions appear on the album Help! I Need You and You Like Me Too Much, which, like the other songs on the album, have their share of daring little finds in the arrangements. Harrison participates in a more inspired way in the Rubber Soul album: in Norwegian Wood he introduces, for the first time in Western pop music, the sitar, an Indian instrument for which he is passionate; the idea is taken up a few months later by the Rolling Stones, about to become their main rival, on Paint It Black (at the initiative of Brian Jones). Moreover, his compositions gain in maturity in the middle of Paul and John”s songs, as shown by Think for Yourself and the pre-psychedelic If I Needed Someone in a style that the Byrds sublimate at the same time. The same year, the prestige of the group explodes when the Beatles become the first artists to be received into the Order of the British Empire, by Queen Elizabeth II.
Apogee and dissolution of the group (1966 to 1970)
From Revolver onwards, Harrison”s influence is increasingly felt in the band”s compositions. In this new opus, released in 1966, he composed three songs: Taxman, sublimated by the groovy bass and the guitar solo of Paul (title that opens the album, the first and only time for a composition of George), I Want to Tell You, and Love You To, performed with Indian instruments. That same year, he leaves for Bombay to take sitar lessons from Ravi Shankar and discovers more deeply the Indian culture and philosophy. At the beginning of 1967, the preparation of Sgt. Pepper”s Lonely Hearts Club Band begins, a conceptual album for which Paul McCartney wants each member to create a fictitious double who would take his place during the album. This is reflected in the costumes created for the Beatles for the album cover. However, Harrison says about this concept: “Paul was following his idea of a fictitious group but this aspect did not really interest him, except for the title song and the album cover. The song he composed on this album is clearly different from the others and is recorded with an Indian orchestra: Within You Without You is, in fact, made without the participation of other Beatles and allows Harrison to expose his new spirituality. Although not very commercial, the song was released as a single in Mexico. With this Indian style, the guitarist finds a way to distinguish himself from the duo Lennon
Harrison ended his Indian period with a third song, The Inner Light, in 1968. It was selected to be the B-side of the single Lady Madonna, and it was the first song released as a single that was not signed by Lennon
In February 1968, the Beatles, along with their wives, children, and other VIPs, traveled to the foothills of the Himalayas, to Rishikesh, to the Maharishi”s âshram, for a seminar lasting several weeks, to deepen their experience of transcendental meditation. Lennon commented on Harrison”s passion: “If he keeps this up, George will be a magic carpet artist by the time he”s 40. I”m here to find out what kind of role I have to play from now on. I”d like to go as far as I can. George is a little ahead of us.” The contribution of this stay is not only spiritual: cut from the world during several weeks, the Beatles compose a lot. Having only acoustic guitars, they turn to simpler compositions, and write a great number of future successes of the last years of the group and the beginning of their solo careers. Harrison wrote Piggies and Not Guilty. After the departure of Ringo and Paul, John and George continue to follow the teachings of the Maharishi, until a rumor circulates that the spiritual master has abused a participant in the camp. Lennon had a serious falling out with the guru, and the two remaining Beatles left the camp to return home.
Even before his departure for India, Harrison composes songs that stand out from the oriental style he imported into the group. He composed Blue Jay Way for the film Magical Mystery Tour. During the work on Sgt. Pepper”s, he composed Only a Northern Song, a satirical song about the rights he received for his lyrics. This period also saw the writing of his longest song with the Beatles, It”s All Too Much, about his experience with LSD. These two songs finally appear on the album Yellow Submarine, soundtrack of the film of the same name.
In 1968, during the realization of the “White Album”, he invites his friend Eric Clapton to play a solo on his song While My Guitar Gently Weeps; it is during the recording of this song that Clapton gives to George Harrison the famous Les Paul guitar that he will name “Lucy”. The presence of Clapton also allows to relax the heavy atmosphere which reigns then within the group. Another composition of Harrison on this album, Piggies, has unexpected consequences, like McCartney”s Helter Skelter: the song is interpreted by Charles Manson as a call to murder, and several murders take place on his initiative in the United States. Harrison says, “It”s been really awful to be associated with something as sordid as the Charles Manson thing.” Along with Savoy Truffle and Long, Long, Long, George places a total of four of his compositions on this double album (Not Guilty is ultimately discarded, despite 102 takes).
The Beatles were contractually obliged to make one last film, so they decided to be filmed during the recording sessions of their future album, whose working title was Get Back, later renamed Let It Be. Then begins a difficult work at the film studios of Twickenham, which ends with an argument. Harrison left the group on January 10, for a dozen days. A meeting is organized to convince him to return, and concessions are made. Thus, the Beatles abandon the idea of a return on stage planned to close the film. Harrison returned to the studio, and proposed to bring the keyboardist Billy Preston to participate in the recording. Like Eric Clapton”s the year before, his presence allows to ease the tensions. On January 30, 1969, the Beatles and Preston went up on the roof of the Apple Corps building on Savile Row to give their last concert together (they had not played live since 1966). From this period will come out his song Old Brown Shoe on the B side of the single The Ballad of John and Yoko.
