George Harrison

George Harrison was lead guitarist, songwriter and singer with The Beatles. Although often overshadowed by the partnership of Lennon and McCartney during the band's lifetime, he emerged as a significant talent in his own right.

The early years

Harrison was born on 25 February 1943 in the family home at 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool.

His parents were Harold and Louise Harrison, who had roots in Ireland. They had three other children: Louise, Harry and Peter, all of whom were older than George.

George Harrison with his family, 1940s

In 1950 the family moved to 25 Upton Green in Speke. George went to school at Dovedale Road, where he passed his 11 Plus and gained a place at the Liverpool Institute for Boys, a local grammar school.

He attended the Institute between 1954 and 1959. Not an especially gifted child academically, Harrison struggled as a student and left without any qualifications. He had trouble relating to his teachers, and insisted on wearing tight jeans and long hair, much to his parents consternation.

George Harrison playing the guitar, circa 1950In 1959 Harrison formed a skiffle group, The Rebels, with his brother Peter and a friend, Arthur Kelly. Harrison's mother bought him a guitar for £3, and the group's debut gig at the British Legion club in Speke earned them 10 shillings.

Harrison considered becoming an apprentice engineer after leaving school, but music dominated his passions and he performed with a number of fledgling groups in Liverpool. In 1958 he met the Quarrymen, whose ranks included Paul McCartney, a friend of Harrison's from the Institute.

Although Harrison was considered too young to join the group, he did fill in when their regular guitarist Eric Griffiths was unavailable. Eventually he was accepted as a full member, despite the reservations of the Quarrymen founder and leader, John Lennon.

Paul introduced me to George and I had to make the decision whether to let George in. I listened to George play and said, 'Play Raunchy' [a 1958 hit for saxophonist Bill Justis]. Then I said, 'OK, you can come in.'

I couldn't be bothered with him when he first came around. He used to follow me around like a bloody kid, hanging around all the time. He was a kid who played guitar and he was a friend of Paul's which made it easier. It took me years to come around to him, to start considering him as an equal.

John Lennon

George Harrison in the Cavern Club, LiverpoolThe band became Johnny and the Moondogs, and later the Silver Beetles. Their first trip to Hamburg in August 1960 took place while Harrison was just 17, and the Reeperbahn, the red light district where they played, proved an educative experience: "Everybody around the district were homosexuals, transvestites, pimps and hookers and I was in the middle of that, aged 17," he said.

The first trip ended in Harrison's deportation for working under-age. When they returned in March 1961 The Beatles had become more assured as performers, and in June cut their first single, My Bonnie, as the backing band for Tony Sheridan. For this they were paid 300 marks with no royalties.

At the band's first recording session for EMI, producer George Martin tried to ease the band's nerves by saying, "Let me know if there's anything you don't like". "Well, for a start," replied Harrison, "I don't like your tie." This led to a succession of jokes being cracked in the studio, which endeared the band to the EMI staff.

As Beatlemania took hold, John Lennon and Paul McCartney dominated the group's output: "There was an embarrassing period when George's songs weren't that good and nobody wanted to say anything," John Lennon later said. "He just wasn't in the same league for a long time - that's not putting him down, he just hadn't had the practice as a writer that we'd had."

Known as "the quiet one" of The Beatles, Harrison's first published composition was Don't Bother Me, which he wrote while ill in a hotel room in Bournemouth in the summer of 1963. It appeared on their second album With The Beatles.

George Harrison

Harrison was later dismissive of Don't Bother Me, saying "It was a fairly crappy song. I forgot all about it completely once it was on the album... At least it showed me that all I needed to do was keep on writing and then maybe eventually I would write something good."

During The Beatles' first US tour, Rickenbacker gave Harrison a 12-string electric guitar - a 360/12 model. The instrument became characteristic of The Beatles early to mid 1960s sound, particularly on the A Hard Day's Night album, and influenced many other bands including The Byrds.

Harrison sang at least one song on all The Beatles' albums, though as a songwriter he remained in the shadow of Lennon and McCartney. Following Don't Bother Me, his next self-penned songs were I Need You and You Like Me too Much, on 1965's Help! album.

Indian music

George Harrison's interest in Indian music was awoken by a scene in the Help! film. While making the film, a Hindu devotee gave each member of The Beatles a book on reincarnation, which led to a fascination with many aspects of Eastern religion, culture and philosophy.

The Byrds' David Crosby introduced him to the music of Ravi Shankar during a US tour in 1965, and he became fascinated by the sitar. He became friends with Shankar, who became his sitar teacher.

