George Harrison, MBE, (25 February 1943 – 29 November 2001) was an English musician, singer, and songwriter who achieved international fame as the lead guitarist of the Beatles. Although John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote most of the Beatles' songs, their albums generally included at least one Harrison composition. His songs with the band include "Taxman", "Within You Without You", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun", "For You Blue", and "Something", which has become the second most-covered Beatles song. He achieved several best-selling singles and albums as a solo performer, and in 1988 co-founded the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 11 in their list of the "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
During the 1960s, he became interested in the Hare Krishna movement, and became an admirer of Indian culture and mysticism, introducing it to the other Beatles and to their Western audience. Toward the end of the Beatles' career, he came to express and assert himself by incorporating Indian influences into his music. Following the band's break-up in 1970, Harrison released the triple album All Things Must Pass, from which two hit singles originated. Later, he wrote hit songs for former Beatle Ringo Starr. With Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh, a precursor to later benefit concerts such as Live Aid. Also a music and film producer, Harrison co-founded HandMade Films in 1978. Harrison was married twice, first to Pattie Boyd from 1966 to 1977, and from 1978 until his death from lung cancer in 2001 to Olivia Trinidad Arias, with whom he had one son, Dhani.
Early years: 1943–57
Born in Liverpool, Lancashire, England, on 25 February 1943, Harrison was the youngest of four children of Harold Hargreaves Harrison and his wife Louise (née French). He had one sister, Louise, and two brothers, Harry and Peter. His mother was a shop assistant, and his father was a bus conductor who had worked as a ship's steward on the White Star Line. His mother's family had Irish roots and were Roman Catholic. Harrison was born and lived for the first six years of his life at 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool, in a terraced house in a cul-de-sac. 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 they moved to 25 Upton Green, Speke. In 1948, at the age of five, he was enrolled at Dovedale Primary School. He passed his 11-plus examination and attended the prestigious Liverpool Institute from 1954 to 1959.
Harrison said that, when he was 12 or 13, he had an epiphany; when riding a bike around his neighbourhood, he heard Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" playing from a nearby house, and the song piqued his interest in rock and roll. Soon after, Harrison's father bought him a Dutch Egmond flat top acoustic guitar. While at the Liverpool Institute, Harrison formed a skiffle group called the Rebels with his brother Peter and a friend, Arthur Kelly. On the bus to school, he met Paul McCartney, who was eight months older. McCartney later became a member of John Lennon's band, the Quarrymen.
The Beatles: 1957–70
In March 1958, Harrison auditioned for the Quarrymen at Rory Storm's Morgue Skiffle Club, playing "Guitar Boogie Shuffle". Lennon felt that Harrison, then 14, was too young to join the band. During a second meeting, arranged by McCartney, Harrison performed the lead guitar part for the instrumental "Raunchy" on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus. Harrison soon began socializing with the group, and filled in on guitar as needed. By the time he turned 15, they had accepted him as a member. Leaving school at 16, Harrison worked for several months as an apprentice electrician at Blacklers, a local department store. During a low period in the Quarrymen's activity, Harrison joined the Les Stewart Quartet with Les Stewart, guitarist Ken Brown and Geoff Skinner. Mona Best opened the Casbah Coffee Club on 29 August 1959, and Brown arranged for the quartet to be its resident band. When Brown missed rehearsals to help decorate the Casbah, Stewart refused to play. Brown and Harrison recruited Lennon and McCartney at short notice to help them fill the residency, reactivating the Quarrymen name for the occasion.
