George Harrison (February 24, 1943 - November 29, 2001)
was a popular British songwriter and musician, best known as a member of The
Beatles. Note: Until Harrison was in his 40s, he believed that he was born
on February 25.
Born in Liverpool, England, and raised as a child at 12 Arnold Grove, he first attended school at Dovedale Infants, just off Penny Lane. Later on, he attended the Liverpool Institute, a "smart school", but was regarded as a poor student, and contemporaries described him as someone who would "sit alone in the corner." In the mid-1950s he met Paul McCartney (also a Liverpool Institute student) and later played lead guitar in the band (initially called the Quarry Men) that eventually became the Beatles.
At the height of the Beatles' popularity, he was often characterized as the "Quiet Beatle", noted for his introspective manner and his growing interest in Hinduism. In the mid 1960s he began playing the sitar, which influenced the sound of the Beatles music in such songs as "Norwegian Wood," "Love You To", and "Within You Without You". His experimentation with the instrument brought him into contact with the sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar, who became a close friend and mentor.
It was his meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi that led him first into meditation. In the summer of 1969, the Beatles produced the single "Hare Krishna Mantra", performed by Harrison and the devotees of the London Radha-Krishna Temple that topped the 10 best-selling record charts throughout UK, Europe, and Asia. The same year, he and fellow Beatle John Lennon met Swami Prabhupada A.C. Bhaktivedanta, the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Soon after, Harrison embraced the Hare Krishna tradition and remained a devotee till his death.
While not the primary composer in the group (Lennon and McCartney wrote most of the Beatles' material), as time went on his songs improved greatly and his material earned respect from both his fellow Beatles and the music-buying public. Notable examples include "Taxman", "Here Comes the Sun", "Something", and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", which was strongly influenced by the music of his friend Roy Orbison and featured a guitar solo by Eric Clapton.
After the Beatles split in 1970, Harrison released a number of albums that were critically and commercially successful, both as solo projects and as the member of other groups. After many years of being limited in his contributions to the Beatles' catalog, he unleashed a torrent of material in the first major solo work released after the breakup, the triple album All Things Must Pass. The album included the number one hit single, "My Sweet Lord", although Harrison was later sued for copyright infringement over similarities between "My Sweet Lord" and the 1963 Chiffons single "He's So Fine". Harrison denied deliberately stealing the song, but he did lose the case in 1976; in the ruling, the court accepted the possibility that Harrison had unconsciously taken the Chiffons song as the basis for his own song.
Harrison was probably the first modern musician to organize a major charity concert. His Concert for Bangladesh on August 1, 1971, drew over 40,000 people to New York's Madison Square Garden, and raised millions of dollars to aid the starving refugees of Bangladesh. The concert included other popular musicians such as Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Badfinger and Billy Preston. Classical sitar maestro Ravi Shankar opened proceedings.
Harrison continued to issue records throughout the 1970s but successive releases met with dwindling interest and sales. He formed his own record label, "Dark Horse Records" in 1974 and issued a limited number of records by performers such as Splinter, Attitudes and Ravi Shankar. He moved his own output to the label in 1976, once his contract with EMI finished. Immediately following the murder of his friend and former bandmate John Lennon, Harrison composed a tribute song to Lennon, "All Those Years Ago," which found substantial radio airplay and continues to be a staple of "classic rock" radio. But he released no records for five years after Gone Troppo in 1982 was met with apparent indifference. He returned in 1987 with the album Cloud Nine, co-produced with Jeff Lynne and enjoyed a hit (#1 in the U.S.; #2 in the U.K) when his cover version of "Got My Mind Set On You" was released as a single. The album got to #8.
During the 1980s, he helped form the Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty when they gathered in Dylan's garage to quickly record an additional track for a projected Harrison European single release. The record company realised the track ("Handle With Care") was too good for its original purpose and asked for a separate album. This had to be completed inside 2 weeks, as Dylan was scheduled to start a tour.
He was also involved in film production through his HandMade Films company, providing financial backing for the Monty Python film Life of Brian after the original backers (EMI Films) withdrew because of the supposedly controversial subject matter of the film. Other films produced by HandMade included Mona Lisa, Time Bandits, Shanghai Surprise and Withnail and I.
Throughout the 1990s, Harrison, a former smoker, endured an ongoing battle with cancer, having growths removed first from his throat, then his lung. There was also a 1999 attempt on his life by a crazed fan who stabbed him at his home, Friar Park in Henley-on-Thames, puncturing his lung.
Harrison married twice. His first wife was the model, Patti Boyd, for whom Harrison is supposed to have written the song, "Something". Following their divorce, Boyd married Eric Clapton (said to have written "Layla" for her after their earlier affair). Harrison married for a second time to Olivia Arias, in September 1978. The ceremony took place at their home, with Joe Brown acting as Best Man. They had one son, Dhani Harrison, born the previous month.
George passed away at the home of a friend in Los Angeles, California on Thursday, November 29, 2001, at the age of 58, death being ascribed to a brain tumour. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the River Ganges.
His final album, Brainwashed was completed by Dhani Harrison and Jeff Lynne and released in November 2002.
On November 29th, 2002, the first anniversary of his death, the Concert For George saw the two remaining Beatles Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr join many of Harrison's friends for a special memorial concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London that benefitted the Material World Charitable Foundation. Ravi Shankar joined Jeff Lynne in a performance of "The Inner Light," Eric Clapton and Lynne performed "I Want To Tell You" and "Here Comes The Sun," Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers (with Jools Holland and Sam Brown) performed "Taxman" and "I Need You," Starr performed "Photograph", members of Monty Python (Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam) performed "The Lumberjack Song," and McCartney and Starr performed "For You Blue". For the finale, all of the artists went back on stage to end with "Something," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "My Sweet Lord," (with Billy Preston on keyboards), and "I'll See You In My Dreams".
See also: Another George Harrison Biography
The Beatles Lyrics