Disappointed by their work on Get Back, the Beatles put the project on hold and decided to devote themselves to one last album before a separation that seemed inevitable. This album, Abbey Road, is the apogee of Harrison”s work in the Beatles. He composed two of the most famous songs: Something and Here Comes the Sun. Something, which John Lennon considers “one of the best songs on the album” is also chosen as the A-side of the single from the album; it is the only A-side of the group not composed by Lennon
Let It Be, featuring twelve tracks from the Get Back sessions, is finally the Beatles” final album (although recorded before Abbey Road) and was released on May 8, 1970. It is Phil Spector, contacted by John and George, and against the advice of Paul, who is responsible for designing the album from the considerable mass of abandoned tapes. He will overload the production with strings, echo and female choirs. Two Harrison songs are included: For You Blue and I Me Mine. Harrison will work again with the producer during his solo career. The Beatles are officially dissolved through an announcement made by Paul McCartney on April 10, 1970.
Solo career (1970 to 1987)
George Harrison is the first of the Beatles to embark on a solo career since he publishes two albums in his own name even before the dissolution of the group. The first of them is Wonderwall Music, soundtrack to the film of the same name with Indian tones, which is also the first album published by Apple Corps, in 1968. The following year, he published an album of experimental music, Electronic Sound, based on Moog synthesizers, on the short-lived label Zapple. Neither of these albums was a real critical or commercial success. He also participated in 1969 in the recording of the song Badge, with Eric Clapton, under the nickname of “L”Angelo Mysterioso”.
However, it is in November 1970, when he released his triple album All Things Must Pass, produced by Phil Spector, that George Harrison really made his mark. He says about the record: “I felt like a man who had been constipated for years and suddenly had diarrhea” – an allusion to the Beatles years during which George could only record a few of his songs among the plethora of compositions signed by Lennon and McCartney. The album was a huge success, especially the track My Sweet Lord, which sold millions of copies and remains one of the most popular songs of the 1970s. All Things Must Pass consists of four sides of classic format songs and two sides of jam sessions, the latter of which were generally unpopular with critics and provoked endless debate among fans. Besides My Sweet Lord, What Is Life and Isn”t It a Pity were also played on the radio at the beginning of the decade. The only shadow in the picture, the song My Sweet Lord earned its author a lawsuit for plagiarism, which he loses: he is indeed accused of having taken, unintentionally, the tune of the song He”s So Fine (en) of the Chiffons, which had had some success in 1963. Harrison will ironize about this case with This Song in 1976.
In 1971, Harrison organized the Concert for Bangladesh, the first major charity concert featuring many artists, including Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Ringo Starr and Leon Russell. The profits, intended for the victims of the war of liberation of Bangladesh, take some time to reach their destination because of tax problems. The same year, Harrison participated in several tracks on John Lennon”s Imagine album, including How Do You Sleep? a searing attack on Paul McCartney. Harrison”s next album, Living in the Material World, released in 1973 (with the participation of Nicky Hopkins, Klaus Voormann, Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner, etc.), was also relatively successful, mainly thanks to the song Give Me Love, which reached number one on both sides of the Atlantic in the spring of 1973, but did not equal its predecessor. The same year, finally, Harrison participates in a solo album of Ringo Starr, Ringo, which has the distinction of bringing together all the Beatles, although they never play all together on the same track (however on the track I”m the Greatest composed by John Lennon, three Beatles appear together: Ringo, John and George). He helps his former companion to compose one of his flagship songs, Photograph.
In 1974, Harrison launched his own music label, Dark Horse, which initially published a number of artists dear to his instigator, such as Ravi Shankar, and then published only his own albums from 1977. An album of the same name was also released that year, but it was a real critical and commercial failure, as was the tour that the singer undertook in the United States. Indeed, the album was made at a particularly bad time for Harrison: he had just separated from his wife Pattie, and complications from laryngitis prevented him from singing properly. The following albums are in the same line, despite a gradual recovery of esteem with the critics, and meet only little success in the charts. George Harrison then devotes himself to occasional participations, alongside, among others, Billy Preston and Harry Nilsson, as well as his film production company, HandMade Films, which he founded in 1978 to produce the film The Life of Brian by his friends Monty Python. That same year, he played himself as a narrator in his ex-partner”s Ringo special.
On a personal level, however, Harrison is experiencing a more prosperous period. He met Olivia Trinidad Arias in 1974 and married her four years later, becoming the father of a boy, Dhani, on August 2, 1978. In addition, although his former wife Pattie is now in a relationship with Eric Clapton, the two friends remain close and maintain a good relationship. Harrison also works on his autobiography, I, Me, Mine, written in collaboration with Derek Taylor. In the first part of the book, he recounts the career of the Beatles and his own, with his reflections. The second part contains the definitive text of eighty-three of his songs, along with an account of the circumstances of their creation. However, the fact that he does not mention John Lennon in the book leads to a falling out between the two men. Lennon was murdered in late 1980, which shocked Harrison enormously, especially since he had not been able to reconcile with him before his sudden death.
