Tuesday, February 8, 2011

George Harrison

British rock guitarist George Harrison (1943 - 2001) is best known for being a member of the Beatles. Harrison's contributions helped shape the group's sound and influenced many other rock musicians. After the Beatles broke up, Harrison embarked on a successful solo career.
Former Beatle lead guitarist George Harrison was born in the Wavertree area of Liverpool, England. He was born to Harold and Louise Harrison. His father was a bus driver while his mother was a housewife. He grew up in a public housing project. He had two brothers, Harold and Peter, and a sister, Louise. Harrison attended Dovedale Primary School and was accepted into the Liverpool Institute, which was considered the city's best high school for boys. However, he soon lost interest in his lessons and failed his exams. At the time, he displayed a rebellious streak, too, wearing his hair as long as allowable and donning the tightest trousers.

As a child, Harrison developed an early appreciation for music by listening to his father's record collection, which included works by American country music artists. When Harrison was 13 years old, his mother bought him his first guitar, an acoustic model. Harrison was drawn to the instrument after hearing a recording by British skiffle artist Lonnie Donegan called "Rock Island Line." His early efforts, however, gave no indication whatsoever of the versatility he would later demonstrate, as he could not grasp something as simple as chording patterns. When the guitar broke apart, he tossed it into a closet and tried to learn the trumpet, without success. When one of his brothers fixed the guitar, Harrison took up the instrument again and managed to learn a few chords. Now inspired by his success, he practiced everyday and listened to records by famous guitarists Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy and early rock and roll stars such as Carl Perkins, Buddy Holly, and Eddie Cochran. These early recordings would later influence his own guitar - playing style.

Eventually, he formed a short - lived band called The Rebels. Around this time, Harrison became friends with future Beatle band - mate Paul McCartney, who also attended the Liverpool Institute. They rode the same bus to school and, in conversation, found that they shared a passion for music and guitars. When Harrison was 14, McCartney asked Harrison to sit in with his band, the Quarrymen, which had been started by John Lennon. At first, Harrison was considered too young to join the band. However, by the time Harrison was 16, Lennon asked him to become a member, since he was always "hanging around" so much anyway. By the mid - to late - 1950s, Harrison had begun playing electric guitar.

Succeeded in Hamburg

In 1960, after going through several name changes, the Quarrymen finally became The Beatles. The band lineup included Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best. They obtained regular performing engagements in Hamburg, West Germany, first at the Indra Club and then at the Kaiserkeller. Both clubs were located in the "red - light" district. The Beatles enjoyed a large and loyal following who were excited by the band's raw and intense performances. When the Beatles appeared at a rival club, the owner of the Indra Club became angry and revealed to authorities that George was only 17 years old, which made him too young to have a work permit. George was deported home to England. Soon after, the rest of the band followed. Back in Liverpool, in early 1961 they began playing at a jazz club, the Cavern, where they soon generated the same kind of following they enjoyed in Hamburg.

"Beatlemania" Began

In the spring of that year, The Beatles returned to Hamburg to record as the backup band for singer Tony Sheridan. Sheridan's version of "My Bonnie," driven by the Beatle's raucous instrumental support, became a hit in England and garnered the attention of British record store owner Brian Epstein. Epstein was compelled to visit the Cavern, to see the Beatles perform live. He was mesmerized by what he saw. He offered to become their manager and secured a recording contract for them with Parlaphone Records.

As their manager, Epstein initiated some substantial changes. He encouraged "the lads" to tone down the rawness of their appearance and performances, and he fired drummer Pete Best, replacing him with Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr. Sutcliffe died of a brain hemorrhage in 1962, leaving the band with the now famous foursome of Lennon on rhythm guitar, Harrison on lead guitar, McCartney on bass, and Starr on drums. "Beatlemania" was poised to strike the masses, first in England and then, more importantly, in America.

