On Friday 30th November 2001, George Harrison died.
George, famous for being the best guitarist in The Beatles, yet always in John and Paul's shadow, was born in Wavertree, Liverpool on 25th February 1943, living there until he was 5, when the family moved to a council house in Speke, not far from Paul McCartney.
It was when he was being treated in Alder Hey Hospital for inflamed kidneys when he was 13 that he was given his first
guitar; his mother, Louise, bought him a second-hand one for £3 10s1. From that moment on, he was guitar-obsessed, and whilst at Liverpool Institute School with Paul McCartney, he would spend more time drawing pictures of guitars in his schoolbooks then learning his lessons, described as a "scruffy rebel". He left school with no O-levels, and worked as an apprentice electrician at
Blackler's Department Store. Despite this, he kept in touch with Paul McCartney.
The Quarry Men
On Saturday 6th July 1957, Paul McCartney met John Lennon when he was playing with the Quarry Men at St. Peter's Parish Church's fete at Woolton2. John asked Paul to join, and Paul then introduced George to the group. However, as George was 2 1/2 years younger than John, he was initially treated only as a fill-in when one of the band regulars couldn't make it. George persisted, and eventually, after teaching John more guitar skills "he didn't really know how to play the guitar... I put the six strings on and showed him all the cords", he became a fully-fledged member of the band.
By 1959, though, the band was beginning to fall apart after an argument with their initial drummer Colin Hanton. For most
of 1959, between 24th January until the 29th August, the Quarry Men did not exist. George played with other groups, especially the Les Stewart Quartet. It was George who saved the Quarry Men, and therefore The Beatles, from oblivion as on the 29th August 1959, at the Casbah Coffee Club in Liverpool, the Les Brown Quartet broke up when Les Stewart and Ken Brown, the bass player, had a
fierce argument. Brown desperately asked George if he could find someone to help out, and George rounded up Paul and John, and the Quarry Men played again3. They played at the Casbah club until the 24th June 1962.
The Birth Of The Beatles
The story of the Beatles' rise to fame through Liverpool, Hamburg, England and the World is well known. By the 16th August 1960, the group after a final name change to "The Beatles", and had arrived in Hamburg. There they played from 8pm-2am each weekday night, from 7pm-3am on Saturdays and 5pm-1:30am on Sundays until the 4th October, when they played split-shifts with Rory Storm And The Hurricanes, a band whose drummer was Ringo Starr.
On Monday the 21st of November, however, George Harrison was deported from West Germany as, being 17, he was too legally too young to be in, let alone work, a nightclub after midnight. However, in 1961 he was 18, and so by April Fools Day 1961, had returned to Hamburg. George has described his Hamburg days as really what formed the Beatles, saying
"Before we went there we didn't have a clue. We'd never really done any gigs. We'd never had a drummer for more than one night. We were ropey, just young kids. It was there we found our voice as a band. At first we just played our
heroes like Little Richard and Chuck Berry, but when you've got eight hours to fill you learn to expand."
It was in Hamburg in June that they made their first record, backing Tony Sheridan on a recording of "My Bonnie", with George playing the opening lead guitar. It was this record that brought them to the attention of Brian Epstein, and eventually, George Martin. George Harrison also encouraged the others to replace Pete Best, their drummer at the time, with Ringo, and had even visited
Ringo's parents in order to determine if this was likely. When Pete Best was officially replaced on the 16th August by Ringo, it was George who was given a black eye by an annoyed fan. But on Friday 5th October 1962, their first single was released, "Love Me Do", the start of the Beatles' career.
The Boom Of The Beatles
For George, the Beatles were a mixed blessing. In many ways, he felt sidelined in comparison to Paul McCartney and John Lennon. Of the 22 singles released in the UK, each containing 2 songs, only 3 of the 44 were George Harrison compositions. The first of which, "The Inner Light" was released as a B-side on the 15th March 1968, five years after the first George Harrison song, "Don't Bother Me" was released on the album "With The Beatles". His second, "Old Brown Shoe", was released on the 30th May 1969, as the B-side to "The Ballad Of John and Yoko". Only one of his songs, "Something", described by Fred Astaire as the greatest love song ever written, was released as a single in October 1969. It was a well-deserved Number 1.