He dedicated a song to him, All Those Years Ago, in which Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr participated, and which met with some success thanks to its cheerful style that contrasts with its subject. Propelled by this song, Harrison”s 1981 album Somewhere in England seemed to be successful again, but soon fell back in the charts. Warner, distributing the album, also asked George Harrison to review his copy before release: the musician was ordered to replace four of the songs originally planned by compositions “more lively. Disappointed by the record industry, Harrison prepares the following year the last album binding him by contract to Warner, without really taking himself seriously: Gone Troppo is a total failure on the critical and commercial levels, but allows Harrison to stop recording for five years to devote himself to other projects and passions.
This period is not musically inactive: George Harrison participates in some soundtracks, produces films, and is involved in various causes. He appeared at the Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert 1986 to raise funds for the Birmingham Children”s Hospital. He performed Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry with the Electric Light Orchestra. He reappeared on stage the following year, during the Prince”s Trust concert at the Wembley Arena. He interprets While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Here Comes the Sun. The same year, he made his comeback as a singer-songwriter with the album Cloud Nine, which was a revival and put him back in the spotlight, both critically and commercially. Featuring contributions from Jeff Lynne, Eric Clapton, Elton John, and Ringo Starr, the album charts on both sides of the Atlantic and contains his latest No. 1 in the U.S.: Got My Mind Set on You. It is the last solo studio album he made during his lifetime.
Last years (1988 to 2001)
In 1988, Harrison put his solo career on hold to focus on the supergroup Traveling Wilburys, along with Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Bob Dylan. The idea came about while recording a B-side for a single, Handle with Care: finding the song too good for a B-side, the members of the impromptu group decided to push the project further by producing a full-length album. Each of the artists assumed a pseudonym, pretending to be one of the Wilburys (Harrison was Nelson and then Spike Wilbury), and helped write the songs. Their first album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was released that same year and was quite well received. Despite Orbison”s death at the end of 1988, the band recorded a second opus in 1990, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3. The title of the album (“Vol. 3” while there is no “Vol. 2”) is an idea of Harrison to maintain the confusion among the public. While four songs on the first album, including Handle with Care, are clearly attributable to Harrison, the credits on the second volume are much more difficult to establish.
In 1991, he performed in Japan with Eric Clapton for his first tour since 1974. The tour is the subject of a double album with a limited edition which remains a rare testimony of his public performances. On April 6, 1992, accompanied by Gary Moore and Joe Walsh, he gave a concert in support of the Natural Law Party at the Royal Albert Hall in London. In October 1992, he interprets three songs during the concert gathering numerous artists at the Madison Square Garden in New York in honor of the 30 years of career of Bob Dylan.
In 1994 and until 1996, Harrison returned to the other two surviving members of the Beatles for the Anthology project. This television project consists of many hours of interviews, later published in a book and on DVD. Three double albums, including previously unreleased recordings, live performances and alternate takes, were also produced. The songs Free as a Bird and Real Love, composed and recorded as demos on cassette in the 1970s by John Lennon, were donated by Yoko Ono for the project and would be finished by the three surviving Beatles. It was Harrison who suggested his friend Jeff Lynne to produce these unreleased recordings. The singles Free as a Bird and Real Love and the albums Anthology were released between 1995 and 1996.
In August 1997, George Harrison learns that he has throat cancer, attributed to the fact that he started smoking at the age of 11 and was a heavy smoker for decades. He was quickly treated and declared in 1998, after an operation in London, that he was fully cured. In January 1998, he participated in the funeral of one of the idols of his youth, Carl Perkins, by interpreting Your True Love. The same year, he participated in the funeral of Linda McCartney. He also contributes to Ringo Starr”s new album, Vertical Man.
On the evening of December 30, 1999, he was stabbed at his home by an intruder, Michael Abram, who had managed to break into his Friar Park property in Henley-on-Thames by breaking a window. George was stabbed 40 times, and had a punctured lung, before his wife Olivia came to his aid and the attacker was subdued. (The ex-Beatle told the court in 2000 that he was convinced at the time that he was fatally stabbed). The Harrison couple was taken to the hospital where it appeared that neither was in serious condition. The criminal was found to be suffering from schizophrenia and was released in 2002 after having been confined in a specialized hospital for more than 19 months.
In 2000, Harrison began discussing with his friend, Guy Laliberté, founder of Cirque du Soleil, the creation of a Beatles-themed show. The show, entitled Love, will be performed in Las Vegas in 2006, accompanied by an album of its soundtrack. He also devoted himself more and more to a last album, Brainwashed, on which he had been working episodically for several years. In 2001, he wrote the English lyrics of the Brazilian song Anna Júlia by the band Los Hermanos for Jim Capaldi.