Harrison became the first Western musician to play a sitar on a pop record. The song was Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), on the 1965 album Rubber Soul.

After Norwegian Wood I met Ravi Shankar in London for dinner. He offered to give me instruction in the basics of the sitar. It was the first time I had ever really learnt music with a bit of discipline. Then I listened to Indian music for the next two years and hardly touched the guitar except for recording.
George Harrison

George and Pattie Harrison, 1966For 1966's Revolver he recorded Love You To, which featured no Western instrumentation. Following the recording of that album, he went on a pilgrimage to India with his wife Pattie. The couple had met during the filming of A Hard Day's Night, and married on 21 January 1966.

Pattie introduced George to transcendental meditation, and in 1968 they, along with the rest of The Beatles and their partners, travelled to India to study with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Although the band later fell out with the Maharishi, Harrison continued his interest in Eastern philosophy. He embraced the Hare Krishna tradition, and in 1969 produced the single Hare Krishna Mantra by the Radha Krishna Temple.

32 responses on “George Harrison

  1. Wes

    Read this snippet in a BBC article today:
    “Meanwhile, George spent years sniping at Paul in public. The two men briefly reunited with Ringo in the mid-90s, but George soon pulled the plug.
    Most embarrassingly, George, Ringo and Yoko all sued Paul in 1985, when they discovered that he was making more from the group’s records than they were.”
    (http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8243000/8243561.stm)

    Was wondering if you could shed some light, particularly on George’s sniping at Macca.

    1. Joe Post author

      I’m sure the examples are out there in interviews from the time, but I don’t have any to hand. This extract from the Anthology book (2000) should explain the situation though:

      “Personally I’d found that for the last couple of albums – probably since we stopped touring – the freedom to be able to play as a musician was being curtailed, mainly by Paul. There used to be situation where we’d go in (as we did when we were kids), pick up our guitars, all learn the tune and chords and start talking about arrangements.

      “But there came a time, possibly around the time of Sgt Pepper (which was maybe why I didn’t enjoy that so much), where Paul had fixed an idea in his brain as to how to record one of his songs. He wasn’t open to anybody else’s suggestions. John was always much more open when it came to how to record one of his songs.

      “With Paul, it was taken to the most ridiculous situations, where I’d open my guitar case and go to get my guitar out and he’d say, ‘No, no we’re not doing that yet. We’re gonna do a piano track with Ringo, and then we’ll do that later.’ It got so there was very little to do, other than sit round and hear him going, ‘Fixing a hole…’ with Ringo keeping the time. Then he’d overdub the bass and whatever else.

      “It became stifling, so that although this new album was supposed to break away from that type of recording (we were going back to playing live) it was still very much that kind of situation where he already had in his mind what he wanted. Paul wanted nobody to play on his songs until he decided how it should go. For me it was like: ‘What am I doing here? This is painful!’

      “Then superimposed on top of that was Yoko, and there were negative vibes at that time. John and Yoko were out on a limb. I don’t think he wanted much to be hanging out with us, and I think Yoko was pushing him out of the band, inasmuch as she didn’t want him hanging out with us.

      “It’s important to state that a lot of water has gone under the bridge and that, as we talk now, everybody’s good friends and we have a better understanding of the past. But talking about what was happening at that time, you can see it was strange.”

      As for the court case, on Monday 25 February 1985 it was reported that George, Ringo and Yoko filed an $8.6m lawsuit against Paul for breach of contract, alleging that he was earning a “preferential royalty from Beatles records to the others, as an incentive for him to re-sign with Capitol as a solo artist.” McCartney’s lawyers admitted this was true, but pointed out that Capitol did not decrease the royalties of the others.

  2. robert

    It is tempting to pigeon hole any of the four into pre-determined ideas of their personalities etc., and when it comes to George it’s easy to see him as a gentle soul.

    But one ought to remember that at the time of John’s death, he and George were not on speaking terms at all.
    Something that apparently cast a shadow over George’s final years.

    Point being – they were just blokes – incredibly gifted and talented blokes but filled with all the human flaws the rest of us have.

    1. Joseph Brush

      There is a Rolling Stone interview in the 1980’s in which George stated that he visited John in the Dakota in the late 1970’s. Both guys felt constrained in their conversation due to Yoko’s presence and that John appeared to be trapped in the domestic situation.

  3. sara

    i was only little when he died but i just really wish he was still alive. he was a great and inspiring man who changed many peoples lives along with all the other beatles. life is precious and he knew it was close to the end for him.