It was George who, by playing the sitar on Norwegian Wood, was the first person to play a sitar on a pop record.
George also often felt resentment at the groups' decision to stop playing live after 1966. Although he fully supported the idea that The Beatles should become a studio band, as he couldn't stand playing shows where he was unable to hear himself play over all the screaming fans, he later regretted the way that the fans had forced this decision on him.
"I stopped working live at 23. I was just getting good when I was forced into an early retirement. If I'd've stayed at it for another few years I could have been a real challenge to Eric Clapton and Gary Moore. You can't practise guitar if you're just sitting at home on your own."
This frustration came to a head on Friday 10th January 1969, during the Get Back sessions. Paul McCartney and John Lennon were having a bitter argument, and George Harrison, fed up, left the group. George Harrison later described the Get Back sessions as "the low of all time".
On Wednesday 15th George had a 5-hour meeting with the other three and said he would return to the Beatles if they made an album and not a live performance, and also move from Twickenham Film Studios into the Apple Building. The Apple recording sessions were a lot happier than at Twickenham, mainly because Billy Preston, a talented pianist, was there, it encouraged everyone to act on their best behaviour. The Beatles had met Billy Preston in Hamburg in 1962, where Billy Preston was in Little Richard's backing group.
When it was decided that it would be finished with a concert on the roof of the Apple Building on Thursday 30th January, both George and Ringo were unwilling to perform, and were forced into it by John and Paul. Of the eleven songs performed on the roof, George Harrison only sang once, on "I've Got A Feeling". By April 1970, the Beatles had split up.
Songs On Beatles Albums:
|Cry For A Shadow4||Tony Sheridan And The Beatles||1961|
|Don't Bother Me||With The Beatles||1963|
|I Need You||Help!||1965|
|You Like Me Too Much||Help!||1965|
|Think For Yourself||Rubber Soul||1965|
|If I Needed Someone||Rubber Soul||1965|
|Love You To||Revolver||1966|
|I Want To Tell You||Revolver||1966|
|Within You, Without You||Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band||1967|
|The Inner Light5||Past Masters: Volume 2||1988|
|While My Guitar Gently Weeps||The Beatles: The White Album||1968|
|Piggies||The Beatles: The White Album||1968|
|Long, Long, Long||The Beatles: The White Album||1968|
|Savoy Truffle||The Beatles: The White Album||1968|
|Only A Northern Song||Yellow Submarine||1969|
|It's All Too Much||Yellow Submarine||1969|
|I Me Mine||Let It Be||1970|
|For You Blue||Let It Be||1970|
|Old Brown Shoe6||Past Masters: Volume |
|Here Comes The Sun||Abbey Road||1969|
It was whilst filming "A Hard Days Night" that George met Patti Boyd, who was playing a schoolgirl on the train during the "I Should've Known Better" sequence. Before that film, she had only appeared in adverts for Smith's Crisps, directed by Richard Lester, who directed "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help!". They married in 1966, and many of George's love songs, including "Something", were written for her. It was Patti who introduced the Beatles to the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Eric Clapton, one of George's best friends, also
loved Patti, and wrote "Layla" and "Wonderful Tonight" for her. After 11 years together, they divorced, and in 1979 Patti married Eric. George went to the wedding, although Eric and Patti divorced 5 years later.
George Harrison later found love again with Olivia Arias, who worked in the Los Angeles office of his record company, Dark Horse. They married in 1978, a month after their son Dhani was born, and stayed together. Olivia even saved George's life in December 1999 when George was attacked and stabbed in his own house by Michael Abram, by hitting him over the head with a lamp and poker. She stayed besides him 'til the end.
After The Beatles
break since then is getting is getting out of them."
George Harrison was, after the Beatle's split up, at first the most successful Beatle. His triple album "All Things Must Pass", showed straight away what he was able to do when out from the John and Paul's shadow. Sadly, this success didn't last long, as the copyright owner of Lonnie Mack's song "He's So Fine" which was a Number 1 hit for the Chiffons in 1964, unfairly successfully sued George Harrison as the music of "My Sweet Lord" was too similar. He was convicted of unintentional plagerism. His record company initially rejected his album "Somewhere In England" for not being good enough, and he was also sued for not finishing one of his albums on time.
