Singer, songwriter, guitarist
George Harrison is perhaps best known as one-fourth of what was probably the most popular and influential quartet in the history of rock, the Beatles. In 1958 Harrison joined John Lennon and Paul McCartney to form the core of what would—after name changes such as the Quarrymen and the Silver Beatles, the entrances and exits of members Stu Sutcliffe and Pete Best, and the final addition of drummer Ringo Starr—become the renowned English group. When the Beatles followed up their phenomenal success in their native country by taking American pop fans by storm in 1964, Harrison was with his fellow band members for U.S. concert appearances and their celebrated television introduction on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Throughout the changing trends in rock that the late 1960s brought, the Beatles remained not only popular but were acclaimed as serious, innovative musicians. Harrison helped influence the group with his explorations into Eastern music and religion, but the Beatles’ breakup in 1970 gained him greater exposure for his own compositions, previously shadowed by those of Lennon and McCartney. Harrison has had mixed success as a solo artist; his first album, 1971’s All Things Must Pass, was highly praised and included the hit single “My Sweet Lord,” but his “finest since,” according to Anthony DeCurtis in Rolling Stone, is his 1987 effort, Cloud Nine.
Harrison was born February 25, 1943, in Liverpool, England. He grew up in a public housing project, and was a mediocre student. Harrison’s early efforts at guitar playing were somewhat futile—he bought a guitar as a young adolescent, but found he couldn’t understand the chording patterns. While he was experimenting with one of the screws, the instrument fell apart. In frustration Harrison hid the guitar in the closet and turned his efforts to the trumpet, where he met with a similar lack of success. Eventually one of his older brothers repaired the guitar, and on his next attempts Harrison managed to learn a few chords. After that he practiced diligently, listening to recordings of famed guitarists Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy in order to perfect his style. At roughly the same time, Harrison became friends with Paul McCartney, a fellow student at the Liverpool Institute, and the two young musicians often took their guitars and went camping together in the country. Later, of course, Harrison would join the band that McCartney had formed with John Lennon.
Though during the Beatle years Harrison’s musical compositions often took a back seat to those of Lennon and McCartney, he was always an integral part of what was happening to the group. The Beatles’s legendary musical apprenticeship in Hamburg, Germany, came to a premature end partly due to the fact that the Hamburg police found out that Harrison was under eighteen and therefore ineligible to work in a foreign
Born February 25, 1943, in Liverpool, England; son of Harold (a school bus driver) and Louise Harrison; married Patricia Ann Boyd (a model and actress) on January 21, 1966 (divorced 1977); married Olivia Arias (a secretary) in 1978; children: Dhani (a son by second marriage).
Lead guitarist, singer, songwriter; apprentice electrician in Liverpool; joined group that eventually became the Beatles in 1958; stayed with them until group’s dissolution in 1970; solo performer, 1970—; member of the Traveling Wilburys, 1988.
Appeared in motion pictures A Hard Day’s Nightand Help! ; provided voice for animated film Yellow Submarine; co-owner of film production company Hand Made Films; organized charity concert for Bangladesh, 1971.
Awards: Grammy Awards and British Songwriters’ Guild Award with the Beatles; made member of the Order of the British Empire, 1965.
Addresses: Home —Friar Park Rd., Henley-on-Thames near London, England; Office —c/o Warner Bros. Records, Inc., 3300 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91505.
country. At the time of their appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” polls showed Harrison to be the most popular Beatle with American audiences. In the late 1960s, as DeCurtis phrased it, “Harrison led the Beatles to Maharashi Mahesh Yogi and transcendental meditation.” Fascinated by the work of Indian musician Ravi Shankar, he also learned to play the sitar. And, while they were no match in number to the group’s Lennon-McCartney efforts, Harrison’s compositions for the Beatles included impressive hits such as “Something,” “Taxman,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “I Need You,” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
Right after the Beatles broke up, Harrison was perhaps the most visible of the four musicians. He released the three-album set, All Things Must Pass, the following year. Harrison explained to DeCurtis that years of his songs coming second in priority to those of Lennon and McCartney left him with a lot of material: “By the time All Things Must Pass came, it was like being constipated for years, then finally you were allowed to go.” In 1971 he was asked by his friend Shankar to organize a benefit concert for famine relief in Bangladesh; Harrison complied, and brought together many of the current rock stars of the day for a successful effort. “The Concert for Bangladesh,” as it was called, was the forerunner for the “Live Aid” efforts of the 1980s for famine relief in Ethiopia.
