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- This article is about songwriter and musician George Harrison. For the early twentieth century singer, see Clinton Ford. For Nintendo's Senior VP of Marketing and Corporate Communication, see George Harrison (Executive).
George Harrison, MBE (February 24, 1943 – November 29, 2001) was a popular British guitarist, singer, songwriter, record producer, and film producer, best known as a member of The Beatles.
Harrison was the lead guitarist of The Beatles. During the band’s extremely successful career, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were its main songwriters. However, Harrison usually wrote and sang lead on one or two songs per album, including the popular "Taxman", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "Here Comes the Sun", and "Something".
During the era of The Beatles, Harrison also became attracted to Indian music and Hinduism, sparking unprecedented interest in both in the Western Hemisphere. Both would play a prominent role in Harrison’s life and music.
Harrison also had a very successful solo career after the break-up of The Beatles, scoring hits with "My Sweet Lord" (1970), "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" (1973), "All Those Years Ago" (1981), and "Got My Mind Set On You" (1987). He also organized the first large-scale charity concert, The Concert For Bangla Desh, which took place on August 1, 1971. Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2004.
Harrison was also a film producer and founded Handmade Films in 1979. The company's films include Monty Python’s The Life of Brian, Time Bandits, Withnail and I, and Mona Lisa.
George Harold Harrison was born in Liverpool, England in 1943. His sister has said that their mother wrote in her diary that he was born ten minutes after midnight on February 25, though Harrison subsequently discovered that he had, in fact, been born on February 24 at 11:40 PM.
Harrison’s childhood home is located at 12 Arnold Grove. He first attended school at Dovedale Infants, just off Penny Lane. Later on, he attended the Liverpool Institute, a "smart school", but was regarded as a poor student, and contemporaries described him as someone who would "sit alone in the corner". In the mid-1950s he knew Paul McCartney (also a Liverpool Institute student) and beginning in February 1958 played lead guitar in the band (initially called the Quarry Men) that eventually became the Beatles.
In 1959, Harrison worked briefly as an apprentice electrician at Blacklers Stores in Liverpool.
Role in The Beatles
Harrison was a fluent, inventive and highly accomplished lead and rhythm guitarist, whose influences included Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Chet Atkins. Although he was a creative soloist, several of his famous Beatles guitar solos were recorded under specific directions from Paul McCartney, who on occasion demanded that Harrison play what he envisioned virtually note-for-note. Other Harrison solos were directed or modified by producer George Martin, who also vetoed several of Harrison's song and instrument offerings; Martin admitted years later, "I was always rather beastly to George."
During the era of Beatlemania, Harrison was characterized as the "Quiet Beatle", noted for his introspective manner. He studied situations and people closely, though, and was the most interested of any Beatle in the band's finances, often quizzing Brian Epstein about them. He could also wisecrack as well as anyone in the band; when a reporter asked what the band did in their hotel suite between shows, Harrison told him "We ice-skate."
A turning point in Harrison's career came during an American tour in 1965, when his friend David Crosby of The Byrds introduced him to Indian classical music and the work of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Harrison quickly became fascinated with the sitar, immersed himself in Indian music and was instrumental in popularizing the sitar in particular and Indian music in general in the West. He traveled to India to take lessons from Shankar, bought a sitar himself, and became the first western popular musician to use one on a recording "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)". He championed Shankar with western audiences and was largely responsible for having him included on the bill at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967.
Another catalyst for Harrison came during the filming of the movie Help!, on location in the Bahamas, when a Hindu devotee presented each Beatle with a book about reincarnation. Harrison’s interest in Indian culture eventually expanded to Hinduism and meditation. It was his meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi that led him first into meditation (Transcendental Meditation, a technique pioneered by the Maharishi). In the summer of 1969, he produced the single "Hare Krishna Mantra", performed by Harrison with the devotees of the London Radha-Krishna Temple, that topped the 10 best-selling record charts throughout UK, Europe, and Asia. The same year, he and fellow Beatle John Lennon met A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Soon after, Harrison embraced the Hare Krishna tradition (including chanting with beads; a meditation technique similar to the Catholic rosary), and remained associated with it until his death. While during his lifetime, Harrison had bequeathed to the society his Letchmore Heath mansion (renamed Bhaktivedanta Manor) north of London, he redoubted speculations that he would leave ISKCON a large sum in his will: in fact, he left nothing to the organization. .