Early Singles Made the Charts

In the fall of 1962, the Beatles released their first single, the two - sided hit "Love Me Do" backed with "P.S. I Love You." The group's second single, "Please Please Me," released in 1963, was an even bigger hit. But success was restricted to England. United States chart success was delayed until 1964, with the release of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." That record, released in January, was a smash. It was soon followed by their legendary February 1964 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. By the end of their first set on their first appearance, the Beatles had completely conquered America, and - with their high quality musical output, their infectious humor, and revolutionary fashion sense - they would become the major driving social force in the world for the next four years.

In 1964, single followed single and album followed album in rapid succession, and each one seemed better than the last. Ironically, while Beatlemania provided fans with a sense of liberation, the four individuals felt imprisoned by their newfound fame. They were so famous that even a simple activity such as going to the corner grocery store to buy a carton of milk became an impossible, unthinkable proposition.

The Beatles were also feeling trapped within the context of the band, particularly Harrison, who was feeling greatly overshadowed by Lennon and McCartney. As the principle singers and songwriters, Lennon and McCartney were the undeniable focus of the band. But as a fellow songwriter, Harrison felt frustrated. On the early Beatles albums, he was allowed to contribute one or maybe two songs. That was understandable, as Lennon and McCartney were arguably the greatest songwriting team in the history of popular music. Still, Harrison demonstrated enormous growth as a songwriter during the peak Beatlemania years from 1963 to 1966. It is remarkable to consider that only three years separated Harrison's "Don't Bother Me" from the Beatle's second album With the Beatles (1962) to the much more ambitious and complex "Love to You" from Revolver (1966). Also, as the group later moved into a more progressive direction, Harrison's lead guitar work became more complex and played a major part in shaping the band's overall sound.

Movies and Marriage

The Beatles' popularity dictated that, like other pop stars before them, they make a movie. Their debut cinematic venture, A Hard Day's Night, released in 1964, was both a popular and critical success. Directed by creative filmmaker Richard Lester, the film was much more ambitious than any previous pop - star movie vehicle. The movie was especially significant to Harrison, in a personal way. During the filming, he met model Pattie Boyd (she appears in one of the train scenes, when the Beatles serenade a couple of young girls with the song "If I Fell"). They started dating and, on January 21, 1966, they were married.

The Beatles' second film, Help, released the following summer, was another enormous success, even though critics complained that it was too gimmicky and cartoonish, and lacked the overall charm of A Hard Day's Night. Harrison's contribution to the soundtrack was "I Need You," a pleasant pop song that received a good deal of radio play even though it had not been released as a single. (In the age before FM rock radio, the Beatles were the only band whose album cuts were receiving airplay).

Harrison's contributions to the next Beatles' album, Rubber Soul (1965), demonstrated a quantum leap in development over "I Need You." On this progressive, groundbreaking record, he was given three songs: the hard - driving "Wait" and "Think for Yourself" and the influential "If I Needed Someone." The album also included a Lennon - McCartney song, "Norwegian Wood," that featured a sitar. It was the first time that the Indian instrument appeared in a pop song, and its use was due to Harrison's developing interest in Indian music and culture.

Continued Development as an Artist

The year 1966 would be pivotal in the history of the Beatles. The group decided to stop touring and concentrate on making music in the recording studio. The "four lads from Liverpool" would soon be regarded as serious artists. The decision to stop touring was prompted by a summer tour that included an itinerary in United States. The band was not keen on doing the tour in the first place; they just had a bad feeling about it. Their fears proved to be justified. First, there was the incident in the Philippines involving a perceived slight to first lady Imelda Marcos. Through a misunderstanding, the Beatles missed a scheduled meeting with Marcos. This resulted in full - scale riots that had the Beatles and their entourage truly believing they would never leave the country alive. Second, when the Beatles arrived in the United States, they found the country had greatly changed. Beatlemania fandom had approached a level of unhealthy obsession. In addition, there was controversy generated by some quotes taken out of context from an interview that Lennon had given to a British magazine. The Beatle record burnings that took place across the country, coupled with the fanatical religious fervency, was disquieting.