That same year, he underwent a new surgery to remove a lung tumor. He then learns that metastases have developed in several places, including the brain, and undergoes several therapies, including in Switzerland during the month of July. George Harrison dies finally on Thursday, November 29, 2001 at 1:30 pm, in a clinic of Hollywood Hills. The day of his death, the Harrison family publishes the following statement: “He left this world as he lived in it: conscious of God, fearless of death and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. He often said, ”Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another. (“He left this world as he had lived in it: conscious of God, fearless of death and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. He often said, ”Everything else can wait, but not the search for God and love of neighbor.””). He was cremated and, according to his wishes, his ashes were spread along the Ganges River in India. His album Brainwashed was not released until after his death in 2002, after being completed by his son and Jeff Lynne. It is recognized by critics as one of his best records.
It was on the set of the Beatles” first film, A Hard Day”s Night, in 1964, that George Harrison met model Pattie Boyd. Their relationship inspired Harrison to write several of his first songs, including I Need You and If I Needed Someone. They got married on January 21, 1966, after having obtained the authorization of Brian Epstein, manager of the Beatles. After their honeymoon, he asked her to give up her professional activity to devote herself to her family, which she accepted. This marriage, at first happy, inspires the musician several songs such as For You Blue and especially Something, one of his greatest successes. Pattie Harrison also accompanies her husband during his travels in India and in his study of Eastern spirituality. It is she who introduces him to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi; and she is also at his side during his experiments with drugs and his initiation to LSD.
However, the marriage ends up failing. In the early 1970s, Eric Clapton, a close friend of Harrison, fell in love with Pattie and dedicated his song Layla to her. Both begin a relationship, and the couple Harrison divorced in 1977, but the relationship between the two friends is not degraded. At the same time, Harrison knows, according to Peter Brown, a member of the Beatles entourage, a relationship with Maureen, the wife of Ringo Starr, adultery that he himself recognizes later. The couple Starkey (real name of Ringo Starr: Richard Starkey) divorced in 1975, again without the friendship of the two former musical partners is deteriorated by this episode.
In 1974, Harrison met and fell in love with Olivia Trinidad Arias, a secretary at A&M Records. After several years together, and with the imminent arrival of a baby, the couple married in 1978. They lived together until the death of the singer in 2001, and have a son, Dhani, who follows in the footsteps of his father by becoming a musician. Their relationship offers Harrison a climate of serenity that allows him to find an optimism that he had lost in his compositions of the mid-1970s.
Harrison”s relationship with the Beatles varied from friendships to tensions. In the early days of the band, and at the height of Beatlemania, the four boys had a very strong friendship, as Ringo Starr explained years later: “We really looked out for each other. We were always laughing. In those days, we had huge suites in hotels, sometimes a whole floor, just for us, and just to be together, the four of us would meet in the bathroom. To this day, when the three of us get together, Paul and George are the only ones who see me as I am.” George Harrison was also one of the biggest supporters of the drummer in the group, whether to allow him to replace Pete Best, or when he fell ill during a tour. It is also together that they composed several of his songs like his hit Photograph.
Harrison is particularly close to John Lennon on a spiritual level, as he explains: “He saw that we don”t just live in the material world. He saw beyond death, he saw that this life was just a little comedy. Having gone through that LSD period with John, I understood that the first time we took it and I think our thoughts were more in harmony with each other.” After the band split, the two men remained good friends, and Harrison participated in several recordings with the Plastic Ono Band. However, their relationship became strained when Lennon did not attend the hearing to legally dissolve the group. In 1980, it offended publicly not to have been quoted by his friend in the autobiography that has just published, I, Me, Mine. He is murdered shortly after, before the two men had the opportunity to reconcile. George Harrison, very affected by his sudden death, dedicates him a song in tribute: All Those Years Ago.
Paul McCartney and George Harrison have been friends since childhood. Within the Beatles, however, they frequently argue while working on some songs, increasingly so in the last years, especially during the shooting of Let It Be when Paul tells him how to play a take: the accumulated tensions eventually explode, and the guitarist temporarily leaves the group. The effective separation of the Beatles occurs a few months later. Harrison explains that everyone needed more space, that the group had become too small. During their solo career, the two former partners work together again rather little, mainly because of their differences in character, with the notable exception of the Anthology project. Shortly before Harrison”s death, however, McCartney visited him in the hospital, during which they had a long conversation about the past. Thereafter, during his tours, McCartney regularly performs Something in his honor; he begins alone on the ukulele and ends with his entire band, guitarist Rusty Anderson interpreting the solo of George Harrison to the note.
Spirituality and world view
George Harrison discovered India and its culture during the shooting of the film Help! in 1965. This one indeed puts in scene an Indian sect trying to put the hand on a sacred ring held by Ringo Starr. During the shooting of a scene in an Indian restaurant, the guitarist is particularly interested in the group of musicians and tries to play the sitar. He bought a similar instrument shortly afterwards and learned to play it, later incorporating it into the band”s compositions. At the end of 1965, he hears about the Indian musician Ravi Shankar, and buys several of his records. He met him the following year, and both quickly discovered affinities. Shankar finally offered to teach Harrison to play the sitar in India. The guitarist and his wife Pattie Boyd took advantage of the break that the Beatles took after the release of Revolver and the end of their tours to go to India where they immersed themselves in the local culture and philosophy.
