George Harrison Biography
George Harrison, MBE (February 25, 1943 – November 29, 2001) was a popular English guitarist, singer, songwriter, record producer, and film producer, best known as a member of The Beatles.
Harrison was the lead guitarist of The Beatles. During the band’s phenomenally successful career, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were its main songwriters. However, Harrison wrote and/or sang lead on one or two songs each album. His songs earned him growing admiration as a considerable talent in his own right. Although he wrote some of the Beatles' best known songs, he was overshadowed by the Lennon/McCartney duo, and subsequently suffered as an artist.
While still a Beatle, Harrison became attracted to Indian music and Hinduism, sparking unprecedented interest in Eastern beliefs and music in the Western Hemisphere. Both would subsequently play a prominent role in Harrison’s life and music. Around this time he also became a vegetarian, and he remained one until his death. The Beatles' first vegetarian experience came when George led them to India and the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
Harrison also had an uneven but sometimes very successful solo career after the break-up of The Beatles, scoring major hits with "My Sweet Lord" (1970), "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" (1973), "All Those Years Ago" (1981), and "Got My Mind Set on You" (1987). Harrison's landmark album, "All Things Must Pass", currently hold the title of the best selling album by a solo Beatle. He also organized the first large-scale benefit concert, The Concert For Bangladesh, which took place on August 1, 1971. Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist in 2004.
Harrison was also a film producer and founded Handmade Films in 1979. The company's films include Monty Python’s The Life of Brian (in which he had a very minor cameo), Time Bandits, Withnail and I, and Mona Lisa. Harrison also has a cameo role in The Beatles parody film The Rutles.
George Harrison was born in Liverpool, England. A good deal of confusion as to his real birthday arose from family birth record which noted him as being born around 12:10 A.M. on February 25, 1943. He later confirmed his birthday was February 24, 1943 at 11:40 P.M. He is sometimes given the middle name of Harold, as in "George Harold Harrison," but this is incorrect. Harrison had no middle name, as one can see on his birth certificate. Harold was his father's, as well as an elder brother's name.
Harrison’s childhood home was located at 12 Arnold Grove, Wavertree, Liverpool, later at 25 Upton Green, Speke from 1950 on. He first attended school at Dovedale Road Infants & Juniors School, just off Penny Lane. There he passed his 11 Plus examination and was awarded a place at the Liverpool Institute for Boys (in the building now housing the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts) which he attended from 1954 to 1959.
It was an English Grammar School - a "smart school," after passing the Eleven-plus but was regarded as a poor student, and contemporaries described him as someone who would "sit alone in the corner". He left school in the summer of 1959 without attaining any academic credentials (or even being allowed to sit the O levels).
George got to know Paul McCartney at school but they had other things in common. Both had lived in Speke. Liverpool - an outer Council (public housing) estate; they also travelled on the same Corporation bus (sometimes with George's father at the wheel), surreptiously smoking cigarettes on the top deck (featured in 'A Day in the Life'), on the way to the Liverpool Institute. Paul introduced George to John Lennon and to the group. George's father - as chairman of the social committee of the nearby Garston bus depot, helped them get bookings in social clubs nearby. By early 1958 George had begun playing lead guitar in the band (initially called The Quarrymen (later the Silver Beetles) which in 1960 became The Beatles.
After leaving school in the summer of 1959, Harrison worked briefly as an apprentice electrician at Blacklers Stores in Liverpool. The training helped Harrison become the member who knew the most about rigging their sound equipment. Later he set up his own multitrack recording gear at his Esher home, Kinfauns, making song demos for himself and The Beatles.