Meanwhile, throughout the year, the group had been producing its most ambitious work yet. The result was the legendary Revolver album, which many regard today as the Beatles greatest record, even above the more ambitious Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967). Harrison again contributed three songs, and again his efforts demonstrated a maturing artistry. The songs included "I Want to Tell You," the hard - edged "Taxman," and the Indian - influenced "Love to You." At the end of 1966 he spent a month in India with his wife, Patti. He studied the sitar with Indian master musician Ravi Shankar, and he immersed himself in Yoga and Indian philosophy with mystics and students.

Deeper into Indian Culture

Harrison's Indian - influenced music continued with "Within You, Without You" on the Beatles' next album, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, which is still viewed by many as the greatest rock album ever made. After the album's completion, Harrison delved deeper into the music, religion, and philosophy of India. On August 25, 1967, Harrison convinced the other Beatles to attend a course on transcendental meditation. The group found meditation stimulating and, for three months in early 1968, they traveled to India to study under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The trip turned out badly, and the other Beatles never addressed meditation again. However, George's interest in everything Indian only increased and, until the day he died, he held Eastern spiritual beliefs. The diverging interests underscored how the Beatles were starting to grow apart. Also, during the visit to India, Harrison wrote, recorded and produced the soundtrack for the film Wonderwall with Indian musicians.

The "White Album"

When the Beatles returned from India, the group began working on the so - called "White Album" (The Beatles), released in late 1968. The album was a two - record set, so Harrison was allowed more contributions than ever before. The Beatles (The White Album), included what many people consider to be Harrison's greatest song, "While my Guitar Gently Weeps." The Beatles next project was a filmed recording session that was eventually released, on film and record, as Let it Be after the group had broken up. In all, it was a grim enterprise that revealed all the strains and frustrations in the group.

The last time the group worked together was on the Abbey Road album sessions. Harrison contributed two of his most popular songs: "Here Comes the Sun" and "Something." The latter was a huge hit as a single, and it became the second most - recorded Beatles song (after "Yesterday"). Frank Sinatra, who did one of the many cover versions, said it was the greatest love song ever written.

In the meantime, tensions were increasing within the Beatles, and each member was becoming increasingly involved in his own pursuits. Harrison toured with the American band Delaney and Bonnie and Friends (as an anonymous member of the backup band), and he produced records on the Beatle's Apple label for Billy Preston, Jackie Lomax, and the Radha Krishna Temple. Then, the inevitable occurred in the spring of 1970: The Beatles broke up. For the world, the news was devastating. For the Beatles, it was a huge sigh of relief.

Life After the Beatles

After The Beatles broke up, Harrison began his solo career. The breakup gave him a chance to record all of the songs he had recently written but never had a chance to record with the Beatles. This backlog filled the two - record set, All Things Must Pass. Released in late 1970, the album was a work of majestic beauty. Fans and critics hailed it as his personal masterpiece. Many still consider it the best Beatles "solo" album. The album included the hit single "My Sweet Lord."

Harrison's next major post - breakup project was the charity event, "The Concert for Bangla Desh," held in Madison Square Garden in 1971. Harrison organized the event at the request of his friend and mentor Ravi Shankar, who sought financial aid for his famine - ravaged nation. The concert featured an all - star lineup that included Harrison, Shankar, Starr, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Badfinger, and others. The event was released as a movie and a live album, both of which were enormous hits. At this point in time, Harrison appeared to be the ex - Beatle with the brightest future.

Mixed Success in the Seventies

However the remainder of the decade was not as kind to Harrison. His eagerly awaited second solo album, Living in the Material World, failed to live up to expectations, despite yielding a number - one hit single, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)." His next album, Dark Horse, released in 1974, got even worse reviews. The accompanying tour was disastrous. Harrison was criticized for presenting experimental and Indian music to audiences who wanted to hear Beatle songs and Harrison hits.

The tour and its reaction drained him and he fell into depression. Even worse, his marriage to wife Pattie fell apart. Reportedly, she had been having an affair with Clapton, Harrison's best friend. The couple eventually divorced in 1977; they had no children. However, Harrison was not the innocent cuckold in a classic love triangle. Harrison had cheated on his wife on several occasions, and he later said the marriage broke apart for a number of reasons. In fact, Harrison never felt that Clapton stole his wife. The two musicians remained close friends until Harrison's death. (Clapton organized the "Concert for George," an all - star Harrison tribute in 2002).

