George Harrison became known to millions of fans in the 1960s as the lead guitarist in The Beatles. George’s guitar sound, style, innovative techniques, and personal choices of musical instruments influenced a generation of musicians. George shared his explorations into non-Western music and spirituality with The Beatles global audience, and as a result redefined perceptions and boundaries in Western culture.
George developed dramatically as a songwriter while in The Beatles and contributed significant compositions to their extraordinary song catalog including “Something,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Taxman,” and “Within You Without You.” In 2019 “Here Comes the Sun” was named as the most streamed and downloaded song by The Beatles, 50 years after it’s initial release.
George was born in Liverpool, England on February 25, 1943. As a child he developed a love of music through his mother Louise’s singing and from his father Harold’s collection of 78 rpm records, including discs by Hoagy Carmichael, Jimmie Rodgers, ukulele player George Formby, and British music hall music. He acquired his first guitar around his 13th birthday and built his formative playing style on a foundation of skiffle chords and rockabilly riffs, inspired by Lonnie Donegan, Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins, as well as the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. George’s inventive lead guitar parts were carefully crafted melodic arrangements within The Beatles songs.
George’s sitar performance on The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” in 1966 was the first rock recording to feature the Indian classical music instrument. George became a devoted student to sitar master Ravi Shankar and Western musicians took much notice, quickly adopting instruments and compositional elements from Indian classical music. George made pilgrimages to India to learn more about the music and the transcendental subjects that resonated deeply with him. Speaking publicly about his spiritual journey gave The Beatles an important voice in the ‘counterculture’ social revolution of the late 1960s.
His immersion into non-Western music allowed George to develop his tunes into territory not traveled by most rock and roll songwriters. He developed musically into a master of sophisticated harmony, using odd time signatures, dissonance, and diminished/augmented “naughty” chords as colors in his pallet to craft songs.
George’s musical explorations led to his 1968 Wonderwall Music soundtrack album, with sessions recorded in Bombay, India, and the 1969 experimental Electronic Sound Moog synthesizer album.
George was writing more and had a backlog of unused songs by 1969. The last official Beatles recording session before their breakup was George’s “I Me Mine” in January 1970. When The Beatles ended it was daunting for each of them, as solo artists, to follow the extraordinary output of their collective efforts, but George rose to the occasion, with a progression of brilliant and successful albums that stand as narrative chapters to his remarkable life.
When All Things Must Pass was released in November in 1970 it became the first triple LP of all new material issued by a single rock artist. The album was co- produced by Phil Spector and includes the hits "My Sweet Lord" and "What Is Life", as well as a flood of stellar George compositions including “Behind That Locked Door,” "Isn't It a Pity," “Wah-Wah,” “Beware of Darkness,” “Apple Scruffs, “All Things Must Pass,” and the album’s opening track, “I’d Have You Anytime,” co-written with Bob Dylan. The album, co-produced by George with Phil Spector, stayed at the #1 position on the UK LP charts for eight weeks, and at #1 on the US LP charts for seven weeks. Since it’s release All Things Must Pass has been the highest selling solo album by any of The Beatles and continues to be considered George’s masterwork.
During this transition from Beatle to solo artist, George introduced a beautiful and pristine slide-guitar style that added another dimension of melodic composition and texture, and is considered his signature guitar sound. It was used to great effect in singles that he produced for other artists around this time, including Badfinger’s “Day After Day” and Ringo Starr’s “Back Off Boogaloo.” George became very active as a producer for many of Apple Records’ artists including Billy Preston, Jackie Lomax, Doris Troy, The Radha Krishna Temple, Badfinger, and Ringo Starr.
In 1971 George organized ‘The Concert for Bangladesh’ in response to Ravi Shankar’s plea to bring attention and relief funds to the famine-ravaged nation. The concert, held at Madison Square Garden, featured George with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Ravi Shankar, Leon Russell, Ringo Starr, Klaus Voormann and Billy Preston. It was the first multi-artist rock benefit concert of it’s kind and is considered the model for concerts that followed. The Concert for Bangladesh was released on film and as a triple live album that won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1973.
Living in the Material World was released in 1973 and went to #1 in the US, Canada and Australia, and #2 in the UK. "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" hit #1 on the US singles chart. The Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner ‘double-drummer’ sound, first experienced at the Concert for Bangladesh, was in strong effect here, including on “Don’t Let Me Wait Too Long” and the title song “Living in the Material World.”