In 1960, Allan Williams arranged a contract for the band, now calling themselves the Beatles, with Bruno Koschmider, who offered them an engagement in Hamburg at one of his clubs, the Kaiserkeller. The impromptu musical education Harrison received while playing long hours with the band, as well as the guitar lessons he took from Tony Sheridan while the Beatles briefly served as his backing group, laid the foundations of their sound, and of Harrison's quiet, professional role within the group; he was later known as "the quiet Beatle". The band's first residency in Hamburg ended prematurely when he was deported for being too young to work in nightclubs. When Brian Epstein became the Beatles' manager in December 1961, he changed their image from that of leather-jacketed rock-and-rollers to a more polished look, 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 début album, Please Please Me, was released in early 1963, Beatlemania had arrived. The band's 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)". The 1966 album Revolver 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; Harrison played sitar and tambura on the recording. According to ethnomusicologist David Reck, the song set a precedent in popular music as an example of Asian culture being represented by Westerners respectfully and without parody. Harrison contributed other musical ideas to Revolver, including the addition of backwards guitar on the Lennon composition "I'm Only Sleeping".
By late 1966, Harrison's interests were moving outside 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. His sole composition on the album was the Indian-inspired "Within You Without You", to which no other Beatle contributed. Harrison played sitar and tambura on the track, backed by musicians from the London Asian Music Centre on dilruba, swarmandal and tabla. Harrison continued to develop his interest in non-Western instrumentation, playing swarmandal on "Strawberry Fields Forever" and tambura on "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". 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, Harrison's song "The Inner Light" was recorded at the EMI Studios location 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. During the recording of The Beatles in 1968, tensions ran high in the band, with drummer Ringo Starr briefly quitting. Harrison's songwriting contributions to the album included "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", which featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar, "Piggies", "Long, Long, Long", and "Savoy Truffle". Tensions among the Beatles surfaced again during the filming of rehearsals at Twickenham Studios in January 1969 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 left the band on 10 January. Following negotiations with the other Beatles, he agreed to return twelve days later.
Relations among the Beatles were more cordial, though still strained, during the recording sessions for Abbey Road, the band's final recorded album. The LP included two of Harrison's most respected Beatles compositions: "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something". "Something" became one half of the Beatles' first double-sided number one single, Harrison's first A-side, and his first chart topper. Lennon considered it the best song on Abbey Road, and it became the Beatles' second most covered song after "Yesterday". By 1969, Harrison had matched Lennon and McCartney's songwriting abilities. 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 "The Long and Winding Road" was released in America as a double A-side with Harrison's "For You Blue", 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 the band's break-up he had amassed a stockpile of unreleased compositions. While Harrison grew as a songwriter, his compositional presence on Beatles albums was generally limited to two songs, and this was a major contributing factor to the band's split. Harrison's last recording session with the band was on 4 January 1970, when he, McCartney and Starr recorded the Harrison song "I Me Mine".
Solo career: 1968–87
Early solo work: 1968–70
Before the Beatles' break-up in April 1970, Harrison had already recorded and released two solo albums: Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both of which featured mainly instrumental compositions. Wonderwall Music, which blended Indian and Western sounds, was a soundtrack to the 1968 film Wonderwall, while Electronic Sound was an experiment in using a Moog synthesizer.
Harrison's music projects during the final years of the Beatles included producing Apple Records artists Billy Preston and Doris Troy. According to Harrison biographer Simon Leng, "working with Preston cemented Harrison's interest in soul music and gave him firsthand experience of gospel power, which seemed a natural partner to Krishna power." In December 1969, Harrison joined the American group Delaney & Bonnie and Friends for a brief tour of Europe. Band leader Delaney Bramlett introduced Harrison to slide guitar, significantly influencing his subsequent music.
All Things Must Pass: 1970
After years of being restricted in his songwriting contributions to the Beatles, Harrison released All Things Must Pass. It was a triple album, with two discs of his songs and the third of recordings of Harrison jamming with friends. The album is regarded by many as his best work, and topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. The LP produced the number-one hit single "My Sweet Lord" and the top-ten single "What Is Life". Dylan proved a significant influence on the album, which begins with the Dylan-Harrison collaboration, "I'd Have You Anytime". The album also includes Harrison's cover of Dylan's "If Not for You", with the first recording of Harrison playing slide guitar. 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. Ben Gerson of Rolling Stone described All Things Must Pass as being "of classic Spectorian proportions, Wagnerian, Brucknerian, the music of mountain tops and vast horizons." Inglis described "Isn't It a Pity" as "one of the album's outstanding tracks", drawing a connection with the song's lyrics and Harrison's feelings about the break-up of the Beatles, and described the lyrics of the album's title track as "a recognition of the impermanence of human existence ... a simple and poignant conclusion" to Harrison's former band.