But then Harrison fell on relatively hard times. Perhaps because the orchestra of Indian musicians accompanying him was judged too esoteric for most audiences, his 1974 American tour was a failure. And in 1976, “My Sweet Lord,” his biggest hit from All Things Must Pass, cost him $587, 000. According to Steve Dougherty of People magazine, Harrison was found guilty of ‘ “subconsciously plagiarizing’ the Chiffons tune He’s So Fine” with the song. His divorce from actress and model Patti Boyd in 1977, and the assassination of Lennon in late 1980, were personal blows to Harrison. Though his tribute to Lennon, “All Those Years Ago,” on Somewhere in England brought him back into the musical spotlight, his reaction to his friend’s death gave rise to rumors that Harrison had become a recluse. He admitted to Dougherty, “I am leery about big crowds of people. If somebody comes rushing up in the street, it does go through your mind.” But therumors, Harrison declared, are unfounded. “All it is, really, is that I just don’t go to discos where the gossip columnists hang out…. But I was going out all the time. I go out with friends, go to dinner, go to parties. It’s all a joke.”
Harrison has also become involved in filmmaking. Of course, as a Beatle, he appeared in the motion pictures A Hard Day’s Night and Help!, and provided the voice for the cartoon image of himself in the animated film Yellow Submarine, but in the 1980s he has busied himself as the co-owner of the production company Hand Made Films. The company has brought to the screen popular works such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Time Bandits. Harrison told Dougherty: “We tend to do low-budget movies that nobody else will do.”
Musically, Harrison has been very active in the late 1980s. His 1987 album, Cloud Nine, produced hits with the singles “Got My Mind Set on You,” lauded by DeCurtis as a “cocky, early-rock kicker” ; “When We Was Fab,” a recollection of being a Beatle; and “Devil’s Radio,” which DeCurtis described as an “assault on gossip journalism.” He also joined in 1988 with musical acquaintances Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and the late Roy Orbison to form the Traveling Wilburys. The Wilburys’s first album, Volume One, became a huge chart success.
All Things Must Pass (includes “My Sweet Lord,” “Isn’t It a Pity,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Ballad of Sir Frankie Crisp,” and “What Is Life”), Apple, 1971.
Living in a Material World, Apple, 1973.
Dark Horse (includes “Bye Bye, Love”), Apple, 1974.
Extra Texture, Apple, 1975.
33 1/3 (includes “Crackerbox Palace”), Dark Horse, 1976.
George Harrison, Dark Horse, 1979.
Somewhere in England (includes “All Those Years Ago” and “Blood From a Clone,”) Warner Brothers, 1981.
Gone Troppo, Warner Brothers, 1982.
Cloud Nine (includes “Got My Mind Set On You,” “When We Was Fab,” “Devil’s Radio,” “Just for Today,” “Someplace Else,” “Breath Away From Heaven,” “This Is Love,” “That’s What It Takes,” “Fish in the Sand,” and “Wreck of the Hesperus”), Warner Brothers, 1987.
(With the Traveling Wilburys) Volume One, Warner Brothers, 1988.
Harrison, George, I, Me, Mine, Simon & Schuster, 1980.
People, October 19, 1987.
Rolling Stone, October 22, 1987.
British rock guitarist George Harrison (1943–2001) is best known for being a member of the Beatles. Harrison's contributions helped shape the group's sound and influenced many other rock musicians. After the Beatles broke up, Harrison embarked on a successful solo career.
Former Beatle lead guitarist George Harrison was born in the Wavertree area of Liverpool, England. He was born to Harold and Louise Harrison. His father was a bus driver while his mother was a housewife. He grew up in a public housing project. He had two brothers, Harold and Peter, and a sister, Louise. Harrison attended Dovedale Primary School and was accepted into the Liverpool Institute, which was considered the city's best high school for boys. However, he soon lost interest in his lessons and failed his exams. At the time, he displayed a rebellious streak, too, wearing his hair as long as allowable and donning the tightest trousers.