Particularly interested in the Hare Krishna movement, Harrison became very critical of the Catholic Church whose lifestyle and principles he criticized. He also met the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and became interested in the transcendental meditation that he taught. In August 1967, Harrison proposes to the other Beatles to attend a conference of Maharishi in Wales where they learn TM. The experience is however disturbed by the announcement of the death of Brian Epstein, their manager, which shocks deeply the group. It was finally in 1968 that the four musicians and their wives went to stay for a while in the âshram of the spiritual master, in Rishikesh. Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney were the first to leave, on their own initiative, while a rumor of sexual abuse committed by the Maharishi – which turned out to be false later – pushed the other two to return to England.
This does not prevent Harrison from maintaining a strong interest in India and meditation. He boasts of having chanted the Hare Krishna mantra for 23 hours while driving his car through Europe. He also became a vegetarian and remained so for the rest of his life. In 1992, he also joined the Natural Law Party. The spirituality of George Harrison also shows in his first solo albums, including Living in the Material World, which eventually weary some critics. His last album, Brainwashed, is also imbued with this spirituality, including the recital of a Hindu prayer in Sanskrit in the title song.
Harrison had a strong interest in gardening. In 1970, he bought Friar Park, a villa surrounded by a large park, which he then had restored. The musician loved to walk there and hired a team of gardeners to help him take care of the park of nearly 15 hectares. The manor house, with its turrets and gargoyles, was designed in the previous century by the eccentric Francis Crisp, who also created a park with a water feature. Harrison also had a recording studio added. Over time, he came to see himself not as a musician, but as a gardener. In 1980, he dedicated his autobiography I, Me, Mine “to gardeners everywhere. His property also inspired a song, Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp (Let It Roll), on the album All Things Must Pass, in which he describes the house and its park. It is also in this park that the photograph on the album cover was taken.
He is also passionate about car racing from 1977 (the year he considers as the one when he gave up music for racing). He is the owner of one of the one hundred and six McLaren F1 road cars built, and also acquires since 1964 one of the rare Aston Martin DB5 (the car of James Bond in Goldfinger). He drives aggressively himself and likes to say: “I consider myself good behind the wheel, but I”m not sure the police agree”. He had his driver”s license revoked several times, and in 1972 had a serious accident with his wife Pattie, who was in a coma for some time. His song Faster, published in 1979 on the George Harrison album, is a tribute to racing drivers. By attending many major car races around the world, he became friends with several drivers, including Jackie Stewart and Damon Hill.
During the long hours spent on stage in the bars of Hamburg, the Beatles consume “prellies”, pills of Preludine, an appetite suppressant that also acts as a stimulant. Like the three other Beatles, Harrison discovered marijuana when Bob Dylan introduced them to it during their American tour in the summer of 1964. They quickly took a liking to it, and during the shooting of Help! the following year, they consumed massively, as Ringo Starr explains: “We smoked a diabolical amount of weed during the shooting of the film. It was great. It made it even more fun.” In April 1965, Harrison, Lennon and their respective wives spent the evening at a dentist friend”s house who put LSD in their coffee without telling them. This discovery is like a revelation for Harrison, who sees it as a way to rise spiritually. Lennon becomes, for his part, a big consumer during the years that follow. This brings the two men closer together.
In 1967, Harrison recounts the effects of LSD on his meditation, in It”s All Too Much, but thereafter he gradually moves away from this substance, especially during his stay in India, in favor of other methods of meditation. He realizes that meditation is a better way to reach his “true self” than drugs. However, Harrison continued to use marijuana. On March 12, 1969, Detective Sergeant Norman Pilcher, of the London Police Narcotics Squad, searched his home and found a quantity of marijuana. Harrison admits guilt, although he says that the marijuana found by Pilcher does not belong to him. The year before, for the same reasons, Lennon also experienced legal problems; it was the end of the immunity that the Beatles had enjoyed until then. However, in 1972, the policeman Pilcher will be condemned for having introduced drugs to innocent people.
George Harrison”s guitar playing with the Beatles is varied and flexible. Although not a fast or flashy guitarist, he produces a solid playing style that is characteristic of the stripped down guitar soloing style of the early 1960s. The influence of Chet Atkins” and Carl Perkins” picking guitar style on George Harrison gave a country music tone to the Beatles” early recordings. He also recognizes the inspiration of Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry.
Harrison explored the possibilities of many guitars: the twelve-string, the slide, and evolved his playing from simple 8- or 12-bar solos, as on A Hard Day”s Night or Can”t Buy Me Love, to his lyrical slide flights on later albums. The earliest example of George”s remarkable work on a Beatles song is his long acoustic solo on the song Till There Was You, for which he gets a José Ramirez classical guitar to render the desired sensitivity on this track.