Harrison was not a virtuoso guitarist, especially in the early days of the Beatles' recording career. His earliest recorded electric guitar solos tended to be clunky and unimaginative, especially when compared to legendary rock 'n' roll guitarists like Scotty Moore, Cliff Gallup or even his idol, Carl Perkins. Several of Harrison's famous Beatles guitar solos were recorded under specific directions from Paul McCartney, who on occasion demanded that Harrison play what he envisioned virtually note-for-note. Other Harrison solos were directed or modified by producer George Martin, who also vetoed several of Harrison's song and instrument offerings; Martin admitted years later, "I was always rather beastly to George."
Toward the end of the 60s, however, Harrison became a fluent, inventive and highly accomplished lead and rhythm guitarist. In the 70's and thereafter, his slide work became his signature sound.
Harrison was the first of The Beatles to arrive on American soil, when he visited his sister Louise in rural Illinois in September 1963, some five months before the group appeared on the "Ed Sullivan Show." During this visit, George browsed a record store and inquired about his group's music. The store owner had not even heard of them, and British pop music was conspicuously absent in the States; even top performer Cliff Richard's recent movie Summer Holiday was relegated to second billing when it played. George returned to Great Britain reporting to his bandmates that it might be difficult for them to succeed in America.
During the era of Beatlemania, Harrison was characterized as the "Quiet Beatle", noted for his introspective manner and his tendency not to speak in press conferences. He studied situations and people closely, though, and was the most interested of any Beatle in the band's finances, often quizzing Brian Epstein about them. He could also wisecrack as well as anyone in the band; when a reporter asked what they did in their hotel suite between shows, Harrison told him "We ice-skate."
Harrison wrote his first song, "Don't Bother Me", during a sick day in 1963, as an exercise "to see if I could write a song", as he remembered. "Don't Bother Me" appeared on the second Beatles album (With the Beatles) late that year, on Meet the Beatles! in the US in early 1964, and also briefly in the film A Hard Day's Night. After that, The Beatles did not record another Harrison song until 1965, when he contributed "I Need You" and "You Like Me Too Much" to the album Help!
Harrison was the lead vocal on all The Beatles' songs he wrote by himself. However, he also sang lead vocal on other songs, including "Chains" and "Do You Want to Know a Secret" on Please Please Me, "Roll Over Beethoven" and "Devil in Her Heart" on With the Beatles, "I'm Happy Just to Dance With You" on A Hard Day's Night, and "Everybody's Trying to Be My Baby" on Beatles for Sale.
A turning point in Harrison's career came during an American tour in 1965, when his friend David Crosby of The Byrds introduced him to Indian classical music and the work of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Harrison quickly became fascinated with the instrument, immersed himself in Indian music and was pivotal in popularizing the sitar in particular and Indian music in general in the West.
Buying a sitar himself as The Beatles came back from a Far East tour, he became the first Western popular musician to play one on a pop record, on the Rubber Soul track "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)". He championed Shankar with Western audiences, and was largely responsible for having him included on the bill at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967. Shankar did not admire Harrison's first Indian-influenced efforts, but the two became friends, and Harrison began his first formal musical studies with Shankar.
A personal turning point for Harrison came during the filming of the movie Help!, on location in the Bahamas, when a Hindu devotee presented each Beatle with a book about reincarnation. Harrison’s interest in Indian culture expanded to his embracing Hinduism. A pilgrimage with wife Pattie to India, where Harrison studied sitar, met several gurus and visited various holy places, filled the months between the end of the final Beatles tour in 1966 and the commencement of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band sessions.
Ironically though, it was through his wife (and when back in England) that Harrison met Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced The Beatles, their wives and girlfriends to Transcendental Meditation. While they parted company with the Maharishi months afterwards, Harrison continued his pursuit of Eastern spirituality.
In the summer of 1969, he produced the single "Hare Krishna Mantra", performed by Harrison with the devotees of the London Radha Krishna Temple, that topped the 10 best-selling record charts throughout the UK, Europe, and Asia. That same year, he and fellow Beatle John Lennon met A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Soon after, Harrison embraced the Hare Krishna tradition (particularly japa-yoga chanting with beads; a meditation technique similar to the Catholic rosary), and remained associated with it until his death.
