In the studio

George Harrison’s first cancer diagnosis occurred in 1997, and he retreated from public view to undergo treatment. He also worked to complete a number of half-unfinished recordings.

In June 1999 Harrison invited Billboard writer Timothy White to Friar Park. The interview was granted to coincide with The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine Songtrack, yet that album was barely touched upon. Instead Harrison spoke about his projects, including the reissue of his back catalogue and a forthcoming album which he claimed would be titled Portrait Of A Leg End.

The interview shone a light on Harrison’s home and working life, and included several tantalising snippets of information. His next album, we were told, would include a cover version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Every Grain Of Sand’, a “potent power ballad” titled ‘Valentine’, and three songs which made it onto Brainwashed: ‘Pisces Fish’, ‘Run So Far’, and the title track.

It’s long after 1 a.m. when Harrison winds up his kaleidoscopic torrent of timeless tapes with his own lustrous, harmony-steeped version of ‘Run So Far’, the poignant song he gave to Eric Clapton for his old chum’s 1989 Journeyman album. George muses that it might fit well with the more current efforts he’s culled for the new record, and it’s true. It shares their same startling openness and intimacy, heralding what could well be the most stunningly personal omnibus he’s ever offered to his fans. What, Harrison is asked, will he call this wholly novel album when it’s finally done?

George indicates a lined notepad laid on a corner of the mixing console, on which has been sketched a simple outline of a human foot from the ankle downward. Penned above it is the title ‘Portrait Of A Leg End’.

His eyes twinkle as his guest gets the gag, and then he adds, “Maybe I could draw a boot on the foot for my boxed set of old demos, outtakes, and unreleased stuff, and I’ll call THAT ‘Portrait of a Boot Leg’.”

Billboard, 19 June 1999

Another prospective title was Your Planet Is Doomed: Volume One, as reported by Reuters in December 2000: “The world is just going mental as far as I’m concerned,” he told the news agency. “It’s speeding up with the whole technology and everything that’s happening.”

Drummer Jim Keltner added his parts after George and Dhani Harrison had laid down guitars and guide vocals. Keltner’s sessions took place in 1999, but recording stopped after George was stabbed by an intruder in December.

The drums were done really quickly after George had done the basic tracks. He had laid down the guitars and the rough vocals with Dhani. That’s what I played to. It was fun. Then we heard that he’d had an intruder. He and Olivia came to town and asked us to come to their hotel, quite late. They sat together in front of us and they wanted to tell us everything. It was like they needed to; it was cathartic. George’s arms were fresh with the scars, purple – they were just healing. You could see where the knife had plunged down and out, all in a line. It was remarkably ugly and frightening, the story even more so. It turns out the alarm system hadn’t been activated in a long time. George didn’t want to live like that. The wound through his lung – the good lung, the other one – was still healing from cancer – basically did the job. That was it.
Jim Keltner
Uncut, May 2020

On 28 August 2000, Keltner spoke about having helped Harrison finish the songs in the vault at Friar Park.

George has been pulling tracks out of his vaults and finishing them over the last couple of years. There’s a tremendous amount of stuff he hadn’t finished, and I put drums on a tremendous amount of that stuff. Some of the songs I played on were absolutely wonderful, brilliant. I can’t wait to see what he does with them. I don’t know whether he’ll have somebody help him produce or what, but I’m sure he’ll come out with somebody cool.
Jim Keltner

In 2000 he oversaw a 30th anniversary reissue of his magnum opus, All Things Must Pass, which was released in January 2001. Harrison also participated in a number of sessions for musician friends, including Bill Wyman, Jim Capaldi, and Jeff Lynne.

By summer 2000 Harrison had abandoned the working titles, but suggested that the album would be finished and released soon.

I’m not very good at going into studios and staying there forever. And I hate to predict things, but the next new album will possibly be by November of next year. It won’t be called Portrait Of A Leg End anymore [laughs], but it’s definitely going to be ‘Volume One’. It’s not going to be the end – it’s going to be one of lots of records. Then I’ll go on holiday again.
Billboard, 1 August 2001

Harrison planned to complete the Brainwashed songs with Jeff Lynne at the latter’s Los Angeles studio in March 2001. The sessions were deferred for a year after Lynne fell ill, and Harrison continued working on the music with Dhani at their home in Montagnola, Switzerland. These sessions continued until Harrison left for the USA in October 2001.

Although not included on Brainwashed, Harrison’s final recording, ‘Horse To The Water’, was recorded in London and Montagnola in September and October 2001. It was written by George and Dhani Harrison, and performed by Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra for Holland’s album Small World, Big Band. Harrison’s vocals were laid down on 2 October 2001, his final recording; the following month he died of cancer. The song’s publisher was listed as “R.I.P Music Ltd”.

Harrison died on 29 November 2001, leaving his final album unfinished. The recordings were completed by his son Dhani, ELO’s Jeff Lynne – both of whom were credited as co-producers – and Harrison’s long-term friend, drummer Jim Keltner.

Dhani asked me if I could mix it with him at my studio. Working on Brainwashed was a very sad thing, because he was a great pal and now he was gone. It was difficult to make decisions when nobody was there to say, ‘I hate that, you bastard!’ Some of it had been done quite a while before [he died]. Some songs were just his voice and simple little guitar parts, some lead, or some lovely slide guitar parts. Others sounded like they were finished.
Jeff Lynne
Uncut, May 2020
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