Beatlemania. A spiritual awakening. Forming a super-group. Despite his status as “the quiet Beatle”, George Harrison caused enough of an impact during his time on Earth to be remembered for a long time to come. One of the most accomplished rock guitarists of all time and a keen student of legendary sitar player, Ravi Shankar, he helped bring a new sound to Western pop music and to the world.
Harrison was born in 1943 in Liverpool, the youngest child to parents Louise and Harold and sibling to Louise jnr., Harold jnr. and Peter. His family were supportive of his early interest in music and he pursued it throughout his school years, attending the Liverpool Institute High School for Boys with Paul McCartney. He joined McCartney and John Lennon in their first band, the Quarrymen, at the ripe old age of 15 and never looked back, dedicating his life thereafter to music and mastery of the guitar. By 17, Harrison was touring with the renamed Beatles in Scotland, then Hamburg; next stop, the world.
The Beatles’ meteoric rise to fame was unparalleled at the time; coasting to the top of the charts on a wave of baby boomer teenage mania, they were fast becoming the biggest band the world had ever seen. Harrison may not have been as outspoken as designated frontmen Lennon and McCartney, but he was certainly a driving force behind the band’s musical experimentation and pushed them to explore new ideas and influences. Most famously, Harrison brought the influence of Indian music to the Beatles, mastering traditional instruments like the sitar and working with Indian musicians to bring a new sound to mainstream Western pop music.
After dominating the charts in both their home country of the UK and further afield in Europe, the Fab Four turned their sights towards America. It was the band’s 1964 trip to the USA that signalled their first taste of truly global stardom. Their show at the Sahara Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas, attracted such dedicated fans that the sound was famously drowned out by their screams of adoration. The band were mobbed everywhere they went and so had one of the establishment’s slot machines installed in their hotel room, rather than risk being overrun out on the casino floor. Of course, these days megastars can access slots from the comfort of their hotel room via Pokerstarscasino, order takeaway on JustEat or even call a getaway car using Uber. Harrison and the other boys had no such options in the early 1960s, and never played together in Las Vegas again.
Despite the world-changing work that Harrison did with the Beatles, being in the band took up a relatively short period of his career. From 1958 to 1970 the band were together, touring, recording and collaborating. Towards the end of this time, however, Harrison was becoming more interested in walking his own path. By the time the Beatles broke up he’d already released two solo albums of his own, and, once he was finally free of the band, he released the ambitious triple album, All Things Must Pass. Although he received little encouragement from renowned songwriting duo Lennon and McCartney, Harrison was an accomplished and proficient composer. This can be seen through his prolific musical output between the years of 1968 and 1987, and on the posthumous record Brainwashed released in 2002.
Not only was he interested in producing his own music, he also wanted to do something good with it. His single ‘Bangla Desh’, released in 1970, raised awareness and money for the victims of the Bhola cyclone and Bangladesh Liberation War. He was also heavily involved in the Concert for Bangladesh that followed on from the record’s release, raising enormous amounts to assist those affected. In 1988 he formed the super-group The Travelling Wilburys with fellow musicians Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne; they later went on to record a single, ‘Nobody’s Child’, benefitting Romanian orphans. Throughout his life, he pledged both his money and his creativity to charitable causes, committing himself to widescale humanitarian work. His legacy still lives on in the George Harrison Humanitarian Fund.
Sadly, in 2001, Harrison died from cancer at a friend’s home in Los Angeles. He was just 58 years old and left behind wife of 23 years, Olivia, and their son, Dhani. He had survived a violent and life-threatening knife attack from a home intruder just a couple of years previously, but after a cancer diagnosis in early 2001 his health very quickly went downhill.
An immensely accomplished guitarist and master of his craft, George Harrison was a fascinating, thoughtful and talented man who continues to inspire and influence decades after his death. As well as bringing so much to the world music scene, he also tried his hand at film production with his company HandMade Films releasing classics such as Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Time Bandits and Withnail & I. His tireless humanitarian work was no doubt inspired by his well-documented spiritual journey through Hinduism and the Hare Krishna movement which helped to introduce Eastern ideas to the Western world.