As a child, Harrison developed an early appreciation for music by listening to his father's record collection, which included works by American country music artists. When Harrison was 13 years old, his mother bought him his first guitar, an acoustic model. Harrison was drawn to the instrument after hearing a recording by British skiffle artist Lonnie Donegan called "Rock Island Line." His early efforts, however, gave no indication whatsoever of the versatility he would later demonstrate, as he could not grasp something as simple as chording patterns. When the guitar broke apart, he tossed it into a closet and tried to learn the trumpet, without success. When one of his brothers fixed the guitar, Harrison took up the instrument again and managed to learn a few chords. Now inspired by his success, he practiced everyday and listened to records by famous guitarists Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy and early rock and roll stars such as Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, and Eddie Cochran. These early recordings would later influence his own guitar–playing style.
Eventually, he formed a short–lived band called The Rebels. Around this time, Harrison became friends with future Beatle band–mate Paul McCartney, who also attended the Liverpool Institute. They rode the same bus to school and, in conversation, found that they shared a passion for music and guitars. When Harrison was 14, McCartney asked Harrison to sit in with his band, the Quarrymen, which had been started by John Lennon. At first, Harrison was considered too young to join the band. However, by the time Harrison was 16, Lennon asked him to become a member, since he was always "hanging around" so much anyway. By the mid–to late–1950s, Harrison had begun playing electric guitar.
Succeeded in Hamburg
In 1960, after going through several name changes, the Quarrymen finally became The Beatles. The band lineup included Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best. They obtained regular performing engagements in Hamburg, West Germany, first at the Indra Club and then at the Kaiserkeller. Both clubs were located in the "red–light" district. The Beatles enjoyed a large and loyal following who were excited by the band's raw and intense performances. When the Beatles appeared at a rival club, the owner of the Indra Club became angry and revealed to authorities that George was only 17 years old, which made him too young to have a work permit. George was deported home to England. Soon after, the rest of the band followed. Back in Liverpool, in early 1961 they began playing at a jazz club, the Cavern, where they soon generated the same kind of following they enjoyed in Hamburg.
In the spring of that year, The Beatles returned to Hamburg to record as the backup band for singer Tony Sheridan. Sheridan's version of "My Bonnie," driven by the Beatle's raucous instrumental support, became a hit in England and garnered the attention of British record store owner Brian Epstein. Epstein was compelled to visit the Cavern, to see the Beatles perform live. He was mesmerized by what he saw. He offered to become their manager and secured a recording contract for them with Parlaphone Records.
As their manager, Epstein initiated some substantial changes. He encouraged "the lads" to tone down the rawness of their appearance and performances, and he fired drummer Pete Best, replacing him with Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr. Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962, leaving the band with the now famous foursome of Lennon on rhythm guitar, Harrison on lead guitar, McCartney on bass, and Starr on drums. "Beatlemania" was poised to strike the masses, first in England and then, more importantly, in America.
Early Singles Made the Charts
In the fall of 1962, the Beatles released their first single, the two–sided hit "Love Me Do" backed with "P.S. I Love You." The group's second single, "Please Please Me," released in 1963, was an even bigger hit. But success was restricted to England. United States chart success was delayed until 1964, with the release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." That record, released in January, was a smash. It was soon followed by their legendary February 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. By the end of their first set on their first appearance, the Beatles had completely conquered America, and—with their high quality musical output, their infectious humor, and revolutionary fashion sense—they would become the major driving social force in the world for the next four years.
In 1964, single followed single and album followed album in rapid succession, and each one seemed better than the last. Ironically, while Beatlemania provided fans with a sense of liberation, the four individuals felt imprisoned by their newfound fame. They were so famous that even a simple activity such as going to the corner grocery store to buy a carton of milk became an impossible, unthinkable proposition.
The Beatles were also feeling trapped within the context of the band, particularly Harrison, who was feeling greatly overshadowed by Lennon and McCartney. As the principle singers and songwriters, Lennon and McCartney were the undeniable focus of the band. But as a fellow songwriter, Harrison felt frustrated. On the early Beatles albums, he was allowed to contribute one or maybe two songs. That was understandable, as Lennon and McCartney were arguably the greatest songwriting team in the history of popular music. Still, Harrison demonstrated enormous growth as a songwriter during the peak Beatlemania years from 1963 to 1966. It is remarkable to consider that only three years separated Harrison's "Don't Bother Me" from the Beatle's second album With the Beatles (1962) to the much more ambitious and complex "Love to You" from Revolver (1966). Also, as the group later moved into a more progressive direction, Harrison's lead guitar work became more complex and played a major part in shaping the band's overall sound.