During the band”s first trip to the U.S. in 1964, Harrison bought a twelve-string Rickenbacker 360. It was an experimental model, with inverted strings and an unusual headstock that made tuning easier. He used it a lot during the recording of the album A Hard Day”s Night, and the particular sounds of this still relatively unknown instrument quickly became popular. Roger McGuinn liked Harrison”s twelve-string sound so much that it became the Byrds” signature guitar sound.
Geoff Emerick, who worked in the studio with the Beatles as an assistant sound engineer first, then as a senior engineer starting with the Revolver album, is generally not kind to George Harrison in his book Here There and Everywhere, My Life Recording The Music of The Beatles. He underlines the difficulty that the youngest member of the group often has to record a solo on the first try, tells how the tape had to be slowed down so that he could place the fast phrase of the bridge of A Hard Day”s Night, sometimes calls him “poor George”, finds Paul McCartney much more talented than him on the guitar. … but finally recognizes his talent and even his astonishment during the recording of the last album of the group, Abbey Road, where Harrison is particularly sharp, shows virtuosity for a contribution of very high quality to all the songs on this record.
In addition, on this last record recorded by the Beatles, George Harrison introduced a new instrument for the first time on a rock record: the synthesizer. He says: “It was in America that I first heard about the Moog synthesizer. I had to specially order one because Mr. Moog had just invented it. It was huge, with hundreds of connections and two keyboards. But it was one thing to own one, and another to try to make it work. It didn”t have an instruction manual, and if there had been one, it probably would have been 2,000 pages long. I don”t think Mr. Moog himself knew how to make music with his thing, it was more of a technical device. When you listen to those sounds, for example on Here Comes the Sun, there are some good things, but they”re still in their infancy.” While learning to use this device, at the time as cumbersome as a closet, and still monophonic, Harrison sprinkled these new sounds on the tracks of Abbey Road. The synthesizer would later become a very common instrument in rock music.
Harrison introduced various Indian stringed instruments into the Beatles” music, including the sitar, which he helped popularize in Western music. He discovered the instrument in 1965 and used it for the first time on the song Norwegian Wood; later he learned to play it more formally, taking lessons for several weeks with Ravi Shankar. He finally stopped in 1968 on the advice of Shankar and Eric Clapton who suggested that he refocus on his guitar playing.
Among instruments, one of his passions is the ukulele, of which he is a notorious collector and a skilled player. He is particularly interested in the most widespread variant of this instrument in the UK: the banjo-ukulele, which he uses on one of his latest songs, Any Road.
George Harrison”s first electric guitar was a Czech model popular with British guitarists in the early 1960s called Futurama
Harrison bought his first Fender Stratocaster in 1965 and used it on the Rubber Soul album, especially on the song Nowhere Man, where he played in unison with John Lennon, who also owned one. Both Lennon and Harrison have a “Sonic Blue” Stratocaster model (bought for them by Mal Evans). Harrison painted it with a psychedelic design. The term “bebopalula” (a reference to Gene Vincent”s song Be-Bop-A-Lula) is written on the bridge and his nickname, “Rocky”, on the headstock. This guitar was featured in the movie Magical Mystery Tour, and Harrison continued to use it throughout his solo career.
With the Beatles, George Harrison usually participates in the vocal harmonies of the group, while Lennon and McCartney take care of the main vocals. However, he always sings one or two songs per album from the beginning of the group. The same is true for his own compositions, which he always performs. John Lennon explains: “George wasn”t singing at all when we brought him into the band. He was a guitarist. For the first few years, he didn”t sing on stage. We”d maybe let him do a song, like we did with Ringo, that”s it.” Although his voice is generally clear and rises easily into the high notes, it is also it that puts a serious brake on the musician”s career. Harrison is indeed struck in 1974 of a persistent laryngitis which gives him a very hoarse voice. This distorted tone can be heard on the tour he gave that year and on his album Dark Horse, which the critics went so far as to nickname “Dark Hoarse” (hoarse means “hoarse” in English). The public is disappointed by the concerts given by Harrison at the end of 1974, which disgusts him from touring.
Harrison also began to compose within the Beatles, in 1963. On the second album of the group released Don”t Bother Me, his first song, which he considers a posteriori disappointing. It is then necessary to wait for the album Help! in 1965, to find compositions of his own with I Need You and You Like Me Too Much, two rather conventional songs. Harrison”s potential is revealed on Rubber Soul with If I Needed Someone, and especially with two songs released on Revolver, the following year: Taxman, a committed song, and the first Indian-sounding song of the group, and Love You To. This trend continues on the next album, Sgt. Pepper”s, with Within You Without You, a song recorded by Harrison alone, accompanied by Indian musicians: he explains the precepts of Indian philosophy that have seduced him. Finally, a last Indian song is composed by George: The Inner Light. Released on the B side of Lady Madonna, it is his first song on a single. In an interview in 1974, John Lennon summarized the evolution of Harrison”s compositions: “There was an embarrassing period because his songs were not very good and nobody wanted to say anything. That”s not a way of putting him down at all, it”s just, as a writer, he didn”t have our business.”
