George Harrison - Biography
By J Poet
George Harrison will always be known as “The Quiet Beatle,” and while his life after the Beatles didn’t generate the headlines that John Lennon and Paul McCartney did, he continued to make great music and produce groundbreaking films until his death in 2001.
Harrison was born in Liverpool in 1943 and grew up in a housing block (public housing project.) His first guitar fell apart while he was playing it, and he gave up on music. Finally, one of his older brothers taught him a few chords, and he slowly became proficient playing along to country and early rock records, particularly the music of Carl Perkins, Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins, Buddy Holly, and Eddie Cochran. His first band was The Rebels, a skiffle band he started with his brother. Harrison became friends with Paul McCartney during grammar school at the Liverpool Institute for Boys. When John Lennon started his skiffle band, The Quarry Men, he asked Harrison to join on lead guitar. McCartney was already in the group. The Quarry Men became the Silver Beatles and later The Beatles, and made history.
Lennon and McCartney dominated the Beatles songwriting process, but Harrison contributed the hits “If I Needed Someone,” “Taxman,” “Love You Too,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Something.” His lead guitar work was known for its melodic content and sharp, focused solos. The Beatles were still viable when Harrison made Wonderwall Music (1968 Apple, 1992 Capitol) the first Beatle solo album and the first record on the Beatle’s Apple logo. It was a soundtrack for the film Wonderwall, a combination of Indian, rock and country impulses. Electronic Sound (1968 Apple, 2001 Capitol) followed, one of the first electronic music albums ever made. He also co-wrote “Badge” with Eric Clapton for Cream’s last album, Goodbye (1969 Atco).
After the Beatles disintegrated, Harrison released the three album set All Things Must Pass (1970 Apple, 2001 Capitol) with Phil Spector producing. Its 23 songs covered a lot of ground and produced the hits “Isn't It a Pity,” “What Is Life” and “My Sweet Lord.” The album made #1 on the charts and went platinum, but “My Sweet Lord” generated a lawsuit that claimed “My Sweet Lord” borrowed illegally from The Chiffons “He’s So Fine.”
In 1971 Harrison organized The Concert for Bangladesh, which played two nights at Madison Square Garden to help raise money the victims of famine in Bangladesh. Performers included Harrison, Dylan, Badfinger, Eric Clapton, and Ravi Shankar and spawned a three LP set The Concert for Bangladesh (1971 Apple, 2001 Rhino) and a concert film/DVD The Concert for Bangladesh (2005 Rhino). The Concert for Bangladesh won Harrison his first poet-Beatles Grammy for Album Of The Year. (With the Beatles, Harrison won Grammys for Best New Artist Of 1964 for A Hard Day’s Night (1964 United Artists, 1995 Capitol), Best Performance By A Vocal Group for “A Hard Day's Night” from A Hard Day's Night (1964 United Artists, 1995 Capitol), Best Contemporary Album and Album Of The Year for Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967 Capitol, 1991 Capitol) in 1967, and Best Original Score Written For A Motion Picture Or A Television Special for Let It Be (1970 Apple, 1995 Capitol).
Living in the Material World (1973 Apple, 2006 Apple/Capitol) was a diverse collection that featured Harrison’s fine slide guitar and the hits “Give Me Love,” and the bitter “Sue Me, Sue You Blues,” as well as two fine Harrison pop tunes “Try Some Buy Some” and “That Is All.” The album went platinum, but got slammed by critics at the time for being too spiritual and self-indulgent. It went gold but only hit #38 on the charts.
Just before his first solo tour, Harrison dropped Dark Horse (1974 Apple, 1980 Capitol) made with Tom Scott’s LA Express. The album bombed in the UK although it went to #5 in the US and went gold. Extra Texture (1975 Apple, 1992 Capitol), included “You”, and “This Guitar (Can’t Keep From Crying),” the first Beatles released single that didn’t get onto the US charts. It went gold, but was the last album on Apple; the company went under later that year.
Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976 Dark Horse) was Harrison’s first record for his new Dark Horse logo and included the minor hit “This Song.” The album went to #11 on the charts. George Harrison (1979 Dark Horse) included the Top 20 single “Blow Away.” In 1980 Harrison published his biography I Me Mine.
Somewhere in England (1981 Dark Horse, 1991 Dark Horse) was Harrison’s response to the murder of John Lennon. “All Those Years Ago,” a tribute to Lennon, which featured Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, went to #2 in the US and the album earned a gold record. Gone Troppo (1982 Dark Horse, 1991 Dark Horse) was the first Harrison album to miss going gold and was savaged by critics. He didn’t make another album until Cloud Nine (1987 Dark Horse, 1991 Dark Horse) a collaboration with producer, Beatles fan, and ex-ELO mastermind Jeff Lynne. It was full of short, tuneful pop gems and was hailed as a return to form. It went gold, hit #8 on the album charts in the US and included the hits “Got My Mind Set on You” which went #1 and “When We Was Fab,” a look back at his days in The Beatles. He made videos for several tracks, which became MTV staples. His work with Lynne on Cloud Nine led to The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 (1988 Warners) a fictional band with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty that was written and recorded in two weeks. The album was a runaway hit and won a Grammy for Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal.
Harrison’s film company, Hand Made Films, also took off in the 80s. He helped produce the Monty Python film The Life of Brian, the British crime drama Mona Lisa, Time Bandits, and the cult film Withnail and I that dealt with two hippies facing up to the year 1970 and the end of the counterculture. The Best of Dark Horse 1976-1989 (1989 Dark Horse) collected the Harrison’s hits for his own label. In 1990 The Traveling Wilburys returned to pay tribute to their fallen comrade Roy Orbison. The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 3 (1990 Warner) was not the best album Harrison was ever associated with and was only modestly successful.
In 1991 Harrison toured Japan, his first public appearances since his aborted US tour of 1974. Between 1994 and 96 he reunited with McCartney and Starr to put together a three volumes CD set called The Beatles Anthology. They finished two new “Beatles Songs” in the process by overdubbing parts onto demos John Lennon made before his death. “Free As a Bird” was a Top 10 hit and “Real Love” reached #4 on the US charts, the last ever Beatles singles. Beatles Anthology, Vol. 1 (1995 Capital) won three Grammys - Best Music Video, Short Form for “Free As a Bird,” Best Music Video, Long Form for the documentary about the making of the Beatles Anthology, Vol. 1 and Best Pop Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal for the track “Free As a Bird.”
Harrison was working on a new album in 1997, when he was diagnosed with throat cancer. He had an operation to remove tumors from his neck and lungs, but said he was going to recover. In 1999, a stalker invaded Harrison’s home and stabbed him in the stomach and chest.
Harrison played on the Electric Light Orchestra’s come back album Zoom (2001 Epic) and with Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings on Double Bill (2001 Koch). In 2001, Harrison found out the cancer had metastasized to his brain. He died on November 29th, 2001. His son Dani and Jeff Lynne finished the album he was working on. Brainwashed (2002 Capitol) turns out to be one of Harrison’s strongest records, an folk-like outing full of fine new tunes. One of its tracks, “Marwa Blues,” won a Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance in 2003.