Harrison was later sued for copyright infringement over "My Sweet Lord" due to its similarity to the 1963 Chiffons song "He's So Fine". He denied deliberately plagiarizing the song, but lost the court case in 1976, as the judge ruled that he had done so subconsciously.
The Concert for Bangladesh: 1971–72
Responding to a request from Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized a charity event, the Concert for Bangladesh, 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. The concert featured popular musicians such as Dylan, who rarely appeared live in the early 1970s, 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 to the high-profile charity rock shows that followed, including Live Aid.
Living in the Material World to George Harrison: 1972–79
Living in the Material World (1973) held the number one spot on the US album chart for five weeks and reached number two in the UK, and the album's single, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" reached number one in the US and the top ten in the UK, though neither could match the sales of All Things Must Pass and "My Sweet Lord". The album was lavishly produced and packaged, and its dominant message was Harrison's Hindu beliefs.
Dark Horse (1974) received harsh reviews, as did his accompanying tour of North America. Harrison was criticized for poor songwriting and poor vocals on the album, the latter owing to a recent case of laryngitis, and for overindulging co-headliner Shankar's Indian music during the tour. The album and single "Dark Horse" made a brief appearance near the top of the US charts, but failed to chart in the UK.
Harrison's final studio album for EMI and Apple Records was the soul music-inspired Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975). Harrison 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. The Best of George Harrison (1976) combined several of his Beatles songs with a selection of his solo Apple work.
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. With an emphasis on melody, 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. 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.
Somewhere in England to Cloud Nine: 1980–87
The murder of Lennon on 8 December 1980 disturbed Harrison and reinforced his decades-long concerns about safety from stalkers. It was also a deep personal loss, although unlike McCartney and Starr, Harrison had had little contact with Lennon in the years before his death. 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. The omission upset Lennon; Harrison regretted this and left a telephone message for Lennon, but Lennon did not return the call and they did not speak again. 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 and from the public.
In October 1985, Harrison performed at a tribute to Carl Perkins. He appeared with Starr, Clapton and others. The show was titled Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session, and Harrison's set included "That's Alright Mama", "Glad All Over" and "Blue Suede Shoes". On 15 March 1986, Harrison made a surprise appearance at the Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert 1986, an event organized by Electric Light Orchestra drummer Bex Beven to raise money for the Birmingham Children's Hospital. Harrison shared lead vocals on "Money (That's What I Want)" and "Johnny B. Goode" with Robert Plant and Denny Laine. The following year, he appeared at The Prince's Trust concert, held at London's Wembley Arena, performing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Here Comes the Sun" with Starr, Clapton and others.
In 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, received two MTV Music Video Awards nominations in 1988. Cloud Nine reached number eight and number ten on the US and UK charts respectively.
HandMade Films: 1978–94
In 1978, Harrison and his business manager Denis O'Brien formed the film production and distribution company HandMade Films. Created to fund the completion of Monty Python's Life of Brian it raised £2 million after EMI Films, the original financiers, withdrew their funding owing to the film's controversial content.
The first film produced by the company was Time Bandits (1981), a solo project by Monty Python's Terry Gilliam with a soundtrack song by Harrison. He served as 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 author and musicologist 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." A series of box office bombs in the late 1980s caused HandMade to cease operations in 1991, and the company was sold in 1994.
Later life: 1988–2001
In October 1989, Harrison released Best of Dark Horse 1976–1989, a compilation of his later solo work. In December 1991, Harrison and Clapton began a tour of Japan. It was Harrison's first tour since 1974, and no others followed. 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, Tom Petty and Neil Young. On 14 December 1992, Harrison played in a memorial concert at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles for Toto drummer Jeff Porcaro.
In 1996, he recorded "Distance Makes No Difference With Love" with Carl Perkins. Harrison's final television appearance was to promote Chants of India, a collaboration with Ravi Shankar released in 1997. In January 1998, Harrison attended 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 electric and slide guitars on two tracks.