It is from the “White Album” of the Beatles that Harrison composed more famous songs: While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Piggies, in particular. He reached a real consecration with Abbey Road on which he composed two big hits. Here Comes the Sun opens the B side of the album and meets a certain success, but it is especially Something which seduces as much the group as the public. The song is obvious and becomes the first single A side signed by Harrison, with Come Together by Lennon
The composition of Something foreshadowed Harrison”s greatest success the following year with My Sweet Lord. This song reached the top of the charts in the United States and in many countries. However, it also got the songwriter into trouble, accused of plagiarizing the 1962 song He”s So Fine by The Chiffons. The legal dispute lasted almost twenty years. If he ultimately loses the case, it is not without humor that he subsequently buys the music publishing house of the plaintiffs, which of course includes the song in dispute. He also composed in 1976 This Song about this case. The critics rave about Harrison”s compositions on his first album, All Things Must Pass, but later tired of the plaintive tone of some of his records. Harrison also wrote several political songs and, at times, introspective songs.
On the Beatles” first album, Please Please Me, George Harrison plays lead guitar. He also sings two songs, Chains and Do You Want to Know a Secret. On the next album, With The Beatles, he signs his first composition, Don”t Bother Me. For the next two years, his role was mainly limited to lead guitar, backing vocals, and lead vocals on one or two tracks per album, sometimes composed by him.
It is from Rubber Soul, in 1965, that Harrison asserts his position within the group. Two of his compositions are present on the disc, but it is especially his contribution to a song of John Lennon, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) which marks an evolution in the style of the group. He proposes indeed to give a new sound to the title by adding a sitar. In the years that followed, Harrison composed songs with Indian sounds: Love You To, Within You Without You and The Inner Light. His involvement reached its peak on Revolver, on which he composed 3 of the 14 songs. In 1968 he returned to a more usual style on the “White Album”, and invited his friend Eric Clapton to participate in his song While My Guitar Gently Weeps, which became the only song of the group to contain a solo played by a guest. Finally, the consecration comes in 1969 with Abbey Road: Harrison indeed composes Something, which is chosen to be published as a single, and Here Comes the Sun, also a great success. On this album, Harrison also illustrates himself by the use of a Moog synthesizer on some songs: it is a first in the matter.
In total, twelve studio albums and numerous unreleased singles were released by the Beatles in the United Kingdom, on which Harrison was the author of 22 tracks. In the 1990s, the group reformed without John Lennon to prepare the Anthology project and finalized two unreleased recordings of the deceased, Free as a Bird and Real Love.
In 1968, George Harrison became the first of the Beatles to release a solo album: Wonderwall Music, a film soundtrack alternating pop orchestrations and Indian tones, on which he does not play any instrument, just produces and composes. The same year, he collaborates with his friend Eric Clapton in the writing and recording (as rhythm guitarist) of Badge, a single from the last album of the power trio Cream, Goodbye, released in February 1969, which, like the last Beatles” albums, is a collection of personal compositions of the three musicians of the group: Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. For contractual reasons of conflicts between record companies, he will sign his collaboration under the pseudonym L”Angelo Misterioso, which he will reuse several times for the same reasons of right. In 1969 and under the same alias, he collaborates with Jack Bruce for a song released on his first solo album Songs For A Tailor: Never Tell Your Mother She”s Out of Tune. He publishes the same year an album of experimental music based on synthesizer, Electronic Sound, which knows little success because of its avant-garde character. He will join Eric Clapton on tour again at the end of 1969. Clapton, after the separation of the short-lived group Blind Faith, decided to accompany on tour the group Delaney & Bonnie & Friends which was their opening act during the tour of Blind Faith. Harrison, on the suggestion of his friend, decided to accompany them on a few dates. This tour will result in the release of a live album in June 1970: Delaney & Bonnie & Friends On Tour with Eric Clapton, in whose credits Harrison will appear under the name Mysterioso in the special thanks.
When the Beatles broke up, however, Harrison had a runaway success with All Things Must Pass, his first proper album, which topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1970. This triple LP included My Sweet Lord, one of his best-known songs. The following year, he was behind the first charity concert, the Concert for Bangladesh. The resulting album also topped the charts in the UK and reached number 2 in the US. The next album, Living in the Material World, was similarly successful in 1973, although critics began to have mixed feelings about it.
In the years that followed, Harrison”s albums were much less successful and reflected a certain lack of success: Dark Horse, Extra Texture (Read All About It), Thirty Three & 1
In total, George Harrison has released eleven studio albums, plus one experimental album, one soundtrack, two live albums (The Concert for Bangladesh and Live in Japan), and three compilations. In addition to these, he has released over 30 singles, including My Sweet Lord, which reached number one in the UK and the US, and Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) and Got My Mind Set on You, which topped the US charts.
