By Alan L. Chrisman
George Harrison passed away on Nov. 29, 2001. This is a tribute to his music and my personal memories of him. George was always the third Beatle. The order was John, Paul, George, and Ringo. George and Ringo always had to compete with the considerable talents (and egos) of Lennon and McCartney. He was also called the Quiet Beatle (although people who knew him said he wasn’t always so quiet, especially about his later religion). He also became known as the spiritual Beatle.
Paul had introduced his young guitar-playing friend, George, to John and he became part of John’s teenaged band, The Quarrymen. George was the youngest Beatle, three years younger than John, and John still always saw him like almost a younger brother. John and Paul got most all the songs on early Beatles’ albums, but without George’s always tasteful and fitting guitar leads their songs, wouldn’t have been the same. His first composition finally shows up on their 2nd album (with a typical George statement, “Don’t Bother Me”.) He gradually gets more song writing space on succeeding albums. It is not only with his growingly-confident song writing, but he also begins to influence the kind of music they will make. Through his friendship with Dylan and The Band, he helps move them towards folk-rock on Rubber Soul (“ Think For Yourself”) and eastern music and instruments on John’s “Norwegian Wood”, and on Revolver (“Love You Too”, “I Want To Tell You” as well as “Taxman”) and on Sgt. Peppers his “Within and Without You”.
But it isn’t until The White Album in 1968 that he becomes noticed with the songs, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Piggies “,” Long Long Long” and “Savoy Truffle”. Then on Abbey Road, for the first time, it’s not a Lennon/McCartney double-sided single, but his magnificent “Something” and “Here Comes the Sun” , which stand out with Lennon’s “Come Together” and they become hits. Now Lennon and McCartney and the world can no longer ignore his song-writing prowess. But it’s too late, George is anxious to go out on his own, out of the shadow of his bandmates and The Beatles break up. Everyone thought John and Paul would be the most likely to survive. But in 1971, George releases his 3Lp set All Things Must Pass and it outsells his mentors, especially with his religious/pop smash, “My Sweet Lord” and the rockin’, “What is Life”. But the album contains many more great songs too.
He’s also produced several Beatles’ Apple record label artists like Billy Preston, Badfinger, Doris Troy, Jackie Lomax, etc. He also co-wrote, “Badge”, for the band Cream with his good friend, Eric Clapton, and you can hear George’s very distinctive guitar-sound on it. He had become by this time, a quite accomplished slide-player as well. In 1971, George organizes The Concert for Bangladesh for his friend, Ravi Shankar with superstars, Dylan, Clapton, Leon Russell, etc., the first real rock charity event, which all future ones will try to emulate. The next year it is released as a 3- album set.
In 1973, George records, what to me, is an equally quality album (a condensed version of All Things Must Pass’s 3Lp’s perhaps), Living in the Material World with its hit’s, “Give Me Love, Give Me Peace” and “Sue me, Sue You Blues”. He didn’t seem to miss The Beatles at all. Although, he was a guest on John’s “Imagine”, especially the slide on John’s biting dig at Paul, ”How Do You Sleep” and co-wrote the great “Photograph “ and produced the singles, “Back off Boogaloo” and “It Don’t Come Easy” for Ringo. He continued to release the solo albums, Dark Horse and Extra Texture in ’74 and ’75. In ’76, he recorded, what I think, is also one of his best albums, 33 & 1/3, with “Crackerbox Palace” and his answer to being accused of stealing the chords of “ My Sweet Lord” from the Chiffon’s song, “He’s So fine”- “This Song”.
He also became at this point, a film producer and produced with his new Handmade Films for his comedy friends, Monty Python, their Life of Brian. In’75 he does some songs for the soundtrack to their popular, Time Bandits. In 1978, he joined his Monty Python friend, Eric Idle, in a very funny satire of his old band, The Beatles, The Rutles, and even appears disguised in their film, All You Need Is Cash.
In 1979, he releases another quite solid album, simply called George Harrison with the song, ”Not Guilty”, leftover from his Beatles’ White Album days. But the album also contains the great songs, “Blow Away”, “Love Comes to Everyone” ( with Clapton on guitar) and what I think is one of his most beautiful songs and guitar work, “Your Love is Forever”. On his next album, Somewhere in England, he includes his moving tribute song to John Lennon, “All Those Years Ago” (“you said it all when you said ‘all you need is love’, buy not many had ears”). In 1980, he wrote and released an “autobiography” (which barely mentioned The Beatles or John Lennon, which Lennon said hurt him). In 1987, Harrison had another excellent album, Cloud Nine, with the big hits, produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne, “ Got My Mind Set On You”( which he didn’t write), but did the summing up of The Beatles’ with, “When We Was Fab”.
In 1998, he again forms a one–off superstar get-together band with Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison, under the name the Traveling Wilbury’s and they record two successful albums with hit songs. In 1995, he and the other two surviving Beatles reworked two of John’s songs from his Dakota days, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love””, produced by Lynne, in conjunction with the massively popular Beatles Anthology records and videos, which helped a whole new generation to rediscover them.
In December 1999, a mentally-disturbed intruder broke into Harrison’s home and attacked him causing over 40 knife wounds. He recovered, but it, no doubt, speeded up his health problems as he had been diagnosed with lung cancer the year before and it returned. On Nov. 29, 2001, he passed away. Paul and Ringo saw him shortly before his death. Paul said George “didn’t suffer fools gladly”. His ashes were released into India’s rivers, in accordance with his spiritual beliefs. His last album the excellent, Brainwashed, was completed after his death, by his son, Dhani and Jeff Lynne, in 2002.
So it was quite a life for a Liverpool lad who had admired rockabillly’s Carl Perkins and guitarist, Chet Atkins. He helped create those special Harrison guitar leads on most of the Beatles’ songs and then became his own excellent songwriter as a Beatle and later as a solo artist. Surprising many observers, who wondered if he would be able to compete with his own renown once-band mates, he became loved for his guitar playing and his own songs and respected for his spiritual
beliefs. George Harrison had finally come out from under The Beatles’ immense shadow and created his own giant shadow.
I was fortunate to see Harrison perform in 1974 in Montreal. Billy Preston opened the show (Ravi Shankar was supposed to appear, but had to cancel because he was sick). I was in the cheap seats behind the stage and Harrison turned around, so we could see him too. We actually got a closer-up look than the more expensive section. He wouldn’t play any of the other Beatles’ songs, except he did Lennon’s “In My Life”. His guitar playing on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was, I remember, better than Clapton’s version on the White Album. I’ve thought Harrison was always underrated as a guitar player, especially his slide-guitar work.
Another Harrison story is, his sister, Louise, was a guest at our 2nd Ottawa Beatles Convention I organized. There Louise told a little-known story about how when she was living in a small Illinois town (not far from where my parents live), George came to visit her there. The Beatles were still unknown in America, George was coaxed to get up and jam with a local band one night. One of the band members told George, “You’re not bad, if you keep practicing, you might get somewhere”. This was only a few months before The Beatles would appear on the Ed Sullivan Show the next Feb, 1964 and everyone would know them!
When George passed away, I got a call from The Liverpool Echo (I don’t know how they got my record store in Canada’s phone number ). They wanted to know what my reaction was to his death. I said he was the most spiritual Beatle and people loved him for that and his songs and playing. I was also interviewed by the local media, and was sad, like with John’s too early death.
See below one of George’s most beautiful songs and playing, “Your Love Is Forever”:
Watch Tribute video to both George and John, with George’s, “All Those Years Ago”: