A Rockapaedia Obituary
Band: The Beatles
<<go to audio control>>
George Harrison died aged fifty-eight on 29th November 2001 at a friend's home in Los Angeles, U.S.A.. He was cremated at Hollywood Forever Cemetery and his funeral was held at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades, California. His ashes were then scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers near Varanasi, India, by his close family in a private ceremony according to Hindu tradition. He left almost £100 million in his will.
In 1997, George had been diagnosed with throat cancer and treated with radiotherapy, which was thought at the time to be successful. He publicly blamed years of smoking for the illness.
On 30th December 1999, George Harrison and his wife were attacked at Friar Park, their home. Michael Abram, a 36-year-old fan, broke in and attacked George with a kitchen knife, puncturing a lung and causing head injuries before Olivia Harrison incapacitated the assailant by striking him repeatedly with a fireplace poker and a lamp. Following the attack, George Harrison was hospitalised with more than 40 stab wounds.
In May 2001, it was revealed that George Harrison 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. In November 2001, he began radiotherapy at Staten Island University Hospital, in New York City, for non-small cell lung cancer that had spread to his brain. When the news was publicised, George Harrison bemoaned his physician's breach of privacy, and his estate later claimed damages.
George Harrison was born on 25th February 1943 and was was the youngest of four children of Harold Hargreaves Harrison and his wife. He had one sister, Louise, and two brothers, Harry and Peter. His mother was a shop assistant from a Catholic family with Irish roots and his father was a bus conductor.
George Harrison's mother, an enthusiastic music fan, was known among friends for her loud singing voice, which at times startled visitors by rattling the Harrisons' windows.
George Harrison lived the first six years of his life at 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool, a terraced house in a dead end street. 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 moved to 25 Upton Green, Speke. In 1948, at the age of five, George Harrison enrolled at Dovedale Primary School. He passed the eleven-plus exam and attended Liverpool Institute High School for Boys from 1954 to 1959. Though the institute did offer a music course, George Harrison was disappointed with the absence of guitars.
George Harrison's earliest musical influences included George Formby, Cab Calloway, Django Reinhardt and Hoagy Carmichael; by the 1950s, Carl Perkins and Lonnie Donegan were significant influences. In early 1956 he had an epiphany: while riding his bicycle, he heard Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" playing from a nearby house, and the song piqued his interest in rock and roll. He often sat at the back of the class drawing guitars in his schoolbooks, and later commented, "I was totally into guitars."
Although apprehensive about his son's interest in pursuing a music career, in late 1956 George Harrison's father bought him a Dutch Egmond flat top acoustic guitar. A friend of his father's taught George how to play "Whispering", "Sweet Sue" and "Dinah", and, inspired by Lonnie Donegan's music, George Harrison formed a skiffle group called the Rebels with his brother Peter and a friend, Arthur Kelly. On the bus to school,George Harrison met Paul McCartney, who also attended the Liverpool Institute, and the pair bonded over their shared love of music.
George Harrison became part of the Beatles when they were still a skiffle group called the Quarrymen, with McCartney and John Lennon as members. McCartney told Lennon about his friend George Harrison, who could play "Raunchy" on his guitar. In March 1958, George Harrison auditioned for the Quarrymen at Rory Storm's Morgue Skiffle Club, playing Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith's "Guitar Boogie Shuffle", but Lennon felt that George, having just turned fifteen, was too young to join the band. During a second meeting, arranged by Paul McCartney, he performed the lead guitar part for the instrumental "Raunchy" on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus. He began socialising with the group, filling in on guitar as needed, and became accepted as a member. Although his father wanted him to continue his education, Harrison left school at sxteen and worked for several months as an apprentice electrician at Blacklers, a local department store.
In 1960, promoter Allan Williams arranged for the band, now calling themselves the Beatles, to play at the Kaiserkeller club in Hamburg owned by Bruno Koschmider. The impromptu musical education Harrison received while playing long hours with the Beatles, as well as the guitar lessons he took from Tony Sheridan while they briefly served as his backing group, laid the foundations of his sound and of his quiet, professional role within the group; he was later known as "the quiet Beatle". When Brian Epstein became their manager in December 1961, he polished their image 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 debut album, Please Please Me, was released in early 1963; Beatlemania had arrived. Their second album, 'With the Beatles' (1963), included "Don't Bother Me", George Harrison's first solo writing credit.
By 1965's Rubber Soul, George 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. He later called Rubber Soul his "favourite [Beatles] album". Revolver (1966) 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. According to the 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. George Harrison continued to develop his interest in non-Western instrumentation, playing swarmandal on "Strawberry Fields Forever".