Harrison formed a close friendship with Eric Clapton in the late 1960s and they co-wrote the song "Badge", which was released on Cream's farewell album in 1969. This song was the basis for Harrison's composition for The Beatles' Abbey Road album, "Here Comes the Sun", which was written in Clapton's back garden.
Friction between Harrison and McCartney increased markedly during the recording of The White Album, with Harrison threatening to leave the group on several occasions. The tension between Harrison and McCartney can be clearly seen in several scenes in the Let It Be documentary film and relations became so strained during the making of the film that Harrison briefly quit the band.
While not the primary composer in the group (Lennon and McCartney wrote the vast bulk of the Beatles' material), as time went on Harrison's songwriting improved greatly and his material gradually earned respect from both his fellow Beatles and the public. By the mid-Sixties Lennon and McCartney had become somewhat more accepting of his contributions, although he later said that he always had difficulty getting his songs recorded and only managed to get one or two included on each album.
Notable Harrison compositions from the Beatles' oeuvre include: the intricate "If I Needed Someone"; "I Want to Tell You"; the Indian-influenced "Love You To"; the acerbic "Taxman" (later referenced in Cheap Trick's "Taxman, Mr. Thief" and The Jam's "Start"); the much-maligned "Within You Without You"; "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", which was strongly influenced by the music of his friend Roy Orbison and featured a guitar solo by his close friend Eric Clapton; and "Piggies", which later featured inadvertently in the notorious Charles Manson murder case.
"Something" and "Here Comes the Sun" are probably his two best-known Beatles songs. "Something" is considered one of his very best works, and was even covered by Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra, who famously deemed it "the greatest love song of the last 50 years." His increasing productivity, coupled with his difficulties in getting The Beatles to record his music, meant that by the end of the group's career he had amassed a considerable stockpile of unreleased material.
When asked years later what kind of music the Beatles might have made if they'd stayed together, his answer was to the point: "The solo stuff that we've done would have been on Beatle albums." Harrison, Lennon and McCartney had always largely written apart; on one level, breaking up for each was merely a change of collaborators.
See also: List of Beatles songs written by George Harrison.
After the Beatles split in 1970, Harrison released a number of albums that were critically and commercially successful, both as solo projects and as a member of other groups. After years of being limited in his contributions to the Beatles, he released a large number of the songs he had stockpiled in the first major solo work released after the breakup, All Things Must Pass, the first triple album in rock history. It included the number one hit single "My Sweet Lord", although Harrison was later sued for copyright infringement over the supposed similarities to the 1963 Chiffons single "He's So Fine". Harrison denied deliberately stealing the song, but he did lose the case in 1976; in the ruling, the court accepted the possibility that Harrison had "unconsciously plagiarised" the Chiffons song as the basis for his own song. Disputes over damages dragged on into the 1990s.
Harrison was probably the first modern musician to organize a major charity concert. His Concert for Bangladesh on August 1, 1971, drew over 40,000 people to two shows in New York's Madison Square Garden with the intention of aiding the starving refugees from the war in Bangladesh. Ravi Shankar opened the proceedings, which included other popular musicians such as Bob Dylan (who rarely appeared live in the early 1970s), Eric Clapton who made his first public appearance in years due to his reclusion nursing a heroin addiction after Derek and the Dominos broke up, Leon Russell, Badfinger, Billy Preston and fellow Beatle Ringo Starr. Unfortunately, however, the concert actually lost money due to expenses. Apple Corps announced that they would be releasing a newly arranged concert DVD and CD on October 25, 2005 in the USA, and October 24 in the rest of the world. The DVD and CD will each contain additional material (such as previously unreleased rehearsal footage of "If Not For You" featuring Harrison and Dylan), and all artists' sales royalties will continue to go to UNICEF.
In addition to his own works, during this time Harrison wrote or produced several hits for Ringo Starr and also appeared on tracks by John Lennon.
Harrison's next album was Living in the Material World in 1973. "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" was a big hit, and "Sue Me Sue You Blues" was a window into the former Beatles' miserable legal travails, but overall the record was seen as too overtly religious.