In 1971, George Harrison organised two concerts in Madison Square Garden to help the people suffering from the war in Bangla Desh, the first star to use music and celebrity to help feed the starving. Artists performing included Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Leon Russel, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston and Ravi Shankar. This work continued with his Material World Foundation.
Despite The Beatles having broke up, he still performed with the other members of the band. He played on Ringo Starr's first and second singles, "It Don't Come Easy" released in April 1971 and "Back Off Boogaloo" in March 1972. He also played on several tracks on John Lennon's 1971 album "Imagine"; "Crippled Inside", "I Don't Wanna Be A Soldier Mama", "Gimme Some Truth" and "How Do You Sleep?". It was not until 1995, with the "Beatles Anthology" project, that he again performed with Paul McCartney.
George's career blossomed in the late 80s, not only when he formed the supergroup "The Traveling Wilburys" with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison, but also in 1988 with his hit solo single "Got My Mind Set On You". Sadly, this period ended shortly after Roy Orbison's death. Since then, his only musical contributions came with his tour of Japan, and his contribution to the "Beatles Anthology" project, on "Free As A Bird" and "Real Love".
- 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)
- The Best Of George Harrison (1976)
- Thirty Three And 1/3 (1976)
- George Harrison (1979)
- Somewhere In England (1981)
- Gone Troppo (1982)
- Cloud Nine (1987)
- Traveling Wilburys: Volume 1 (1988)
- Traveling Wilburys: Volume 3 (1990)
- Live In Japan (1992)
In 1979, when Bernard Delfront the Monty Python's financier for "Life Of Brian" pulled out, George Harrison mortgaged his house and risked his fortune to sponsor the film, which turned out to be not only a success, but one of the funniest films ever made. George even appeared in a brief cameo role. After this success, George formed a film production company, and throughout the
1980s, went on to sponsor 25 British films, including "The Long Good Friday" (1980), "Time Bandits" (1981), "A Private Function" (1984), "Mona Lisa" (1986), and "Withnail And I" (1987).
The Last Few Years
The last 5 years of George's life were a fight against cancer caused by smoking.
In 1997, George Harrison was first diagnosed to have cancer, when a lump was found in his neck. The growth was removed at the Princess Margaret Hospital in Windsor, and George recovered after weeks of painful chemotherapy at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London. In 1998, he was again diagnosed as having throat cancer, which he overcame again.
In December 1999 came the knife attack, when in the early hours of the 30th, Michael Abram, a heroin-addicted schizophrenic, broke into his house and stabbed him in the chest, puncturing his lung. George was saved only when his
wife defended him by hitting the attacker with a lamp and poker.
Soon after, he was found to have developed lung cancer. The growth was removed, including half his lung, in an operation in March 2001. He was then diagnosed as having a brain tumour, and was treated at a clinic in Switzerland with two
months of aggressive chemotherapy, followed by, in November, radiotherapy treatment in Staten Island University Hospital in New York. Sadly, people suffering from Brain Tumours after having lung cancer rarely live more than 5 months, and so sadly, but not unexpectedly, at the age of 58, George Harrison died, with his wife and son beside him.
He was cremated in a private ceremony hours after his death in accordance with his Krishna belief, the ashes to be scattered in the holy river of Yamuna.
As well as the Beatles albums, solo albums and Travelin' Wilburys albums left, it appears likely that a new George Harrison will be released in the New Year, similar to how "Double Fantasy" was released after John Lennon's death, and
"Wild Prairie" after Linda McCartney's. Possibly called "Portrait of a Leg-end", it is rumoured to contain 25 tracks of songs written over many years, with other artists including Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lyne and Ringo Starr.
On January 14th 2002, George Harrison's most famous solo single, "My Sweet Lord", was re-released, getting
to number 1 in the charts almost 31 years to the day after it was a number one hit back in 1971.7 Then it stayed at Number 1 for 5 weeks. The money will go to the Material World Charitable Foundation, which Harrison established in
The last song he recorded, "Horse To The Water", can be found on the Jools Holland album "Small World, Big Band", and is out now.
was the first time in chart history that one posthumous number one had been replaced by another.