November 29, 2001 – George Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 in Liverpool England. Harrison was not born into wealth and by his own admission, Harrison was not much of a student, and what little interest he did have in his studies washed away with his discovery of the electric guitar and American rock and roll. As Harrison would later describe it, he had an “epiphany” of sorts at the age 12 or 13 while riding a bike around his neighborhood and getting his first whiff of Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel,” which was playing from a nearby house. By the age of 14, Harrison, whose early rock heroes included Carl Perkins, Little Richard and Buddy Holly, had purchased his first guitar and taught himself a few chords.
Impressed with his younger friend’s talents, Paul McCartney, who had recently joined up with another Liverpool teenager, John Lennon, in a skiffle group known as the Quarrymen, invited George Harrison to see the band perform. Harrison and Lennon actually shared some common history. Both had attended Dovedale Primary School, but oddly had never met until their paths finally crossed in early 1958. (McCartney had been pushing the 17-year-old Lennon to let the 14-year-old Harrison join the band, but Lennon was reluctant to let the youngster team up with them). As legend has it, after seeing McCartney and Lennon perform, George was finally granted an audition on the upper deck of a bus, where he wowed Lennon with his rendition of popular American rock riffs.
By 1960 George Harrison’s music career was in full swing. Lennon had renamed the band the Beatles, and the young group began cutting their rock teeth in the small clubs and bars around Liverpool and Hamburg, Germany. Within two years, the group had a new drummer, Ringo Starr, and a manager, Brian Epstein, a young record-store owner who eventually landed the Beatles a contract with EMI’s Parlophone label.
Before the end of 1962, Harrison and the Beatles recorded a top 20 U.K. hit, “Love Me Do” and then on March 22, 1962 the Beatles released their debut album Please Please Me including “Do You Want To Know a Secret” which featured George Harrison on lead vocals and Beatlemania was in full swing across England, and by early 1964, with the release of their album in the United States and an American tour, it had swept across the Atlantic as well.
Largely referred to as the “quiet Beatle” Harrison took a backseat to McCartney, Lennon and, to a certain extent, Starr. Still, he could be quick-witted, even edgy. During the middle of one American tour, the group members were asked how they slept at night with long hair. “How do you sleep with your arms and legs still attached?” Harrison fired back.
From the start, the Beatles were a Lennon-McCartney driven band and brand. But while the two took up much of the group’s songwriting responsibilities, Harrison had shown an early interest in contributing his own work. In the summer of 1963 he spearheaded his first song, “Don’t Bother Me,” which made its way on to the group’s second album, With the Beatles. From there on out, Harrison’s songs were a staple of all Beatles records. In fact, some of the group’s more memorable songs, such as While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Something—the latter of which was was recorded by more than 150 other artists, including Frank Sinatra—were penned by Harrison. Interestingly enough he wrote this for his then girlfriend, later wife Patti Boyd, who married George’s best friend Eric Clapton later after Clapton had written Layla for her and later wrote Wonderful Tonight.
George Harrison may have been nicknamed “the quite Beatle”. But on his first solo album following the dissolution of the Beatles, he truly had plenty to say, literally.
In November 1970, Harrison released the album All Things Must Pass, which the former Beatle considered to be his first proper solo album, despite having made two during the late 1960s (Wonderwall Music in 1968 and Electronic Sound in 1969). Produced by Harrison and Phil Spector, and recorded at Abbey Road Studios, it was also a triple album composing of songs written as early as 1968, and some that were rejected by the Beatles, particularly the band’s principal songwriters, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. These songs include the title track, and “Isn’t it a Pity”.
Other key tracks including “My Sweet Lord” (the first number one hit from an ex-Beatle), the top ten “What is Life”, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “If Not For You”, and “Apple Scruffs”. Another significant fact about All Things Must Pass were the field of contributing musicians. They included future 1970s pop stars Billy Preston and Gary Wright, Eric Clapton (along with former Cream bandmate Ginger Baker, and current band Derek and the Dominos), Badfinger, and future Yes drummer Alan White.
After the Beatles era was over, George used some of his money to purchase beautiful 120 room Friar Park Estate in Henley-on-Thames and build a 16 track recording studio in one of the guests suites.
On an interesting side note, Harrison put the whole property up as collateral in order to fund the Monty Python comedy team’s movie Life of Brian after their original backers, EMI, pulled out at the last minute. As a huge fan of the Pythons, Harrison simply wanted to get to see the film − something that his friend Eric Idle has often described as “the most expensive cinema ticket in movie history”.
He also organised the 1971 Concert for Bangladesh with Indian musician Ravi Shankar, a precursor for later benefit concerts such as Live Aid. In his role as a music and film producer, Harrison produced acts signed to the Beatles’ Apple record label before founding Dark Horse Records in 1974 and co-founding HandMade Films in 1978.Harrison released several best-selling singles and albums as a solo performer, and in 1988 co-founded the platinum-selling supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. A prolific recording artist, he was featured as a guest guitarist on tracks by Badfinger, Ronnie Wood and Billy Preston, and collaborated on songs and music with Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Tom Petty, among others. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 11 in their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. He is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – as a member of the Beatles in 1988, and (posthumously) for his solo career in 2004. Harrison’s first marriage, to model Pattie Boyd in 1966, ended in divorce in 1977. The following year he married Olivia Harrison (née Arias), with whom he had one son, Dhani.
Harrison released several best-selling singles and albums as a solo performer, and in 1988 co-founded the platinum-selling supergroup the Traveling Wilburys with a line up of Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne and Bod Dylan. A prolific recording artist, he was featured as a guest guitarist on tracks by Badfinger, Ronnie Wood and Billy Preston, and collaborated on songs and music with Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Tom Petty, among others. Rolling Stone magazine ranked him number 11 in their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. He is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – as a member of the Beatles in 1988, and (posthumously) for his solo career in 2004.
Sadly George Harrison passed away from metastatic lung/brain cancer on November 29, 2001 in Los Angeles, after he had met one last time with the surviving two other Beatles for lunch in New York. He was 58. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India, in a private ceremony according to Hindu tradition. He left an estate of almost £100 million.