Harrison's final album, the posthumous Brainwashed (2002), was completed by his son Dhani and Jeff Lynne. A media-only single, "Stuck Inside a Cloud", achieved number 27 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart. The single "Any Road", released in May 2003, reached 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.
The Traveling Wilburys: 1988–90
In 1988, Harrison formed the Traveling Wilburys with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. The group had gathered in Dylan's garage to record a song for a projected 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..
After Orbison's death in December 1988 the group recorded as a four-piece. Their second release 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 a 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.
The Beatles Anthology: 1994–96
In 1994, Harrison began a collaboration with the surviving former Beatles and Traveling Wilburys 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. They released a second single, "Real Love", in March 1996 before 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." According to biographer Elliot Huntley, during the process of assembling The Beatles Anthology book (2000), Harrison purged himself of any lingering bitterness about the band's break-up.
Cancer diagnosis, knife attack, illness and death: 1997–2001
Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer in mid-1997. He was treated with radiotherapy, which was thought at the time to be successful.
On 30 December 1999, 36-year-old Michael Abram broke into the Harrisons' Friar Park home 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 poker and a lamp. Following the attack, Harrison was hospitalized with more than forty stab wounds. He released a statement soon after stating that his assailant, "wasn't a burglar, and he certainly wasn't auditioning for the Traveling Wilburys."
In May 2001, it was revealed that he 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 Los Angeles, 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 lung cancer that had spread to his brain. When the news was publicized, Harrison bemoaned his physician's breach of his right to privacy, and his estate later claimed for damages. On 12 November, the three living Beatles met for the last time for a luncheon at Harrison's hotel in New York.
Harrison died on 29 November 2001, aged 58, from metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. He was cremated at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and his ashes were scattered at Varanasi, India, in the Ganges, Saraswati and Yamuna Rivers by his close family in a private ceremony according to Hindu tradition. He left almost £100 million in his will.
Harrison wrote his first song published with the Beatles, "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 British 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 through the years, but his material did not earn full respect from his fellow Beatles 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 contain at least two Harrison compositions, and there are three of his songs on the 1966 Revolver LP, "the album on which Harrison came of age as a songwriter", wrote musicologist and author Ian Inglis.
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: "an intensely stirring romantic ballad that would challenge 'Yesterday' and 'Michelle' as one of the most recognizable songs they ever produced." According to 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 Road a 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.
Indian music proved a strong influence on Harrison's songwriting, and his interest in it contributed to his musical innovation within the Beatles. According to 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, Edgar Varese and Igor Stravinsky in the same period." In 1997, author 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 typified the more subdued lead guitar style of the early 1960s, rejecting the technically difficult and flashy playing that had gained popularity by the end of the decade. 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". The influence of the plucking guitar style of Chet Atkins and Carl Perkins on Harrison gave a country music feel to many of the Beatles' early recordings. He listed his early influences as Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry and also identified Ry Cooder as an important later influence.
Harrison's use of a Rickenbacker 360/12 during the recording of A Hard Day's Night helped to popularize the model, and the jangly sound became so prominent that Melody Maker termed it "the beat boys' secret weapon". Harrison's guitar work on Abbey Road, and in particular on his song "Something", marked a significant moment in his musical development. The song's guitar solo shows a varied range of influences, incorporating the blues guitar style of Clapton and Indian gamakas. According to author and musicologist Kenneth Womack: "'Something' meanders toward the most unforgettable of Harrison's guitar solos, the song's greatest lyrical feature—even more lyrical, interestingly enough, than the lyrics themselves. 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". Musicologist and author Walter Everett described Harrison's guitar work from "Old Brown Shoe" as "stinging [and] highly Claptonesque". Harrison biographer Elliot Huntley described the song as "a sizzling rocker with a ferocious ... solo."
