George Harrison was unquestionably the Beatle I really wanted to meet. Who could forget his early songs like “Taxman” and “Blue Jay Way,” or his lasting contribution to human rights. He would have been 72 today had he survived the lung cancer that took his life in 2001 at the age of 58.
I met John Lennon, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, but Harrison eluded me. He was full of intrigue and complexity and almost dared you to like him.
He came of age with terrific Beatles songs like “Something,” “Badge” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” His brilliant 1970 Concert For Bangladesh, that I actually attended–the night show, not the afternoon rehearsal–set the standard for charity shows.
A concert DVD came out several years back and watching it is a revelation. All those musicians crowded at the front of the stage were amazing.
Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Jim Keltner, Jesse Ed Davis, Klaus Vorman, half-of Badfinger, Ringo, Billy Preston and horn-men Tom Scott and Jim Horn were there, led by George.
There was no set and lighting was minimal. It was just musicians doing what they loved. I’ll say one thing: In 1970, I had never, ever experienced anything like that before.
I was at Live Aid in Philly in 1974, and I still couldn’t stop thinking about Harrison’s Bangladesh show.
The wonderful Marty Scorsese produced an HBO documentary several back and it was great. It was almost like a very-well done tutorial on George. But to tell you the truth, I had seen most of the footage already.
In his later years, George produced a terrific solo album Cloud Nine and followed up in 1988 by joining the The Traveling Wilburys. The group, Harrison, Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne created some amazing music.
Harrison, ever humble, once exclaimed “I can’t believe I’m in a group with Orbison!” But they couldn’t believe they were playing with him.
When Harrison delivered the first Wilburys album to Warner Brothers, chieftain Mo Ostin thought their song “Handle With Care” was too strong for an album cut. Incidentally, Harrison lifted the title from a fruit basket at Dylan’s house.
After the sudden loss of Orbison in 1988, the group came out with a second album (interestingly titled Volume 3). It was good, but lost some of the magic without the “Pretty Woman” singer.
After that, Harrison toured Japan with good-mate Clapton. The tour led to the release in 1992 of Live in Japan, a double album that is vintage Harrison–better than ever.
Though many thought of him as a recluse, quite the opposite is true.
Eric Idle was quoted as saying that George loved people and speaking with them. And George, according to Director Terry Gilliam, had quite a sense of humor.
I am not surprised at all. I think he just wanted his private life private, and in this day of social media is that a bad thing?
After his passing, Lynne and his son Dhani finished up the album Brainwashed, released posthumously in 2002, and it stands as one of his best works ever. A classic and a fitting ending for sure.
I was at a presentation at NYC’s Madison Square Garden some time back and had the chance to met his wife Olivia.
I told her how honored I was to meet her and how much her husband’s music and life had reflected many things in my own life. Graciously, she said, “We all loved George.”
His music lives on and for me, just gets better and better. Oh, I wish I’d met you George!