In 1974 Harrison released Dark Horse and at the same time launched a major tour of the United States which was subsequently criticised for having a long opening act of Ravi Shankar & Friends, George's voice becoming hoarse and his frequent preaching to the audience. It was during this period while in LA preparing for the 1974 Tour that he also opened offices for his new Dark Horse Records on the A&M Records lot on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles. It was in those offices that he met a beautiful young woman by the name of Olivia Trinidad Arias who was assigned to work at his label with Terry Doran from Apple and Jack Oliver who came over from London to run Dark Horse Records. The relationship progressed during the rehearsals and Olivia joined George on his 1974 tour during which their relationship blossomed into something more resulting in her permanent relocation to Friar Park in Henley, England, George's home.
Subsequent to the 1974 Tour he returned to his home in the UK and commuted between there and Los Angeles for the next few years while Dark Horse issued a small number of records by performers such as Splinter, Attitudes and Ravi Shankar. He also planned to issue his own records through Dark Horse after his contract with EMI expired.
His final album for EMI (and Apple Records) was Extra Texture (Read All About It), featuring a textured cover. The album spawned two singles, "You" and "This Guitar (Can't Keep From Crying)", which became Apple's final single release in 1975.
Business and personal troubles took their toll on Harrison over the next year, and when his first Dark Horse album (Thirty Three & 1/3, his age at the time) was due, Harrison was suffering from hepatitis and couldn't complete the production. After A&M threatened to take him to court, Warner Bros. Records stepped in, buying out Harrison's Dark Horse contract with A&M, and allowing him time to regain his health.
Thirty Three & 1/3 was his most successful late-1970s album, and featured the hits "This Song" (a satire of the "My Sweet Lord" ruling) and "Crackerbox Palace" (a humourous and surrealistic number, looking back on his life to date; the title was the name of comedian Lord Buckley's former small home in Hollywood, California, which Harrison visited, and 'Mr. Greif' in the song had been Buckley's manager).
After his second marriage and the birth of son Dhani, Harrison's next album was self-titled: 1979's George Harrison included the hits "Blow Away", "Love Comes To Everyone" and "Faster". "Blow Away" featured a memorable electric-slide guitar introduction, and became a much-loved single at the end of the Seventies.
Immediately following the murder of his friend and former bandmate John Lennon, Harrison modified the lyrics of a song he had written for Ringo Starr to make it a tribute song to Lennon, "All Those Years Ago", which found substantial radio airplay and continues to be a staple of "classic rock" radio. All the three remaining Beatles performed on it, although it was expressly a Harrison single. "Teardrops" was issued as a follow-up single, but wasn't nearly as successful.
Aside from a song on the Porky's Revenge soundtrack in 1984, Harrison released no new records for five years after 1982's Gone Troppo was met with apparent indifference. He returned in 1987 with the album Cloud Nine, co-produced with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, and enjoyed a hit (#1 in the U.S.; #2 in the U.K) when his cover version of "Got My Mind Set On You" was released as a single; another single, "When We Was Fab", was also a minor hit. The album got to #8.
During the late 1980s, he helped form the Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty when they gathered in Dylan's garage to quickly record an additional track for a projected Harrison European single release. The record company realised the track ("Handle With Care") was too good for its original purpose as a single B-side and asked for a separate album. This had to be completed within two weeks, as Dylan was scheduled to start a tour. Released in October 1988, and recorded under pseudonyms as half-brothers (supposed sons of Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr.), Travelling Wilburys Vol. 1 was dubbed as one of the top 100 albums of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
One of Harrison's most successful ventures during this period was his involvement in film production through his company Handmade Films. Since childhood The Beatles had been fans of the anarchic humour of The Goons, and Harrison became a dedicated fan of their successors, the Monty Python team. He provided financial backing for the Python film The Life of Brian after the original backers (EMI Films) withdrew, fearing the subject matter of the film was too controversial. Other films produced by Handmade included Mona Lisa, Time Bandits, Shanghai Surprise and Withnail and I. He made several cameo appearances in these movies, including appearing as a nightclub singer in Shanghai Surprise, and as Mr. Papadopolous in Life of Brian. One of his most memorable cameos was in the cult Beatles parody The Rutles, created by ex-Python Eric Idle.
1989 saw the release of Best of Dark Horse 1976-1989, a compilation drawn from his later solo work. This album also included three excellent new songs: "Poor Little Girl", "Cheer Down", and "Cockamamie Business", the last of which saw him once again looking wryly upon his Beatley past.