When, during his lifetime, Harrison bequeathed to ISKCON his Letchmore Heath mansion (renamed Bhaktivedanta Manor) north of London, he redoubled speculations that he would leave ISKCON a large sum in his will. Whilst some sources indicate he left nothing to the organisation (see ), others report he did leave a sum of 20 million pounds (see )
Harrison formed a close friendship with Eric Clapton in the late 1960s and they co-wrote the song "Badge", which was released on Cream's farewell album in 1969. This song was the basis for Harrison's composition for The Beatles' Abbey Road album, "Here Comes the Sun", which was written in Clapton's back garden.
Harrison's songwriting improved greatly through the years, and his material gradually earned respect from both his fellow Beatles (with Lennon telling McCartney during 1969 "George's songs this year are at least as good as ours") and the public. Nonetheless, he later said that he always had difficulty getting the band to record his songs.
After The Beatles split in 1970, Harrison released a number of albums that were critically and commercially successful, both as solo projects and as a member of other groups. After years of being limited in his contributions to The Beatles, he released a large number of the songs he had stockpiled in the first major solo work released after the breakup, All Things Must Pass, the first triple album by a single artist in rock history. The album, which topped the charts, included the number one hit single "My Sweet Lord", over which Harrison was later sued for copyright infringement due to the supposed similarities to the 1963 Chiffons single "He's So Fine". Harrison denied deliberately stealing the song, but he lost the resulting court case in 1976. In the ruling, the court accepted the possibility that Harrison had "unconsciously copied" the Chiffons melody as the basis for his own song. Disputes over damages dragged on into the 1990s, with manager Allen Klein changing sides by buying Bright Tunes, which published "He's So Fine", and continuing the suit after parting with Harrison. Harrison ultimately wound up as the owner of both songs.
In 1980, Harrison became the only ex-Beatle to write an autobiography, I Me Mine. Former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor helped with the book, which was initially released in a high-priced limited edition. The book said little about The Beatles, focusing instead on Harrison's hobbies, such as gardening and Formula One auto racing. It also included the lyrics to his songs and many rare photographs.
Immediately following the December 1980 murder of his friend and former bandmate John Lennon, Harrison modified the lyrics of a song he had written for Ringo Starr to make it a tribute song to Lennon, "All Those Years Ago", which found substantial radio airplay and continues to be a staple of "classic rock" radio. All the three remaining Beatles performed on it, although it was expressly a Harrison single. "Teardrops" was issued as a follow-up single, but was not nearly as successful.
Both singles were pulled from the album Somewhere in England, released in 1981. The album was originally slated for release in late 1980, but Warner Bros. rejected it, ordering Harrison to replace several tracks, and to change the album cover as well. This was another professional humiliation for an artist who had already been sued successfully for his most famous post-Beatles song, "My Sweet Lord".
Aside from a song on the Porky's Revenge soundtrack in 1984, his version of a little-known Bob Dylan song "I Don't Want To Do It", Harrison released no new records for five years after 1982's Gone Troppo was met with apparent indifference. He returned in 1987 with the highly successful album Cloud Nine, co-produced with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra, and enjoyed a hit (#1 in the U.S.; #2 in the U.K) when his cover version of James Ray's early 1960s number "Got My Mind Set on You" was released as a single; another single, "When We Was Fab", was also a minor hit. MTV regularly played the two videos, and elevated George's public profile as a relevant 80's artist. The album got to #8.
During the late 1980s, he was instrumental in forming 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 as a single B-side and asked for a separate album. This had to be completed within two weeks, as Dylan was scheduled to start a tour. Released in October 1988, and recorded under pseudonyms as half-brothers (supposed sons of Charles Truscott Wilbury, Sr.), Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1..
