‘Blue Jay Way’, George Harrison’s songwriting contribution to the Magical Mystery Tour soundtrack, was written while he was waiting for The Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor, who was lost in fog in the Los Angeles canyons.
The song was composed in the Hollywood hills on 1 August 1967. Harrison was visiting California with his wife Pattie, plus Neil Aspinall and Alexis Mardas. They were staying at a rented house in Blue Jay Way, high in the Hollywood hills, which belonged to the manager of Peggy Lee.
The Beatles’ former publicist Derek Taylor had become delayed on his way to meet them. The jetlagged Harrison found a Hammond organ in the house and began writing the song as an outlet for his ennui.
Derek Taylor got held up. He rang to say he’d be late. I told him on the phone that the house was in Blue Jay Way. And he said he could find it OK… he could always ask a cop. So I waited and waited. I felt really knackered with the flight, but I didn’t want to go to sleep until he came. There was a fog and it got later and later. To keep myself awake, just as a joke to pass the time while I waited, I wrote a song about waiting for him in Blue Jay Way. There was a little Hammond organ in the corner of this house which I hadn’t noticed until then… so I messed around on it and the song came.
Harrison’s stay in the house was arranged by Brian Epstein, who called The Beatles’ attorney Robert Fitzpatrick to enquire whether a house could be leased. Fitzpatrick persuaded the owner of the house, another entertainment attorney named Ludwig Gerber, to lend Harrison his LA residence.
Ludwig Gerber was a former US Army colonel who had managed Peggy Lee for many years. He was also a film producer and lawyer. In his house there was a Hammond S-6 organ, which Harrison used for writing the song while waiting for Taylor to arrive.
In the Magical Mystery Tour film, Harrison ‘performed’ the song while playing a keyboard chalked onto the ground. One of the movie’s most psychedelic sequences, Harrison’s appearance is subjected to dated camera techniques involving prism refractions to create multiple images.
In the studio
The rhythm track of ‘Blue Jay Way’, including the distinctive swirling organ part, was recorded in one take on 6 September 1967. Crucial to the recording was ADT – artificial double tracking, a technique invented by Abbey Road engineer Ken Townsend in 1966 – which on the song gave the phasing effect.
The cello part was played by Peter Willison. He was booked at short notice by Sidney Sax, who helped enlist a number of session musicians for Beatles recordings. Willison recorded the part and was paid in cash – the standard date was £27. He later performed on Paul McCartney’s solo album Tug Of War.
I was playing at the Albert Hall beforehand and arrived at the studio after 10. As I was in tails Ringo said I didn’t have to dress for them. There were no other musicians there, no music stand and no music. George Martin asked me to listen to the track and just play along. We experimented a bit and finally at 4 am we were finished.