Musician David Bromberg introduced Harrison to the dobro, an instrument that soon became one of his favourites. After being introduced to the slide guitar by Delaney Bramlett, Harrison began to incorporate the instrument into his solo work. His use of it allowed him to mimic many traditional Indian instruments, including the sarangi and the dilruba. In 1971, he played a slide guitar solo on Lennon's "How Do You Sleep?" that Leng described as "rightly famed". Lennon commented: "That's the best he's ever fucking played in his life."
Author Peter Lavezzoli described Harrison's slide playing on the Grammy-winning instrumental "Marwa Blues": "Along with its Hawaiian flavor, the melody sounds as though it could have been played by a sarod or vina, and is yet another demonstration of Harrison's unique slide approach". A significant Hawaiian influence is notable in much of Harrison's music, ranging from his slide guitar work on the 1982 album Gone Troppo to his recording of the Cab Calloway song "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" on ukulele during a televised performance with Jools Holland.
An admirer of George Formby and a member of the Ukulele Society of Great Britain, Harrison played a ukulele solo in the style of Formby at the end of "Free as a Bird". Harrison played bass guitar on numerous tracks, such as on 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. Harrison's first solid-body electric guitar was a Czech-built Jolana Futurama/Grazioso. The guitars Harrison used on early recordings were mainly Gretsch models, played through a Vox amplifier. He used a variety of Gretsch guitars throughout his career, including a Gretsch Duo Jet that he bought secondhand in 1961 in Liverpool, and with which he posed for the cover of the album Cloud Nine. He also bought a Gretsch Tennessean and a Gretsch Country Gentleman, the first of two that he went on to own, new for £234 in April 1963 at the Sound City store in London. He used the Country Gentleman on "She Loves You", and during the Beatles' 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Also in 1963, while visiting his sister in the US, Harrison purchased a Rickenbacker 425 Fireglo.
During the Beatles' 1964 US tour, Harrison acquired a Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar, his first 12-string guitar and an instrument that featured heavily in A Hard Day's Night. Harrison obtained his first Fender Stratocaster in 1965, using it to record Rubber Soul, notably on the song "Nowhere Man". In early 1966, Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney each purchased Epiphone Casinos, which they all used on Revolver. In addition to the Casino and the Stratocaster, Harrison also used a Gibson J-160E and a Gibson SG Standard while recording the album.
Harrison 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, Harrison acquired a Gibson Les Paul that he nicknamed "Lucy". Around this time, he also bought a Gibson Jumbo J-200, possibly from Bob Dylan, which Harrison 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, assembled especially for him by a Fender master builder who also crafted a prototype Stratocaster for Jimi Hendrix.
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 became fascinated with the instrument, immersed himself in Indian music and played a pivotal role in expanding the emerging interest in the sitar and Indian music in the West. According to author Peter Lavezzoli, Harrison's introduction of sitar: "opened the floodgates for Indian instrumentation in rock music, triggering what Shankar would call 'The Great Sitar Explosion' of 1966–67." Lavezzoli described Harrison as "the man most responsible for this phenomenon ... the tidal wave of Western infatuation with Indian music".
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. On 6 July 1966 Harrison travelled to India to buy a sitar from Rikhi Ram & Sons in New Delhi. Lavezzoli described Harrison's sitar playing on the Revolver track "Love You To" as an "astonishing improvement" over "Norwegian Wood" and "the most accomplished performance on sitar by any rock musician." After the Beatles' final tour, Harrison returned to India in September 1966 to study sitar with Shankar. Harrison initially stayed in Bombay, then moved to a houseboat on a remote lake where Shankar taught him for six weeks. After Shankar, Harrison received sitar tutelage from Shambhu Das.
In addition to popularizing Indian music in general, Harrison's befriending of Shankar helped to raise the Indian musician's profile in the West. "I was known very well and quite famous in the classical sense," Shankar later said, "but meeting George ... that created such a tremendous [interest] all over the world ... Which helped me to become like a pop star". Shankar's appearance at the Concert for Bangladesh, and several years earlier at Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival, led to Indian classical music reaching a larger audience than ever before.