Movies and Marriage
The Beatles' popularity dictated that, like other pop stars before them, they make a movie. Their debut cinematic venture, A Hard Day's Night, released in 1964, was both a popular and critical success. Directed by creative filmmaker Richard Lester, the film was much more ambitious than any previous pop–star movie vehicle. The movie was especially significant to Harrison, in a personal way. During the filming, he met model Pattie Boyd (she appears in one of the train scenes, when the Beatles serenade a couple of young girls with the song "If I Fell"). They started dating and, on January 21, 1966, they were married.
The Beatles' second film, Help, released the following summer, was another enormous success, even though critics complained that it was too gimmicky and cartoonish, and lacked the overall charm of A Hard Day's Night. Harrison's contribution to the soundtrack was "I Need You," a pleasant pop song that received a good deal of radio play even though it had not been released as a single. (In the age before FM rock radio, the Beatles were the only band whose album cuts were receiving airplay).
Harrison's contributions to the next Beatles' album, Rubber Soul (1965), demonstrated a quantum leap in development over "I Need You." On this progressive, groundbreaking record, he was given three songs: the hard–driving "Wait" and "Think for Yourself" and the influential "If I Needed Someone." The album also included a Lennon–McCartney song, "Norwegian Wood," that featured a sitar. It was the first time that the Indian instrument appeared in a pop song, and its use was due to Harrison's developing interest in Indian music and culture.
Continued Development as an Artist
The year 1966 would be pivotal in the history of the Beatles. The group decided to stop touring and concentrate on making music in the recording studio. The "four lads from Liverpool" would soon be regarded as serious artists. The decision to stop touring was prompted by a summer tour that included an itinerary in United States. The band was not keen on doing the tour in the first place; they just had a bad feeling about it. Their fears proved to be justified. First, there was the incident in the Philippines involving a perceived slight to first lady Imelda Marcos. Through a misunderstanding, the Beatles missed a scheduled meeting with Marcos. This resulted in full–scale riots that had the Beatles and their entourage truly believing they would never leave the country alive. Second, when the Beatles arrived in the United States, they found the country had greatly changed. Beatlemania fandom had approached a level of unhealthy obsession. In addition, there was controversy generated by some quotes taken out of context from an interview that Lennon had given to a British magazine. The Beatle record burnings that took place across the country, coupled with the fanatical religious fervency, was disquieting.
Meanwhile, throughout the year, the group had been producing its most ambitious work yet. The result was the legendary Revolver album, which many regard today as the Beatles greatest record, even above the more ambitious Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Harrison again contributed three songs, and again his efforts demonstrated a maturing artistry. The songs included "I Want to Tell You," the hard–edged "Taxman," and the Indian–influenced "Love to You." At the end of 1966 he spent a month in India with his wife, Patti. He studied the sitar with Indian master musician Ravi Shankar, and he immersed himself in Yoga and Indian philosophy with mystics and students.
Deeper into Indian Culture
Harrison's Indian–influenced music continued with "Within You, Without You" on the Beatles' next album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is still viewed by many as the greatest rock album ever made. After the album's completion, Harrison delved deeper into the music, religion, and philosophy of India. On August 25, 1967, Harrison convinced the other Beatles to attend a course on transcendental meditation. The group found meditation stimulating and, for three months in early 1968, they traveled to India to study under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The trip turned out badly, and the other Beatles never addressed meditation again. However, George's interest in everything Indian only increased and, until the day he died, he held Eastern spiritual beliefs. The diverging interests underscored how the Beatles were starting to grow apart. Also, during the visit to India, Harrison wrote, recorded and produced the soundtrack for the film Wonderwall with Indian musicians.
The "White Album"
When the Beatles returned from India, the group began working on the so–called "White Album" (The Beatles), released in late 1968. The album was a two–record set, so Harrison was allowed more contributions than ever before. The Beatles (The White Album), included what many people consider to be Harrison's greatest song, "While my Guitar Gently Weeps." The Beatles next project was a filmed recording session that was eventually released, on film and record, as Let it Be after the group had broken up. In all, it was a grim enterprise that revealed all the strains and frustrations in the group.
The last time the group worked together was on the Abbey Road album sessions. Harrison contributed two of his most popular songs: "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something." The latter was a huge hit as a single, and it became the second most–recorded Beatles song (after "Yesterday"). Frank Sinatra, who did one of the many cover versions, said it was the greatest love song ever written.