In 1976, Harrison was hit with a plagiarism suit. The publishers of the early rock and roll hit, "He's So Fine," claimed that Harrison stole the song's melody for his own hit, "My Sweet Lord." Harrison was forced to pay $587,000. Harrison albums released during the rest of the decade, even though they produced an occasional hit single, were largely unremarkable and had very little critical or commercial impact.

The same year that Harrison divorced Pattie, he met Olivia Arrias, who worked as a secretary in Harrison's Dark Horse record company. They fell in love and lived together. They had a son, Dhani, who was born on August 1, 1978, and Harrison and Arrias married in September.

Towards the end of the decade, Harrison embarked on a second career as a movie producer. He founded Handmade Films, and when he met with a measure of success, his music took a backseat to movies for a while. One of his films included the popular Monty Python comedy The Life of Brian (1979). Later successes included The Long Good Friday (1980) and the Python - esque Time Bandits (1981). In 1980, he published a memoir, I, Me, Mine, which he dedicated to "gardeners everywhere," which indicated Harrison's new passion, gardening, a hobby that occupied him until he died. Harrison also became an avid race car driver later in life.

Music Rejuvenated in the Eighties

Harrison met with musical chart success once again in 1981 with the album Somewhere in England, which included the hit single, "All Those Years Ago," a touching tribute to Lennon, who was murdered in New York City on December 10, 1980. In 1987, he released Cloud Nine, a critically and commercially successful album that included the hit single "Got My Mind Set on You." Critics called it his best work in years.

Close on the heels of that acclaim, he became involved in one of his most successful post - Beatle projects when, in 1988, he became a member of "The Traveling Wilburys," a fictional band that included Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison. The Wilburys produced two albums. The first, The Traveling Wilburys Volume 1 was a smash. After Orbison passed away in 1989, the group would produce no more albums.

Returned to the Stage

In 1992, Harrison returned to live performing for the first time since his disastrous 1974 tour. Backed up by Clapton, Harrison toured Japan. Later he appeared in England at a benefit concert and performed at an all - star Dylan tribute in New York City.

In the mid - 1990s Harrison reunited with McCartney and Starr for the large - scale "Beatles Anthology" project, which included a series of recordings, video documentaries, television broadcasts, and publications devoted to the Beatles. The project also yielded two "new" Beatles songs, "Free as a Bird" and "Real Love." Also in the 1990s Harrison worked as editor of Raga Mala: The Autobiography of Ravi Shankar, which was published in 1999.

That same year, a frightening incident occurred. On December 30, in his own home, Harrison was savagely attacked by a knife - wielding, deranged male fan. Harrison survived the attack, and the man was charged with attempted murder, but he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. The incident deeply affected Harrison who, by this time, was in poor health.

Diagnosed with Cancer

In 1997 Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer and had surgery. At first, radiation and chemotherapy seemed to have caught the disease. However, the cancer was malignant and eventually spread. In 2000, while working on a reissue of All Things Must Pass, Harrison underwent treatment for lung cancer. Later, he was found to have an inoperable brain tumor. At the time, Harrison also was working on a new album and had already released a single, "Horse to Water," that he co - wrote with his son Dhani, who had also become a musician by this time.

Harrison underwent a new type of cancer treatment therapy in a Swiss clinic, but he finally succumbed to his disease on November 29, 2001. He was staying at a friend's home in Los Angeles, California, when he died. He was 58 years old. He was survived by his wife Olivia and son Dhani. News of Harrison's death sparked global reaction, and newspapers and radio and television stations put together extensive tributes for the beloved Harrison. Harrison's final album, Brainwashed, was posthumously released in 2002 to strong reviews. On March 15, 2004, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist. He had already been inducted as a member of the Beatles. His work continues to inspire and influence musicians around the globe.

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