Harrison over time became an admirer of Indian culture and mysticism, introducing it to the other Beatles. During the filming of Help! in the Bahamas, the Beatles met Swami Vishnu-devananda, founder of Sivananda Yoga, who gave each member of the band a signed copy of his book The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. While on pilgrimage to Bombay with his wife Pattie, Harrison studied sitar, met several gurus and visited various holy places, between the end of the final Beatles tour in 1966 and the start of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band recording sessions. In 1968, Harrison travelled to Rishikesh in northern India with the other Beatles to study meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Harrison became a vegetarian in the late 1960s, and was a devotee of the Indian mystic Paramahansa Yogananda. In mid-1969, he produced the single "Hare Krishna Mantra", performed by the devotees of the London Radha Krishna Temple. The same year, he and Lennon met A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Soon afterwards, Harrison embraced the Hare Krishna tradition (particularly japa-yoga chanting with beads), and became a lifelong devotee. In 1972, Harrison bequeathed to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness his Letchmore Heath mansion north of London. It was later converted to a temple and renamed Bhaktivedanta Manor. Harrison respected people of other faiths and believed in a united holy cause; 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."
Prior to Harrison's 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." Leng called Harrison the "single-handed catalyst for a generation's interest in Indian culture."
Family, friends and interests
Harrison married 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 finalized in 1977. Boyd subsequently moved in with Clapton and they married in 1979.
Harrison married Dark Horse Records secretary Olivia Trinidad Arias on 2 September 1978. They had met at the Dark Horse offices in Los Angeles in 1974, and together had one son, Dhani Harrison, born on 1 August 1978.
Harrison described Ravi 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 had formed a close friendship with Clapton in the late 1960s, and they co-wrote the song "Badge", which was released on Cream's Goodbye album in 1969. He also played rhythm guitar on the song, using the pseudonym "L'Angelo Misterioso" for contractual reasons. Harrison wrote one of his compositions for the Abbey Road album, "Here Comes the Sun", in Clapton's back garden. Through his appreciation of Monty Python he met Eric Idle and the two became close friends; Idle performed Python's "Lumberjack Song" at the Concert for George in 2002 to commemorate Harrison.
Harrison restored the English manor house and grounds of Friar Park, his home in Henley-on-Thames. Several of his music videos were filmed there, including "Crackerbox Palace", and the grounds also served as the background for the cover of All Things Must Pass. He employed ten workers to maintain the 36-acre (150,000 m) garden. His autobiography, I, Me, Mine, is dedicated "to gardeners everywhere". He commented on the hobby 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?'"
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 following the Swedish driver's death from the disease in 1978. Harrison's first extravagant car, a 1964 Aston Martin DB5, 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 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", and stated that he "was like a disciple of mine when we started." Later, the two 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. Harrison said that Lennon: "was both a saint and a bastard".
McCartney and Harrison were the first of the Beatles to meet, having shared a school bus, and often learned and rehearse 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. Author Robert 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 showed support for the civil rights movement and protested against the Vietnam War. Following 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 organizing the Concert for Bangladesh, which raised more than $240,000.
The George Harrison Humanitarian Fund for UNICEF is a joint effort between the Harrison family and the US Fund for UNICEF, that aims to support programmes to help children caught in humanitarian emergencies. In December 2007, they donated $450,000 for relief and recovery efforts for 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.
Harrison was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) along with the other Beatles in 1965. 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 Harrison. In December 1992, he became the first recipient of the Billboard Century Award –- an honour presented to music artists for significant bodies of work. Harrison is listed at number 11 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time".
Harrison was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist on 15 March 2004 by his former bandmates Lynne and Petty, and into the Madison Square Garden Walk of Fame on 1 August 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, actor Tom Hanks and comedian Eric Idle made speeches at the ceremony, and Harrison's son Dhani uttered the Hare Krishna mantra.
In October 2011, a documentary titled George Harrison: Living in the Material World and directed by Martin Scorsese was released. The film featured interviews with McCartney, Ono, Starr, Clapton, Petty, drummer Jim Keltner and former Beatles producer George Martin, as well as with Harrison's family and personal friends.
- 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)
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Image from Discogs