In the meantime, tensions were increasing within the Beatles, and each member was becoming increasingly involved in his own pursuits. Harrison toured with the American band Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (as an anonymous member of the backup band), and he produced records on the Beatle's Apple label for Billy Preston, Jackie Lomax, and the Radha Krishna Temple. Then, the inevitable occurred in the spring of 1970: The Beatles broke up. For the world, the news was devastating. For the Beatles, it was a huge sigh of relief.
Life After the Beatles
After The Beatles broke up, Harrison began his solo career. The breakup gave him a chance to record all of the songs he had recently written but never had a chance to record with the Beatles. This backlog filled the two–record set, All Things Must Pass. Released in late 1970, the album was a work of majestic beauty. Fans and critics hailed it as his personal masterpiece. Many still consider it the best Beatles "solo" album. The album included the hit single "My Sweet Lord."
Harrison's next major post–breakup project was the charity event, "The Concert for Bangla Desh," held in Madison Square Garden in 1971. Harrison organized the event at the request of his friend and mentor Ravi Shankar, who sought financial aid for his famine–ravaged nation. The concert featured an all–star lineup that included Harrison, Shankar, Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Badfinger, and others. The event was released as a movie and a live album, both of which were enormous hits. At this point in time, Harrison appeared to be the ex–Beatle with the brightest future.
Mixed Success in the Seventies
However the remainder of the decade was not as kind to Harrison. His eagerly awaited second solo album, Living in the Material World, failed to live up to expectations, despite yielding a number–one hit single, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)." His next album, Dark Horse, released in 1974, got even worse reviews. The accompanying tour was disastrous. Harrison was criticized for presenting experimental and Indian music to audiences who wanted to hear Beatle songs and Harrison hits.
The tour and its reaction drained him and he fell into depression. Even worse, his marriage to wife Pattie fell apart. Reportedly, she had been having an affair with Clapton, Harrison's best friend. The couple eventually divorced in 1977; they had no children. However, Harrison was not the innocent cuckold in a classic love triangle. Harrison had cheated on his wife on several occasions, and he later said the marriage broke apart for a number of reasons. In fact, Harrison never felt that Clapton stole his wife. The two musicians remained close friends until Harrison's death. (Clapton organized the "Concert for George," an all–star Harrison tribute in 2002).
In 1976, Harrison was hit with a plagiarism suit. The publishers of the early rock and roll hit, "He's So Fine," claimed that Harrison stole the song's melody for his own hit, "My Sweet Lord." Harrison was forced to pay $587,000. Harrison albums released during the rest of the decade, even though they produced an occasional hit single, were largely unremarkable and had very little critical or commercial impact.
The same year that Harrison divorced Pattie, he met Olivia Arrias, who worked as a secretary in Harrison's Dark Horse record company. They fell in love and lived together. They had a son, Dhani, who was born on August 1, 1978, and Harrison and Arrias married in September.
Towards the end of the decade, Harrison embarked on a second career as a movie producer. He founded Handmade Films, and when he met with a measure of success, his music took a backseat to movies for a while. One of his films included the popular Monty Python comedy The Life of Brian (1979). Later successes included The Long Good Friday (1980) and the Python–esque Time Bandits (1981). In 1980, he published a memoir, I, Me, Mine, which he dedicated to "gardeners everywhere," which indicated Harrison's new passion, gardening, a hobby that occupied him until he died. Harrison also became an avid race car driver later in life.
Music Rejuvenated in the Eighties
Harrison met with musical chart success once again in 1981 with the album Somewhere in England, which included the hit single, "All Those Years Ago," a touching tribute to Lennon, who was murdered in New York City on December 10, 1980. In 1987, he released Cloud Nine, a critically and commercially successful album that included the hit single "Got My Mind Set on You." Critics called it his best work in years.
Close on the heels of that acclaim, he became involved in one of his most successful post–Beatle projects when, in 1988, he became a member of "The Traveling Wilburys," a fictional band that included Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison. The Wilburys produced two albums. The first, The Traveling Wilburys Volume 1 was a smash. After Orbison passed away in 1989, the group would produce no more albums.
Returned to the Stage
In 1992, Harrison returned to live performing for the first time since his disastrous 1974 tour. Backed up by Clapton, Harrison toured Japan. Later he appeared in England at a benefit concert and performed at an all–star Dylan tribute in New York City.