  4. JM

    I just discovered your website last couple of days and it’s fantastic.
    I was wondering about same question Wes did. Because it’s strange that, after The Beatles break up, George, John and Ringo worked together in their albums. In fact, Ringo worked with everyone ’til this days.
    But Paul was another story. I assume George and John never invited him to play again in their albums. Only Ringo. And I don’t know if Paul did invite any of them to play in his albums.
    An interesting story to write would be The Beatles relationship after The Beatles.
    Who visited who? How often? How much time did George need in order to forgive Paul? And forgive him for what? And his distance with John after Imagine was caused by the Concert for Bangladesh, when he did invite John but without Yoko? For example: what do we know about the visits they did to each other in the 70’s? The famous story of Paul and John with Saturday Night Live… If they spent the whole day together, how it was like? (because the movie Two of us is a fiction about it) Or the scene in the movie of Linda McCartney Story, where the visited john and Yoko on Christmas and they almost didn’t talk at all.
    Because it seems like George was particularly over-sensitive and resented things for many years. And Paul was his friend since childhood. But, on the other hand, it seems like Paul realy peased everybody off for a really long time and no just once.
    Ringo was the one who achieved something the others couldn’t: be the link between them, be the union between divided parts. It’s a beautiful characteristic of a leader, far away from the cold results. It’s a shame he seemed to stop trying.
    Somebody has more about this topic?
    Thanks!!!!!!!!!

    1. Joseph Brush

      Well JM, the not talking phase between friends, siblings, or relations can go on for a long time. A unifying presence such as Ringo can be nullified over time by a number of reasons such as having his own problems and just being fed up with trying for some kind of reconciliation. The differences in personality traits of each former Beatle was a huge barrier to overcome. The deaths of John and George could also inhibit talking things out due to shock with tangible regrets to follow. The Beatles, after all, were only human.

    2. David Diamond

      I’d love to know the answers to all of these! Is there a book that one (or more) of them has written that is an authorized biography of how things went from their particular point of views? I’ve read a lot of stuff over the years but I never know whether it is just rumor or direct from one of the Beatles themselves.

  5. Thomas Joy (@Motyoj)

    I live in Southern Illinois and went to Benton yesterday. George and Peter visited their sister Louise there in 1963. They erected a plaque there honoring his visit 50 years ago. It was awesome! Louise was there speaking and signing autographs. George enjoyed his stay here. He stayed for two weeks and went camping, played with the Four Vests at the local V.F.W. and bought a guitar in Mt. Vernon. I loved the Beatles and especially George. I think he got the short end of the stick when it came to putting songs on their albums. John once said of Abbey Road, “The two best songs on the record are George’s.” (Here Comes The Sun, and Something) All those years ago…my, my.

  6. Tom

    What about “Do you want to know a secret ” and “I’m happy just to dance with you” as early signs that his songwriting was on par with the more celebrated duo?

  7. Bongo

    I can’t believe that “I” one of the biggest Beatles fans in the world, did not know that the remaining 3 Beatles played on this song????? It should be right up there with “Free As A Bird” & “Real Love” as far as Beatles songs go!

  8. Roland Violette

    “Young Blood”(recorded at 1 june 1963 for “Live at the BBC”) is George Harrisson singing in a way unknown after this period. He performs in a great way as good as John and Paul. He seams very happy with his voice, has a large tessitura. So I ask if somebody may explain what happened to him after that time.
    (Sorry, I am French and like most of us I am very bad in other Languages but very close to England!) Thousand Thanks for reply!
    Violet

  9. Richard Boene

    I just read that a memorial tree that had been planted in George Harrison’s honor was killed by beetles.

    I don’t know whether to cry or laugh.

  10. NEIL

    I think it would be appropriate to plant a weeping Atlas cedar to commemorate George since this tree is mentioned in one of his finest songs ‘Beware of Darkness’, although the climatic conditions in LA may not be suitable where the dead memorial tree was located.

  11. cold turkey 1987

    Harrisons tracks are incredibly underrated and underplayed due to in part the massive amount of songs the mccartney, lennon songwriting pact put out. Only a northern song should have taken when im 64s place. I feel some of the most overlooked harrison tracks include long, long, long , blue jay way. and old browne shoe. I suppose the upside to him only getting two tracks per album, except on pepper, is that he had so many perfect tracks that made all things must pass the best solo album by any beatle.

  12. Brad

    I was aware of the best group the world has ever known ,and in my opinion will ever know in my youth. As The Beatles they were four of the most talented musicians in the world that happened to bump into each other at this time and place in history. George was was a silent master just at rest until his time came. And come it did. What can you say? Absolutely nothing. Just be glad you were here when they were Fab.

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