The first year of the new decade saw a new Traveling Wilburys album, despite the untimely death of Roy Orbison. The band had allegedly approached Del Shannon about replacing Roy, but he also met an untimely death. The album, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 was recorded as a four-piece.
It was not as successful as the previous album, but still managed to stay on the charts for quite a time, spawning the singles "She's My Baby", "Inside Out", and "Wilbury Twist".
In 1991, Harrison staged a tour of Japan along with Eric Clapton. It was his first tour since the ill-fated 1974 U.S. tour, and, although he seemed to enjoy it, there were to be no others. The Live in Japan recording came from these shows. In October 1992, Harrison played three songs ("If Not For You", "Absolutely Sweet Marie", and "My Back Pages") at a huge Bob Dylan tribute concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
In 1994-1995, Harrison reunited with the surviving former Beatles for The Beatles Anthology project, which included the recording of two new Beatles songs built around solo vocal tapes recorded by Lennon in the 1970's, as well as the lengthy interviews on The Beatles history. The project was in part spurred on by Harrison's financial difficulties at the time, stemming from problems with his Handmade Films venture.
In 1995, at the height of the britpop movement—which was heavily influenced by Harrison's music—he became embroiled in a feud with Oasis' Gallagher brothers. Devoted fans of The Beatles, the brothers were offended when Harrison referred to them as "silly" and "a passing fad". Noel Gallagher responded by saying "George was always the quiet Beatle—maybe he should keep that up" whilst Liam Gallagher described him as a "nipple" and threatened to play golf off of Harrison's head should they ever meet. Apparently, the feud was short lived, and when Noel Gallagher and Harrison actually met, they got on well.
Harrison's cancer recurred in 2001 and was found to have metastasized. Despite aggressive treatment, it was soon found to be terminal. He set about getting his affairs in order and spent his final months with his family and close friends. He also worked on songs for an album with his son Dhani, which was released after his death. During this time he was also reported to have made peace with Paul McCartney during a final emotional meeting, healing decades of hurt feelings.
It has been said that McCartney, in circumstances that mirrored the great lengths taken for family privacy during the final days of his cancer-stricken wife Linda McCartney, provided Harrison with a secret place to die, in a Hollywood Hills home leased by McCartney. A veil of secrecy surrounded the location for fear that memorabilia fans would swoop down on it. A fictitious address had been listed on his death certificate, said several news sources, yet when reports appeared that McCartney had provided sanctuary, Sir Paul's representatives denied the reports, calling them "utter fiction" and insisting that McCartney did not own a home in California. (Reuters reported that the home had been leased in the name of Gavin de Becker, a security consultant working for Harrison.)
Harrison died on November 29, 2001. He was 58 years old. Harrison's death was ascribed to lung cancer that had metastasised to the brain. He was cremated and although it was widely reported that his ashes were scattered in the Ganges River, the ceremony was not conducted at the expected time (see ). The actual disposition of the ashes has not been publicly disclosed.
After his death, the Harrison family released the following statement: "He left this world as he lived in it: conscious of God, fearless of death and at peace, surrounded by family and friends. Harrison had often said, "Everything else can wait, but the search of God cannot wait; and love one another."
Harrison and Aaliyah made UK chart history when they scored the first (and so far the only) pair of back-to-back posthumous number one hits as Aaliyah's "More than a Woman" (released on 7 January 2002 and topped the chart on January 13, 2002) was followed by Harrison's "My Sweet Lord" (re-released on January 14, 2002 and topped the chart on January 20, 2002).
Harrison's final album, Brainwashed, was completed by Dhani Harrison and Jeff Lynne and released on November 18, 2002. A media-only single, "Stuck Inside a Cloud", was heavily played on UK radio to promote the album, and the official single "Any Road", released in May 2003, was a Top 40 hit.
On 29 November 2002 – the first anniversary of George Harrison's death – the Concert for George saw the two remaining Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr join many of Harrison's other friends for a special memorial concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London that benefitted the Material World Charitable Foundation.