In the mid–1990s Harrison reunited with McCartney and Starr for the large–scale "Beatles Anthology" project, which included a series of recordings, video documentaries, television broadcasts, and publications devoted to the Beatles. The project also yielded two "new" Beatles songs, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love." Also in the 1990s Harrison worked as editor of Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar, which was published in 1999.
That same year, a frightening incident occurred. On December 30, in his own home, Harrison was savagely attacked by a knife–wielding, deranged male fan. Harrison survived the attack, and the man was charged with attempted murder, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The incident deeply affected Harrison who, by this time, was in poor health.
Diagnosed with Cancer
In 1997 Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer and had surgery. At first, radiation and chemotherapy seemed to have caught the disease. However, the cancer was malignant and eventually spread. In 2000, while working on a reissue of All Things Must Pass, Harrison underwent treatment for lung cancer. Later, he was found to have an inoperable brain tumor. At the time, Harrison also was working on a new album and had already released a single, "Horse to Water," that he co–wrote with his son Dhani, who had also become a musician by this time.
Harrison underwent a new type of cancer treatment therapy in a Swiss clinic, but he finally succumbed to his disease on November 29, 2001. He was staying at a friend's home in Los Angeles, California, when he died. He was 58 years old. He was survived by his wife Olivia and son Dhani. News of Harrison's death sparked global reaction, and newspapers and radio and television stations put together extensive tributes for the beloved Harrison. Harrison's final album, Brainwashed, was posthumously released in 2002 to strong reviews. On March 15, 2004, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. He had already been inducted as a member of the Beatles. His work continues to inspire and influence musicians around the globe.
Contemporary Musicians, Volume 2, Gale Research, 1989.
"George Harrison," Contemporary Authors Online,http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/BioRC (January 9, 2005).
Harrison, George, neither the most prolific nor the most successful of the former Beatles, the group member most involved in Eastern music and mysticism; b. Wavertree, Liverpool, England, Feb. 25, 1943. One of the first rock artists to express spiritual and humanitarian concerns in his music, Harrison’s first post-Beatles album, All Things Must Pass, was hailed as one of the rock masterpieces of the 1970s despite its occasional lapses into didacticism and pedantry. His humanitarian impulses produced the benefit show Concert for Bangladesh, the forerunner of mid-1980s benefits such as Live Aid. In 1974 he formed his own record company, Dark Horse, and became the first former Beatle to tour America. In 1978 Harrison and his personal manager formed Hand Made Film Productions, which became a respected force in the British film industry. A return to performing in 1987 with a new solo album, and the formation of the mock supergroup the Traveling Wilburys, brought Harrison renewed attention at the decade’s end.
George Harrison took up guitar and formed his first group, the Rebels, at age 13. In 1958 he joined Paul McCartney and John Lennon in the skiffle group the Quarrymen, but they disbanded around the end of 1959. Harrison, McCartney, and Lennon then formed the Moondogs, later changing their name to the Silver Beatles. Regularly performing at the Cavern Club in Liverpool after January 1961 and making occasional forays into Hamburg, Germany, the Beatles’ lineup was completed with the August 1962 addition of drummer Ringo Starr. Harrison, overshadowed by songwriters Lennon and McCartney, made his songwriting debut with “Don’t Bother Me” from Meet the Beatles (1964; issued as With the Beatles in the United Kingdom and on CD in the U.S./U.K.). Later Beatles songs written by Harrison included “If I Needed Someone,” “Taxman,” “Within You, Without You,” the classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Something” (his first #1 hit with the Beatles), and “Here Comes the Sun.” During his tenure with the Beatles, Harrison recorded Wonderwall Music, an Eastern- sounding instrumental album, and the experimental Electronic Sound album, one of the few releases on the short-lived Zapple label.
Although Paul McCartney did not sue for dissolution of the Beatles until December 1970, George Harrison was essentially independent of the group by the May 1970 release of Let It Be. His debut solo album, All Things Must Pass, was coproduced by Phil Spector and recorded with Eric Clapton and Billy Preston. An instant best-seller, the album yielded the top hit “My Sweet Lord” (backed with “Isn’t It a Pity”) and the near-smash “What Is Life,” as well as “Wah-Wah,” “If Not for You,” “Beware of Darkness,” and “Apple Scruffs.”