The first year of the new decade saw a new Traveling Wilburys album, despite the tragic death of Roy Orbison. The band had allegedly approached Del Shannon about replacing Roy, but he also met an untimely death. The album was recorded as a four-piece.
It was not as successful as the previous album, but still managed to stay on the charts for quite a time, spawning the singles "She's My Baby" and "Wilbury Twist".
In 1991 Harrison staged a tour of Japan along with Eric Clapton. It was his first tour since the ill-fated 1974 U.S. tour, and although he seemed to enjoy it more there were to be no others. The Live in Japan recording came from these shows. In October of 1992, he played two songs ("If Not For You" and "Absolutely Sweet Marie") at a huge Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Harrison's final television appearance wasn't intended as such; in fact, he wasn't the featured artist, and the appearance was to promote Chants of India, another collaboration with Ravi Shankar released in 1997, at the height of interest in chant music. John Fugelsang conducted the interview, and at one point an acoustic guitar was produced, and handed to Harrison. When an audience member asked to hear "a Beatles song!" Harrison pulled a sheepish look and answered "I don't think I know any!" He did finish the show with a loose rendition of "All Things Must Pass".
Throughout the 1990s, Harrison, a former smoker, endured an ongoing battle with cancer, having growths removed first from his throat, then his lung. There was also a December 30, 1999 attempt on his life by a crazed fan, 35 year-old Michael Abram, who broke into his home, Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames, and stabbed him multiple times, puncturing his lung. Harrison and his wife, Olivia, fought the intruder and detained him for the police. Abram, who believed he was possessed by Harrison and was on a "mission from God" to kill him, was later acquitted on grounds of insanity.
George died at the home of a friend, Gavin de Becker, in Los Angeles, California on November 29, 2001, at the age of only 58. His death was ascribed to lung cancer that had metastasized to the brain. He was cremated, and although it was widely reported that his ashes were scattered in the River Ganges, the ceremony was not conducted at the expected time . The actual disposition of the ashes has not been publicly disclosed.
After his death, the Harrison family released 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 of God cannot wait; and love one another.'"
Harrison and Aaliyah Haughton made UK chart history when they scored the first (and so far the only) pair of back-to-back posthumous number one hits as Haughton's "More than a Woman" (released on January 7, 2002 and topped the chart on January 13, 2002) was followed by Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" (re-released on January 14, 2002 and topped the chart on January 20, 2002).
Harrison's final album, Brainwashed, was completed by Dhani Harrison and Jeff Lynne and released on November 18, 2002.
On November 29, 2002 – the first anniversary of George Harrison's death – the Concert for George saw the two remaining Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr join many of Harrison's other friends for a special memorial concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London that benefitted the Material World Charitable Foundation. Some of the highlights of the concert were:
- "The Inner Light" performed by Ravi Shankar's daughter Anoushka Shankar with Jeff Lynne.
- "The Lumberjack Song" sung by members of Monty Python (Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, together with Tom Hanks).
- "If I Needed Someone" sung by Eric Clapton.
- "Here Comes the Sun" sung by Joe Brown.
- "Horse to the Water" sung by Sam Brown.
- "Taxman" and "I Need You" performed by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (with Jools Holland and Sam Brown).
- "Handle With Care" performed by Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Dhani Harrison.
- "Isn't It a Pity" sung by Billy Preston.
- "Photograph" performed by Ringo Starr.
- "For You Blue" performed by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
- All of the artists came on stage to perform "Something", "All Things Must Pass", "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", "My Sweet Lord" and "Wah-Wah".
- Joe Brown concluded with the Gus Kahn/Isham Jones classic "I'll See You In My Dreams".
Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist on March 15, 2004.
Personal and family life
Harrison married model Pattie Boyd in 1966 and is reputed to have written the song "Something" for her in 1969, although he himself denied this, saying he was actually thinking about Ray Charles. In the late 1960s, Eric Clapton fell in love with Boyd, and famously poured out his unrequited passion on the landmark Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1971). Soon after its release Boyd left her husband and she and Clapton subsequently married. Despite this, the two men remained close friends, calling themselves "husbands in law."
Harrison married for a second time to Olivia Trinidad Arias (born 18 May 1948) in 1978. The ceremony took place on September 2 at their home, with singer Joe Brown acting as best man. They had one son, Dhani Harrison, born the previous month.
- Rolling Stone's List of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time
For a detailed discography, see: George Harrison discography
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