George's sole composition on the album 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' in 1967 was the Indian-inspired "Within You Without You". He played sitar and tambura on the track, backed by musicians from the London Asian Music Circle on dilruba, swarmandal and tabla. He later commented on the Sgt. Pepper album: "It was a millstone and a milestone in the music industry".
In 1968 George's song "The Inner Light" was recorded at EMI's studio in Bombay, featuring a group of local musicians playing traditional Indian instruments. Released as the B-side to Paul McCartney's "Lady Madonna", it was the first George Harrison composition to appear on a Beatles single. Derived from a quotation from the Tao Te Ching, the song's lyric reflected George Harrison's deepening interest in Hinduism and meditation, while musically it embraced the Karnatak discipline of Indian music, rather than the Hindustani style of his previous work in the genre. During the recording of The Beatles White album that same year, tensions within the group ran high, and drummer Ringo Starr quit briefly. George Harrison's songwriting contributions to the double album included "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", which featured Eric Clapton on lead guitar, "Piggies", "Long, Long, Long" and "Savoy Truffle".
Bob Dylan and the Band were a major musical influence on George Harrison at the end of his career with the Beatles. While on a visit to Woodstock in late 1968, he established a friendship with Bob Dylan and found himself drawn to the Band's sense of communal music-making and to the creative equality among the band members, which contrasted with Lennon and McCartney's domination of the Beatles' songwriting and creative direction. This coincided with a prolific period in his songwriting and a growing desire to assert his independence from the Beatles, tensions among whom surfaced again in January 1969, during the filming of rehearsals at Twickenham Studios 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, George Harrison quit the group on 10th January, but agreed to return twelve days later.
Relations among the Beatles were more cordial, though still strained, during sessions for their final recorded album, Abbey Road. The LP included two of George Harrison's most respected Beatles compositions: "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something", which became one half of the Beatles' first number one double A-side single, Harrison's first A-side, and the first Harrison song to reach the top of the charts. In 1969 Frank Sinatra recorded "Something", and later dubbed it "the greatest love song of the past fifty years". John Lennon considered it the best song on Abbey Road, and it became the Beatles' second most covered song after "Yesterday".
In April 1970 when George Harrison's "For You Blue" was released in America as a double A-side with McCartney's "The Long and Winding Road", it became the band's second chart-topping double A-side and "For You Blue" became George 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 their break-up he had amassed a stockpile of unreleased compositions. While George Harrison grew as a songwriter, his compositional presence on Beatles albums remained limited to two or three songs, increasing his frustration, and significantly contributing to the band's break-up. George Harrison's last recording session with the Beatles was on 4th January 1970, when he, McCartney and Starr recorded the George Harrison song "I Me Mine".
Before the Beatles' break-up, George Harrison had already recorded and released two solo albums: 'Wonderwall Music' and 'Electronic Sound' both of which contain mainly instrumental compositions. 'Wonderwall Music', a soundtrack to the 1968 film Wonderwall, blends Indian and Western instrumentation, while 'Electronic Sound' is an experimental album that prominently features a Moog synthesizer. Released in November 1968, 'Wonderwall Music' was the first solo album by a Beatle and the first LP released by Apple Records. Indian musicians Aashish Khan and Shivkumar Sharma performed on the album, which contains the experimental sound collage "Dream Scene", recorded several months before John Lennon's "Revolution 9".
In December 1969, George Harrison participated in a brief tour of Europe with the American group Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. During the tour that included Clapton, Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Gordon and band leaders Delaney and Bonnie Bramlett, George Harrison began to write "My Sweet Lord", which became his first single as a solo artist. Delaney Bramlett inspired George Harrison to learn slide guitar, significantly influencing his later music.
After years of being restricted in his songwriting contributions to the Beatles' albums, George Harrison released 'All Things Must Pass', a triple album, with two discs of his songs and the third of recordings of him jamming with friends. Regarded by many as his best work, the album 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". The album was co-produced by Phil Spector using his "Wall of Sound" approach, and the musicians included Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Gary Wright, Billy Preston, Klaus Voormann, the whole of Delaney and Bonnie's Friends band and the Apple group Badfinger... a simple and poignant conclusion" to George Harrison's former band. In 1971 Bright Tunes sued George Harrison for copyright infringement over "My Sweet Lord" owing to its similarity to the 1963 Chiffons hit "He's So Fine". When the case was heard in the United States district court in 1976, he denied deliberately plagiarising the song, but lost the case as the judge ruled that he had done so subconsciously.
Responding to a request from Ravi Shankar, George Harrison organised a charity event, the Concert for Bangladesh, which took place 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.
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. The event has been described as an innovative precursor for the large-scale charity rock shows that followed, including Live Aid.