Concerned with the famine overwhelming Bangladesh, Harrison organized two benefit performances staged in N.Y.’s Madison Square Garden on Aug. 1, 1971. Enlisting the services of Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, and Leon Russell (among others), Harrison was able to coax both Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton (both in semiretirement) into performing at the charity show. The resulting multirecord set, Concert for Bangladesh, accrued hundreds of thousands of dollars for relief of the heinous situation in Bangladesh (although it took years of legal haggling for the money to be finally released).
In the meantime, George Harrison took nearly two years to complete his second solo album, Living in the Material World. Finally released in mid-1973, the album was critically lambasted despite yielding the top hit “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).” Also included were the title song as well as “Try Some Buy Some” and the satiric “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” inspired by the bickering among the former Beatles. Meanwhile, Harrison himself faced a lawsuit because of the remarkable similarities between his “My Sweet Lord” and the Chiffons’ 1963 top hit “He’s So Fine” (the melody is clearly the same).
In June 1974 Harrison announced the formation of Dark Horse Records. The label’s first signing was longtime friend Ravi Shankar, the sitar player. During November 1974 Harrison became the first former Beatle to tour the United States, with Shankar. However, the tour was met by scathing reviews, due in large part to voice problems and a muddled sound mix. The soon-released Dark Horse took another critical drubbing, although it contained two hits, “Dark Horse” and “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” and a rewritten version of the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye, Love,” an apparent indictment of Eric Clapton’s cuckolding of Harrison. (Clapton had become involved with Harrison’s then-wife, Patti Boyd, inspiring the song “Layla” the Harrisons were divorced, and Clapton married Boyd.)
Following Extra Texture and its hit “You,” George Harrison released Thirty-Three & 1/3, which produced the major hits “This Song,” which refers to the plagiarism suit regarding “He’s So Fine,” and “Crackerbox Palace.” Also in 1976, Capitol issued The Best of George Harrison, which included seven of his hits recorded by the Beatles. In March 1978 he appeared in a small part in the television special The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle’s Beatles parody. During that year Harrison formed Hand Made Film Productions with his personal manager, Denis O’Brien. The company produced the irreverent and controversial Monty Python film Life of Brian, released in 1979. Subsequent film projects included 1981’s Time Bandits, with Pythons Terry Gilliam and Michael Palin, and 1982’s The Missionary, with Palin.
In 1981 George Harrison scored a smash hit with the tribute to the slain John Lennon, “All These Years Ago,” recorded with Ringo Starr and Paul and Linda McCartney. Following 1982’s uninspired Gone Troppo, Harrison remained largely out of sight. Hand Made Films produced the wry 1985 film A Private Function, the 1986 flop Shanghai Surprise (with Madonna and then-husband Sean Penn), and the critically acclaimed Mona Lisa (1986) and Withnail and I (1987). Harrison reemerged musically in 1987 with Cloud Nine, coproduced by Jeff Lynne; it had a top hit with “Got My Mind Set on You,” originally recorded by R&B singer James Ray in 1962, and a major hit, “When We Was Fab,” which was reminiscent (in its lyrics and in its arrangement, complete with sitar) of the Beatles. In 1988 and again in 1990, Harrison recorded as one of the Traveling Wilburys with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty (and Roy Orbison in 1988); the group had a hit with Harrison’s “Handle with Care.” In late 1991 George Harrison toured Japan with Eric Clapton and his band, resulting in Live in Japan. In 1995 the three living former Beatles reunited to promote their Anthology TV/CD/video package, and recorded two new songs based on demo tapes by John Lennon that prominently featured George Harrison’s guitar work and harmony vocals.
george harrison:Wonderwall Music (1968); Electronic Sound (1969); All Things Must Pass (1970); Living in the Material World (1973); Dark Horse (1974); Extra Texture (1975); The Best of G. H.. (1976); 33 & 1/3 (1976); G. H.. (1979); Somewhere in England (1981); Gone Troppo (1982); Cloud Nine (1987); The Best of Dark Horse, 1976-1989 (1989); Live in Japan (1992). george harrison and friends:The Concert for Bangladesh (1972). the traveling wilburys:Volume One (1988); Volume 3 (1990).
Ross Michael, G. H.: Yesterday and Today (N.Y., 1977); Alan, Clayson, The Quiet One: A Life of G. H. (London, 1990).