George founded the Material World Charitable Foundation in 1973 to encourage and support diverse cultural expression and provide funding to established charities for people in crisis. He assigned his publishing royalties from Living in the Material World, including the hit single "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)," to the foundation, in perpetuity, and the Foundation’s work continues today under the guidance of the Harrison Estate.
George’s next album, Dark Horse, was released in 1974 during a time of turmoil in George’s personal life and in an interview for the album he said, “I'm a musician, I'm not a talker, and if you just get my album it's like Peyton Place, it will tell you exactly what I've been doing.” The album featured highly personal songs like “So Sad” and
Simply Shady” and produced two hit singles, "Dark Horse" and "Ding Dong, Ding Dong.”
In November and December of 1974 George embarked on his first tour as a solo artist. Co-headlining with Ravi Shankar, they played 45 shows in 26 cities in North America. George’s live band included Billy Preston, Tom Scott, Willie Weeks, Andy Newmark, and Jim Keltner. George introduced a highly respected group of Indian classical musicians to audiences across North America, including Shiv Kumar Sharma on Santoor, Hariprasad Chaurasia, flautist; legendry tabla player Alla Rakha, Sultan Khan on Sarangi; L. Subramaniam, South Indian Violin; Lakshmi Shankar &
T.V. Gopalkrishnan, vocalists; not to mention Ravi Shankar himself. George insisted on an shared billing even though promoters and fans would have preferred more Beatle songs and less Indian classical music. Many of the Indian musicians on the tour went on to become major exponents of Indian classical music to the world.
George founded his Dark Horse Record label in 1974. Ravi Shankar’s “I Am Missing You” and Splinter’s “Costafine Town” were the label’s first two releases. Continuing the role of producer that he had enjoyed with Apple Records’ artists at Abbey Road Studios, George could now produce his artists at his own Friar Park Studio. Over the next several years George released an eclectic range of music that reflected his personal taste, including The Stairsteps—a Chicago soul group, and Attitudes—Jim Keltner’s band of L.A. studio wizards.
George’s final album for Apple Records was 1975’s Extra Texture (Read All About It), with the uplifting hit single "You" and soulful songs "Tired of Midnight Blue" "The Answer's at the End," "This Guitar (Can't Keep from Crying)," and “Can’t Stop Thinking About You.”
Thirty Three & 1/3 was George’s first album release on his Dark Horse Records. The 1976 release includes the hit singles "This Song" and "Crackerbox Palace", as well as outstanding tracks like "Learning How to Love You," "Woman Don't You Cry for Me," "Beautiful Girl," and Cole Porter’s “True Love.”
George settled into a more peaceful family life at Friar Park, married Olivia Trinidad Arias, became a father to Dhani, and focused more on his gardening than making music. The George Harrison album was released in 1979 and includes the upbeat hit single "Blow Away" and the songs "Love Comes to Everyone," "Here Comes the Moon," “Dark Sweet Lady,” and "Faster." George co-produced the album with Russ Titelman.
The first edition of I Me Mine, George’s autobiographical book of lyrics, was published in 1980. The book is a combination of printed lyrics, color reproductions of the original handwritten lyrics, photos, and George telling his story and commenting on the songs through extensive conversations with Derek Taylor. In 2017 I Me Mine: The Extended Edition was published to include 59 additional songs, Olivia Harrison’s introduction, and new original cover art by Shepard Fairey.
Somewhere in England was released in 1981 included a track that was originally intended for Ringo titled "All Those Years Ago." George updated the lyrics to honor John Lennon, and the song features Ringo on drums with Paul, Linda & Denny Laine on backing vocals. The single went to #2 in the US and was George’s biggest hit since “Give Me Love.” The album was co-produced by Ray Cooper and featured “Life Itself," “That Which I Have Lost,” and “Teardrops”.
Gone Troppo, released in 1982, was perhaps George’s most eclectic album. The album includes doo-wop with “I Really Love You,” the Caribbean rhythms of “Gone Troppo,” a beautiful ballad “Unknown Delight,” and some heavy synthesizer based songs like “Love Comes to Everyone.” George co-produced the album with Ray Cooper and Phil McDonald. The jumble of styles left fans and critics a bit mystified but in retrospect it’s a fun record that also includes fan favorite “Dream Away,” written by George for the Terry Gilliam film ‘Time Bandits.”