George Harrison would not again release an album that matched the critical and commercial achievements of 'All Things Must Pass'; however, his next solo album, 1973's 'Living in the Material World', held the number one spot on the Billboard album chart for five weeks, and the album's single, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)", also reached number one in the US. In the UK, the LP achieved number two, spending 12 weeks on the charts with the single peaking at number eight. The album was lavishly produced and packaged, and its dominant message was George Harrison's Hindu beliefs. In Greene's opinion it "contained many of the strongest compositions of his career". In November 1974 George Harrison began his 45-date Dark Horse Tour, becoming the first ex-Beatle to tour North America. In addition to performances by George Harrison with an ensemble of musicians such as Billy Preston, Tom Scott, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark and Jim Horn, the tour also included traditional and contemporary Indian music performed by "Ravi Shankar, Family and Friends".
In December George Harrison released 'Dark Horse', an album that earned him the least favourable reviews of his career. The album reached number four on the Billboard chart and the single "Dark Horse" reached number fifteen, but they failed to make an impact in the UK.
In 1979, following his second marriage and the birth of his son Dhani, George released 'George Harrison'. The album and the single "Blow Away" both made the Billboard top twenty. The album marked the beginning of George Harrison's gradual retreat from the music business, and the fruition of ideas introduced on 'All Things Must Pass'. In 1978 the death of his father in May and the birth of his son in August had influenced his decision to devote more time to his family than to his career.
The murder of John Lennon on 8th December 1980 disturbed George Harrison and reinforced his decades-long concerns about stalkers. It was also a deep personal loss, although unlike McCartney and Starr, George Harrison had little contact with Lennon in the years before his death. Following the murder, George 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." George 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 Ringo 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. George Harrison did not release any new albums for five years after 1982's 'Gone Troppo'.
During this period he made several guest appearances, including a 1985 performance at a tribute to Carl Perkins titled 'Blue Suede Shoes: A Rockabilly Session'. In March 1986 George made a surprise appearance during the finale of the Birmingham Heart Beat Charity Concert, an event organised to raise money for the Birmingham Children's Hospital. The following year, he appeared at The Prince's Trust concert at London's Wembley Arena, performing "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and "Here Comes the Sun". In February 1987 he joined Bob Dylan, John Fogerty and Jesse Ed Davis on stage for a two-hour performance with the blues musician Taj Mahal. George Harrison recalled: "Bob rang me up and asked if I wanted to come out for the evening and see Taj Mahal ... So we went there and had a few of these Mexican beers – and had a few more ... Bob says, 'Hey, why don't we all get up and play, and you can sing?'
In November 1987 George Harrison released the platinum album 'Cloud Nine'. Co-produced with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, the LP included George '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, earned two MTV Music Video Awards nominations in 1988. Recorded at his estate in Friar Park, George Harrison's slide guitar playing featured prominently on the album, which included several of his long-time musical collaborators, including Clapton, Jim Keltner, and Jim Horn, who recalled George Harrison's relaxed and friendly demeanour during the sessions: "George made you feel at home, in his home ... He once had me sit on a toilet and play my soprano sax, and they miked it at the end of the hall for a distant sound. I thought they were kidding ... Another time he stopped me in the middle of a sax solo and brought me 3 p.m. tea—again I thought he was kidding." 'Cloud Nine' reached number eight and number ten on the US and UK charts respectively, and several tracks from the album achieved placement on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart .
In 1988 George Harrison formed the Travelling Wilburys with Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. The band had gathered in Dylan's garage to record a song for a George Harrison European single release. George '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. George Harrison's pseudonym on the first album was "Nelson Wilbury"; he used the name "Spike Wilbury" for their second album.
After Roy Orbison's death in December 1988 the group recorded as a four-piece. Their second release, issued in October 1990, was mischievously titled Travelling Wilburys Vol. 3. According to Lynne, "That was George's idea. He said, 'Let's confuse the buggers.'" It reached number fourteen in the UK, where it went platinum with certified sales of more than 3,000,000 units. The Willburys never performed live and the group did not record together again following the release of their second album.
In 1989 George Harrison and Ringo Starr appeared in the music video for Tom Petty's song "I Won't Back Down". Ringo Starr is filmed playing the drums, but did not play on the track; Harrison played acoustic guitar and provided backing vocals. In December 1991, George Harrison joined Eric Clapton for a tour of Japan. It was George's first since 1974 and no others followed. On 6th April 1992, George 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, Petty and Neil Young.
George Harrison's final album, the posthumously released 'Brainwashed' , was completed by his son Dhani and Jeff Lynne.
<<go to top>>