His solo albums also contain several songs originally intended to appear on Beatles albums: All Things Must Pass (eponymous album), Not Guilty (George Harrison) and Circles (Gone Troppo). These songs appear in versions performed by the Beatles on the Anthology 3 compilation or on the bonus discs of the “White Album” remixed in 2018.
Harrison and the movies
George Harrison made his first steps in the cinema with the Beatles in 1964 in their film A Hard Day”s Night; he plays his own role in a story inspired by the life of the group in the middle of Beatlemania. This experience is decisive for him, not in terms of film, but for his personal life: it is indeed during the shooting that he meets his future wife, Pattie Boyd. The following year, the group returned with Help! which brought the group into contact with Indian culture. In 1967, Magical Mystery Tour is the third film of the Beatles, which turns out to be a critical and commercial failure (despite a soundtrack of great quality, containing several of the most iconic songs of the group). Like the rest of the group, Harrison is little involved in the making of the animated film Yellow Submarine, and none of the musicians doubles his character.
On his film experience, the other Beatles say that Harrison seems to have been bored, but he denies it. About A Hard Day”s Night, he said: “I don”t know what they”re talking about. I loved it! The only thing that bothered me was having to get up at 5 a.m. to go shoot.” Harrison began to get involved in outside projects in 1968 and composed the soundtrack for Wonderwall. He then participated in the filming of the last Beatles movie, Let It Be, which is a documentary on the preparation of the eponymous album of the group.
In 1978, Harrison founded HandMade Films with Denis O”Brien (en). The purpose of this production company was to finish financing the Monty Python film, Life of Brian, which EMI had stopped producing because of its satirical content considered blasphemous. Harrison became producer of the comedy and made a brief appearance. The same year, he participated with Eric Idle, with whom he is friends, in All You Need Is Cash, a TV movie parodying the history of the Beatles.
His company then produced Blood on the Thames, also in difficulty. He also produced Time Bandits, a film by Terry Gilliam, a member of Monty Python, released in 1981, then Mona Lisa, released in 1986, and the same year Shanghai Surprise, the first big production of the company, with Madonna and Sean Penn, which turned out to be an economic and artistic flop. Thereafter, HandMade films experienced great financial difficulties, and Harrison sold it to a Canadian company in 1994.
Finally, in 1993, he doubles his own character in an episode of The Simpsons parodying the story of the Beatles, Homer”s Quartet.
The first official award given to Harrison was in 1965. That year, indeed, the four Beatles made headlines by becoming members of the Order of the British Empire: it was the first time that this distinction was given to artists, which particularly shocked the establishment. Within the group, he also receives an Oscar for the film Let It Be in 1971; Paul McCartney accompanied by Linda will be the only Beatle to come to the ceremony to receive the statuette from John Wayne.
Harrison”s first solo award came in December 1992 when he was presented with the first ever Billboard Century Award. The televised ceremony where his Traveling Wilburys partner Tom Petty presented him with the award led to a spike in sales of his and the supergroup”s albums. In 2011 he is also ranked 11th best guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
On March 15, 2004, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. (During the ceremony, the song While My Guitar Gently Weeps was played by a collective made up of Tom Petty, Steve Winwood, Jeff Lynne, and Prince, who was particularly noted for his solo). Two years later, he also entered the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame for his Concert for Bangladesh. Finally, on April 14, 2009, George Harrison was awarded a star in his name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in front of the Capitol Records building. The ceremony was attended by Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, Eric Idle and Tom Hanks. He becomes the second Beatle to have his star, after John Lennon in 1988.
In 1990, the planetoid 4149, discovered in 1984 by the astronomer Brian A. Skiff, is officially named (4149) Harrison. The planetoids 4147, 4148 and 4150 are respectively named after Lennon, McCartney and Starr.
Harrison was also on the cover of Time Magazine twice: the first time with the Beatles in 1967, and the second time just after his death in December 2001. On December 2, 2001, three days after his death, the episode of The Simpsons Aphrodite Burns is dedicated to his memory.
On November 29, 2002, on the first anniversary of Harrison”s death, a large number of his artist friends gathered for the Concert for George, a large tribute concert held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, at the instigation of his widow, Olivia. Among the performers were Jeff Lynne, Eric Clapton (who conceived the project), Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Ravi and Anoushka Shankar, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, Gary Brooker, Ray Cooper, Tom Scott, Jim Capaldi, Andy Fairweather-Low, Jim Keltner, Joe Brown, Dave Bronze, Henry Spinetti, Albert Lee, Tom Petty, and Monty Python. Proceeds from the concert go to the Material World Charitable Foundation, a charity founded by Harrison.
Martin Scorsese devoted a documentary film to him in 2011, George Harrison: Living in the Material World, documentary broadcast in two parts on the HBO channel on October 5 and 6, 2011, then released on DVD and Bluray October 17, 2011. With a total duration of more than three hours, it is a collection of archival footage and interviews with relatives collected over several years.