Best-selling album since 1990: Brainwashed (2002)
George Harrison was the lead guitarist of the Beatles, the twentieth century's most influential pop group. Tagged "the quiet Beatle" in the early days of Beatles stardom, he maintained a low profile throughout his four-decade career, sidestepping the calculated moves typical of a rock star of his stature. Instead, Harrison chose to make music that was a path to personal enlightenment. His rock mysticism opened the door for future musical journeymen. The youngest Beatle, Harrison became a world music pioneer by introducing Eastern rhythms, instrumentation, and philosophy to a generation of Westerners. By organizing the Concert for Bangladesh, rock's first benefit concert, he demonstrated on a mass scale how rock culture can serve as a vehicle for raising social awareness.
Harrison worked outside the Beatles primary songwriting partnership of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, but he contributed songs to successive albums that were equal to theirs. In his role as lead guitarist, Harrison broke new ground and his introduction of the sitar to a Western pop group was unprecedented. Although Harrison made songwriting contributions to earlier Beatles albums, his breakthrough was the song "Love You To" on the band's landmark album Revolver (1966). With several Indian musicians playing the opening chord flourishes on sitars, the song erupts into a bustling rhythm accented by heavy Indian percussion.
Harrison continued to play the sitar all his life—he last recorded with it on his 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine. But when he was still with the Beatles, he further expanded the group's boundaries. On songs like "Within You Without You," "Fool on the Hill" and "Long Long Long," he demonstrated how pop music can be a conduit for meditative bliss. His songs reflected on death and God. Harrison's contemplative side was also paired with a scorching pessimism. Songs like "Taxman," "Piggies," and "I Me Mine" railed against social hypocrisy, and he joined Lennon as the group's most outspoken critics of fame.
When the Beatles broke up, Harrison recorded solo. The result was the three-vinyl collection "All Things Must Pass" (1970), a sprawling, twenty-three-track masterpiece that aimed for transcendence through country-tinged pop songs.
Harrison created his own label, Dark Horse Records, and quietly released eight solo albums, many not selling well. He also produced films and in 1979 released an autobiography. But besides a high-profile, two-album tenure with the Traveling Wilburys—a supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, and Jeff Lynne—Harrison retreated from public life.
Spot Light: Brainwashed
A year after his death came the album George Harrison fans had waited fourteen years for. Brainwashed (2002) was mostly at the demo stage when Harrison died, but he reportedly left instructions of his intentions to his son Dhani and producer and past collaborator Jeff Lynne. Some of the notes were specific—Harrison hummed string arrangements to tape and even listed the song sequence. Harrison's vocals and slide guitar playing are at the fore-front while all additional work—background vocals, drums—is seamlessly woven in behind. Harrison was no austere mystic and Brainwashed is proof. He zips along playing a ukulele on a cover of composer Hoagy Carmichael's standard "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea" and later makes Hawaiian beach music and the blues unlikely cousins in "Rocking Chair in Hawaii." The title song is the most revealing. Over several segments, a meditation is quoted by page number, along with a joke about his granny, a choice expletive, a chorus that rings "God, God, God," and an ending featuring Vedic chants. As contradictory as it all sounds, the new songs show Harrison was hardly afraid of dying. Created in the final stages of his life, it resonates with the same themes he explored in all of his music—that life is eternal and the material world is a meaningless cage. It is a perfect swan song summing up who Harrison was: a cranky spiritual seeker who played guitar so very sweetly.
In 1987 he broke his seclusion and released Cloud Nine, which yielded a number one hit, "Got My Mind Set on You." He briefly returned to touring in 1991, playing a few dates in Japan with guitarist Eric Clapton. Harrison returned to his seclusion in the 1990s, helping contribute to The Beatles Anthology, an officially sanctioned video and compact disc series documenting the group. He recorded two new Beatles songs with band mates McCartney and Ringo Starr. In 1998 he announced he had throat cancer and a year later was stabbed and nearly killed in his home by a deranged intruder who was later found not guilty for reasons of insanity. Harrison died of cancer. His album Brainwashed was released posthumously in 2002.
All Things Must Pass (Apple, 1970); Concert for Bangladesh (Apple, 1972); Living in the Material World (Apple, 1973); Dark Horse (Apple, 1974); Somewhere in England (Dark Horse, 1981); Cloud Nine (Dark Horse, 1987); Brainwashed (Capitol, 2002).