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George Harrison: A Beatle, A Great Songwriter And A Spiritual Man

20 Years Without George Harrison

 He died from cancer 20 years ago today, at the age of 58. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna rivers in India, according to Hindu tradition. Surely you remember him, since we still hear his voice all the time.

His Early Years

He was born in 1943, the youngest of four children, into a household that had no indoor toilet and relied for heat on a single coal fire. His father was a conductor on a bus and his mother worked in a shop. His mother was an enthusiastic music fan and was known for her loud singing voice, which at times startled visitors by rattling the windows in their apartment. Reportedly, when she was pregnant, she listened to the weekly broadcast of Radio India, hoping the mystical sounds of the sitar and tablas would bring peace and calm to her baby in the womb.

Later on, the boy would become interested in transcendental meditation and Hindu philosophy, and he developed an association with the Hare Krishna movement. But first, he became interested in music, and in particular the guitar.

His father bought him an acoustic guitar, and a friend taught him how to play. He listened to American jazz and rockabilly music. In 1956, while riding his bicycle, he heard Elvis Presley’s “Heartbreak Hotel” playing from a house, and that song set him on a course of rock ‘n roll. 

The Quarrymen

Before long he had formed his own group with his brother, Peter, and a friend. Then one day on the school bus he met another avid guitar player, Paul McCartney, who was a year older than him. They quickly became friends, and McCartney introduced him to John Lennon. Soon after George Harrison — for surely, you know by now this is George Harrison — auditioned for their group called the Quarrymen.

Harrison was not immediately invited to become part of the band. But he started hanging around with McCartney and Lennon, filling in from time to time, until he became a full-fledged member of the band. He quit school when he was just 16, worked for a bit at a local store, then joined the group on their first tour of Scotland in 1960.

Popular Beatles Selections By Harrison

The rest, as they say, is history. Harrison played lead guitar for The Beatles, but wrote no songs, at least at first. Even later he had a hard time getting his songs on their albums, but eventually some of his work proved among Tthe Beatles most popular selections, including “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Here Comes the Sun,” and “Something” which is The Beatles second-most-covered song after “Yesterday.”

He developed an interest in Indian music in the mid-1960s and learned from Ravi Shankar how to play the sitar. As the 1970s dawned he learned the slide guitar and began to work with other musicians such as Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and The Band. After The Beatles broke up, Harrison recorded All Things Must Pass, a triple album featuring his hit single “My Sweet Lord” that topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic.

Concert For Bangladesh

Harrison went on to organize the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, produce several more albums, and appear in a number of concerts. In 1988 he formed a new group, The Traveling Wilburys, with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. The group never performed live, but did record two albums.

Harrison’s Final Years

George Harrison

In 1997 George Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer, which he blamed on years of cigarette smoking and drug use. In 1999 a man broke into Harrison’s palatial English home, called Friar Park, and attacked Harrison with a knife. His wife, Olivia, subdued the assailant by hitting him with a fireplace poker, but Harrison ended up in the hospital with some 40 stab wounds.

In May 2001 his cancer came back, this time in his lungs, and then again in his brain. He died a few months later, on November 29, 2001, in Los Angeles. His final album was finished by Jeff Lynne and his son Dhani, and the notes featured a quote from the Bhagavad Gita: “There never was a time when you or I did not exist. Nor will there be any future when we shall cease to be.”

The official George Harrison website offers plenty more information if you’re interested, and also a link to a Spotify play list of Harrison originals. You can also find on youtube the 2002 Concert for George Harrison which features Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and a great version of Harrison’s “A Horse to Water” by Sam Brown.

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About The Author
Tom Lashnits
Tom Lashnits
Tom Lashnits spent 40 years in New York book and magazine publishing before retiring to Bucks County, PA, in 2017. He now volunteers in the school system, produces the baby boomer blog Sightings Over Sixty . . . and is just starting to chase after grandchildren.
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