red lights

All Things Must Pass

Former Beatle George Harrison dies at 58

George Harrison

Story by Tony Bonyata

George Harrison best known as the 'quiet Beatle' passed away last Thursday following a long battle with cancer at a friend's house in Los Angeles. The press had well documented his illness earlier this year, pronouncing the end was near. But still we hoped.
This was a Beatle after all, he couldn't leave us. Not another one. It took a long time, but the scars from the untimely death of John Lennon had finally fully healed. And while the passing of Harrison wasn't an unfathomable shock like Lennon's (who was brutally murdered outside his New York home 21 years ago), for a world that was weaned on The Beatles, it still left the same deep pain in the chest and the same sense of loss.
I was just a snotty kid when I first heard The Beatles come over the airwaves in the early '60s. "What is this racket?!," my dad winced as he quickly reached for the radio tuner knob. "Wait! Leave it! Please!!," I begged as the last tinny strains of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" finished out.
From that moment I was hooked. I grew up buying Beatles records, growing my hair as long as I could get away with (which from my childhood pictures, looks like it was fashioned using a salad bowl for a template), scanning the Chicago Tribune's TV guide each week for late night showings of "A Hard Day's Night" and "Help" and idolizing each of the four mop tops.
The Beatles may have ceased to be a band in 1970, but that didn't stop the rampant Beatlemania to flow through my young, sugar-laced veins. I religiously bought each former Beatles' solo effort and poured over each song, album cover and liner notes as if I were to be later tested on it all. Then, in 1974, the ultimate Beatles-related event happened to me when it was announced that George Harrison would be coming to Chicago on November 30th. I begged my parents to let my older 16 year old brother drive me to it. They eventually gave in and let us go. Although my brother and I were seated far apart from one another in the cavernous Chicago Stadium (this was the first time I had, in fact, smelled pot, as a couple seated next to me were imbibing on a joint) it didn't matter once George hit the stage. I was in good company.
Not looking unlike his Beatles' White Album period, with thick shoulder length hair and mustache, Harrison ran through the obvious solo numbers such as "What Is Life," which featured a new funky guitar-line, "My Sweet Lord," which broke into a strange middle section chanting "Krishna, Krishna, Buddha, Buddha" in pre-rap-like fashion, "Give Me Love" and "Dark Horse," as well as lesser known numbers such as "Maya Love" "Hari's On Tour" and "Sue Me, Sue You Blues." Although he had recently strained his voice prior to this tour (leading critics to call this his "Dark Hoarse" tour) it didn't seem to matter much to a crowd that was just happy to see a Beatle in the flesh.
Harrison, gave his large band, which consisted of bassist Willie Weeks, keyboardist Billy Preston, guitarist Robben Ford, percussionist Emil Richards, dual drummers Jim Keltner and Andy Newmark, along with a horn section led by Tom Scott, plenty of room to stretch out. Billy Preston took the lead on three of his own tunes "Will It Go 'Round In Circles," "Outta Space" and "Nothing From Nothing," while Harrison handed the spotlight over to Scott for the horn-driven jazzed up instrumental "Tom Cat." In a risky move for a rock show Harrison opened up the stage mid-concert for three songs which featured Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, along with a group of other Indian musicians. Had this been anyone else presenting this, the otherworldly strains of Indian music would have fell on deaf ears, but instead the audience embraced the music, knowing that this was the man who had inspired a young Harrison to pick up the sitar and incorporate it into Beatles songs like "Norwegian Wood" and "Within You Without You."
But the songs that this stadium full of Beatle fans wanted to hear more than any others were the gems from his former fab band. Not disappointing Harrison pulled out reworked versions of "Something," "For You Blue," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," which became even more introspective as the tempo was slightly slowed down.
"I'd like to do a tune written by an old friend, a dear friend," Harrison explained before tearing into an upbeat, guitar heavy version of John Lennon's "In My Life," which also featured a rousing organ solo from Preston.
Now after his passing, one of my fondest and bittersweet memories of George Harrison is my recollection of him singing Lennon's haunting line "All these places have their moments, with lovers and friends I still can recall. Some are dead and some are living, in my life I've loved them all." In his life, George Harrison was indeed loved.

Return to Livewire