Rock Through the Ages: George Harrison 1943-2001

"I look at the world and I notice it’s turning. While my guitar gently weeps. With every mistake we must surely be learning, Still my guitar gently weeps. - George Harrison

George Harrison, the dark horse beatleGeorge Harrison was an English rock guitarist, singer-songwriter and film producer. He achieved international fame as lead guitarist in The Beatles, and is listed number 21 in Rolling Stone Magazine's list of "The 100 Best Guitarists of All Time". Often referred to as "the quiet Beatle", George Harrison embraced Indian mysticism, and helped broaden the horizons of the other Beatles as well as their Western audience. Following the band's breakup, George Harrison had a successful career as a solo artist and later as part of the Traveling Wilburys, and also as a film and record producer. George Harrison was the first Beatle to tour as a solo artist and the only one to start his own label. Most important, Harrison wrote and sang about spirituality and transcendence. George Harrison immersed himself in Indian music at Beatlemania’s height and became a lifelong devotee of Hindu religion, Krishna consciousness and Vedic philosophy.

George Harrison was born in Liverpool, England, on February 25, 1943, the last of four children. His father Harold was a bus driver and his mother Louise was a housewife. Harrison was born in the house where he lived for his first six years: 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool, which was a small 2 up, 2 down terraced house in a cul-de-sac, with an alley to the rear and around the corner from Penny Lane. George attended Dovedale Primary school, two forms behind John Lennon. At first he was a good enough scholar to pass the eleven-plus examination and go to the Liverpool Institute (the city's best high school for boys), but once in the school he began to lose interest in his lessons and failed his exams. He was also very rebellious and started wearing tight drainpipe trousers and growing his hair as long as he could, against the school's "short hair" regulations. Paul McCartney went to the same school as George (one form above) and he took the same bus as George to school. They met each other on the bus and soon found out they were both into music, so Paul introduced George to John Lennon, of whose band The Quarry Men he was a member. At first George was considered too young to join the group, but he kept hanging around with them and following them to all their party engagements and was eventually made a member of the band. Harrison became part of The Beatles when they were still a skiffle group called The Quarrymen. George Harrison was just15 when he became a full time member of the group, and was only 17 when the group changed their name to the Beatles.

George Harrison, while my guitar gently weeps for this BeatleIn August 1960 the group, consisting of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best set off for Hamburg, where they were engaged to play at the Indra Club and then, after it closed down, at the Kaiserkeller. Their collaboration ended after the Beatles started playing at the Top Ten Club, against the agreement that said they were not allowed to play anywhere within a radius of 25 miles without Koschmider's permission. Koshcmider handed them a month's termination of contract notice and soon after, the police somehow found out that George was not 18 and he ended up being deported and sent back to England. Soon the rest of the band followed, after Paul and Pete were accused by Koschmider of trying to set fire to a cinema he owned. Brian Epstein heard The Beatles and secured them an audition with Decca Records on New Year's Day 1962 which they failed to pass, but they finally got a contract with EMI's Parlophone label. Word of the Beatles grew quickly. The popularity of The Beatles led to a successful tour of America and the making of the film, A Hard Day's Night.

While filming the movie George Harrison met his future wife Pattie Boyd. Harrison's musical involvement and cohesion with the group reached its peak on Revolver in 1966 with his contribution of three songs and new musical ideas. He had already introduced the group to Indian music. Harrison first played the sitar on “Norwegian Wood” in 1965 and later in 1967 he unleashed a full-blown sitar showcase, “Within You Without You,” on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. When Delaney Bramlett  introduced Harrison to slide guitar in 1968, he became a leading exponent of that style. Harrison wrote some of the Beatles’ best-loved songs, including “If I Needed Someone,” “Taxman,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “I Me Mine.” George Harrison also figured prominently in the group’s decision to abandon live performances, where they were routinely drowned out by screams, and instead devote their time to the recording studio. Of life with the Beatles, George Harrison pithily remarked, “We met everyone in the world and never had a moment’s peace.” In 1969, Harrison purchased a sprawling rural estate known as Friar Park, and it became his refuge from the world.

George was quite pleased to go on tour with Americans Delaney & Bonnie in December of 1969 as an anonymous member of their backing group, Friends, along with Eric Clapton. He knew it was his only chance to return to the concert stage without making huge headlines in the press or been really noticed at all- he could just slip on at the back of the stage fairly unnoticed. He also produced a recording of the traditional devotional chant "Hare Krishna Mantra" by the Radha Krishna Temple in September, which surprisingly became a hit at the time. 1970 saw the official break-up of the Beatles. For George, that was a good chance to go off and record all the songs he had written that he's been holding back during the last 2 or so years. The result was All Things Must Pass, a double album with an extra disk containing a jam session from the studio. The album features guitar contributions played by Eric Clapton and many people consider it George's best solo work. Harrison’s next masterstroke was The Concert for Bangladesh, rock’s first large-scale benefit concert, organized to raise awareness and money for war-torn Bangladesh. Held on August 1, 1971, at Madison Square Garden, the star-studded affair included , Leon Russell, , and Harrison’s Indian-music mentor, Ravi Shankar. Harrison launched Dark Horse, a record label (distributed by A&M) that would release albums by himself and others, including Ravi Shankar and Splinter. George Harrison's ambitions were modest: “I want it to be reasonably small,” he said.

By calling his new album and label Dark Horse, George Harrison was implicitly stating that the Beatles’ dark horse, “The one that nobody’s bothered to put any money on,” said Harrison, was coming in a winner. Keeping to himself for much of the Eighties,  George Harrison laid low at homes in England and Maui while pursuing such hobbies as Formula One car racing and gardening. George Harrison re-emerged in 1987 with Cloud Nine, a spirited comeback. “We used real guitars, real keyboards, real drums and real people playing real songs,” he noted wryly. Coproduced by Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, Cloud Nine was Harrison’s most Beatlesque solo record. Harrison’s next project was the Traveling Wilburys, a low-key supergroup consisting of Harrison, Lynne, , and Roy Orbison. It was Harrison’s first band since the Beatles. Their low-key albums ,Volume One and Vol. 3  were as pleasurable as they were unexpected. The last ten years of Harrison’s life were largely lived out of the limelight. In I Me Mine, a book of lyrics with autobiographical notes, George Harrison wrote, “I’m really quite simple. I don’t want to be in the business full time because I’m a gardener. I plant flowers and watch them grow. I don’t go out to clubs and partying. I stay at home and watch the river flow.”
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George Harrison
Musician- Guitarist for the Beatles and Traveling Wilburys
Songs include "While my Guitar gently Weeps", "Cloud Nine" , “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun” and “I Me Mine.”