In 2003, Harrison was included in Rolling Stone Magazines list of The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time..
Harrison was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist on 15 March 2004.
Harrison was the youngest of four children (his older siblings being sister Louise, and brothers Peter and Harry). His father Harry had been a sailor until the children came along; he then changed careers, becoming a city bus driver to stay close to home. His mother Louise taught ballroom dancing at home. The family always encouraged George; his mother lent him the money for his first guitars, and kept him company (sometimes until late hours) as he taught himself to play. Harrison paid his mother back by making deliveries for the local butcher; John Lennon's family were among his route. His next job (after leaving school) was his apprenticeship at Blacklers, while playing nights with the early Beatles; to meet their first tour commitments, Harrison had to take his summer holiday early.
George's father, Harry, was disappointed that George had to quit at Blacklers to make the first Beatles trip to Hamburg in 1960, wanting him to have a trade, but reasoned that if things didn't work out, George was young and had time to start over. Harrison himself had hopes of being a working musician for a few years, then possibly trying to get into Art school.
Harrison's family remained close, even as the children grew up and the youngest became famous. Harrison bought his parents a new house with his Beatles earnings, and looked after their needs. His sister Louise became an unofficial Beatles spokesperson, contributing memorabilia to display collections and answering fan questions, while brothers Peter (who had briefly formed a band called the Rebels with George) and Harry were among Harrison's co-gardeners at his eventual home, Friar Park. Sadly, tensions with his siblings in his later years strained the earlier family closeness, although Harrison made a point of reconciling with them just before his death.
Harrison married model Pattie Boyd on January 21, 1966 at Leatherhead and Esher registry office, with Paul McCartney as best man, and is reputed to have written the song "Something" for her in 1969, although he himself denied this, saying he was actually thinking about a song for Ray Charles. In the late 1960s, Eric Clapton fell in love with Boyd, and famously poured out his unrequited passion on the landmark Derek and the Dominos album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970). Some time after its release Boyd left her husband, and she and Clapton subsequently married. Despite this, the two men remained close friends, calling themselves "husbands in law."
Harrison's mother Louise died of cancer during 1970; his song "Deep Blue" (which appeared as a 1971 single B-side) came from his hospital visits to her, and his awareness of the pain and suffering all around. His father Harry also died of cancer, eight years later.
Harrison married for a second time to Olivia Trinidad Arias (born 18 May 1948) in 1978. The ceremony took place on September 2 at their home, with guitarist and singer Joe Brown acting as best man. They had one son, Dhani Harrison, born the previous month. Dhani looks so remarkably like his father, that McCartney quipped on stage at Concert for George: "Olivia told me that it looks like George stayed young and we all got old." After the 1999 stabbing incident where Arias accosted Harrison's assailant nearly single-handedly, Harrison was sent a fax by close friend Tom Petty that simply read "Aren't you glad you married a Mexican girl?" 
Harrison was a fan of sports cars and motor racing; even before becoming a musician, he collected photos of racing drivers and their cars. He was often seen in the paddock areas of the British Grand Prix at Silverstone as well as other motor racing venues. He credited Jackie Stewart with encouraging him to return to recording in the late 1970s, and wrote "Faster" as a tribute to Stewart, Niki Lauda and Ronnie Peterson.
In The Beatles Anthology, Harrison, McCartney, and Starr are shown sitting around a table at Friar Park with a colour poster of the late Brazilian Formula 1 World Champion, Ayrton Senna, behind them. Harrison also owned a $1 million McLaren F1 road car. The 3-seater McLaren can be seen carrying Harrison, McCartney, and Starr in The "Beatles Anthology" segment prior to the "Free As a Bird" video.
The minor planet 4149, discovered Mar. 9 1984 by B. A. Skiff at the Anderson Mesa Station of the Lowell Observatory, was named after George Harrison.
For a detailed discography, see: George Harrison discography