After financially rescuing ‘Monty Python's Life of Brian’ George became a film producer and for the next two decades Handmade Films produced seminal British films such as Terry Gilliam’s ‘Time Bandits’; Neil Jordan’s ‘Mona Lisa’; Bruce Robinson’s cult classic ‘Withnail and I; ‘The Long Good Friday’, starring Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren; Nicolas Roeg’s ‘Track 29,’ and many more. Handmade Films was an iconic indie film company that encouraged a cutting edge of British writing, directing and acting talent to create films that otherwise would not have found a home.
George’s next album was co-produced with Jeff Lynne of ELO. Cloud Nine came out in 1987 to much acclaim. The album was on the top ten album charts in the US and UK, and George’s cover of Rudy Clark's "Got My Mind Set on You" became his first US #1 single in fifteen years. “Devil’s Radio,” “When We Was Fab," and "Cloud 9" were also released as singles. When it was time to release the final single, “This is Love,” George had an idea for the extra B-side. Gathering together Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty, they wrote, recorded, and co-sang “Handle with Care.”
The song was saved from B-side status and the five troubadours took on brotherly pseudonyms to become the Traveling Wilburys, resulting in two albums of new songs over the next two years. Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was released in 1988 and spent 53 weeks on the US charts, achieved triple-platinum status, and won
a Grammy Award in 1989. “Handle With Care” and “End of the Line” charted as singles. Their second album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3., was released in 1990. The album was certified platinum in the US and featured radio hits “She’s My Baby” and “Inside Out.” In 2007 the two albums and a DVD were released as The Traveling Wilburys Collection and debuted at #1 on the UK album charts.
In 1991 George went on tour for the first time since 1974, backed by Eric Clapton and his band for twelve shows in Japan. In 1991 the double-album Live in Japan was released to flattering response and reviews. Highlights included “Taxman” “Cheer Down,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and “Something.”
Early in 1995 George, Paul and Ringo came together to complete two songs that John Lennon had written and recorded in 1979 and 1980. “Free as a Bird” was featured on The Beatles Anthology documentary and Anthology 1 compilation album in 1995. “Real Love” was released in 1996 on Anthology 2. The Beatles Anthology project included a documentary, a trilogy of albums, and a book.
Jeff Lynne and Dhani worked with George on his final album and took detailed notes on how unfinished songs should be completed. George passed away on November 29, 2001. Within a few months Jeff and Dhani completed work on the album and Brainwashed was released in November of 2002. The album included two singles, “Stuck inside a Cloud” and “Any Road,” plus the beautiful "Marwa Blues" which won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
George received many awards during his lifetime including being appointed an MBE by the Queen, 1965; “Something” wins the Ivor Novello Best Song Award, 1969; an Academy Award as a member of The Beatles for Original Song Score for the Let it Be film, 1970; Album of the Year Grammy Award for The Concert for Bangladesh, 1972; the asteroid ‘4149 Harrison’ was named after him, 1984; inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of The Beatles, 1988; Cloud Nine, certified RIAA
6x Multi-Platinum, 1988, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals Grammy Award for Traveling Wilburys Volume One, 1989; George was the first recipient of The Billboard Century Award, 1992; All Things Must Pass, certified RIAA 6x Multi-Platinum, 2001.
George has been honored and remembered in many ways since his passing: The Grammy Award winning Concert for George, 2002; the British Independent Film Awards Lifetime Achievement Award; 2002; posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist, 2004; Grammy Award for “Marwa Blues,” 2004; The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF established in 2005; A Garden for George, 2008; The Concert for Bangladesh DVD box set certified RIAA 4x Multi- Platinum, 2008; Hollywood Walk Of Fame Star, 2009; Emmy winning, Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World documentary with related book, soundtrack and Grammy Museum exhibit, 2011; George Harrison: The Apple Years, 2014; George Fest, 2014; Grammy ‘Hall of Fame Award’ for All Things Must Pass, 2014; Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, 2015; HariSongs record label, 2016; I Me Mine: The Extended Edition; 2017.
George was a singer, songwriter, musician, spiritual student and teacher, music producer, film producer, philanthropist, friend, husband, father, ukulele aficionado, and keen gardener. He reflected his spirituality and struggle with the material world with deep sincerity in his songs. He came to the aid of his friends when needed with
the full power of his abilities and resources. His philanthropy continues through the Material World Foundation and The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF. George’s songs live on through his albums and continue to bring great pleasure, inspiration, and comfort to people around the world.
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