George Harrison would have turned 80 years old today. Often overshadowed by The Beatles‘ prolific songwriting duo of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the unsung hero of the band was a force unto himself.
Harrison penned several hit songs, including “Taxman”, “Within You Without You”, “Here Comes the Sun”, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, and “Something” (which has received high praise from the likes of Paul Simon and Elton John—as well as his fellow Beatles—for being one of the most perfect love songs ever written). Harrison was also the first Western musician to embrace sitar on a pop record, “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)”, appearing on The Beatles’ 1965 album Rubber Soul.
The Beatles – “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “Money”, “Twist And Shout” – 12/7/63
Following The Beatles’ dissolution in 1970, Harrison embarked on what would become a very successful solo career when he first released his critically acclaimed triple album, All Things Must Pass, that same year. The album would also produce Harrison’s biggest hit single, “My Sweet Lord”.
In 1971, alongside Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized the Concert For Bangladesh, a true predecessor to other benefit shows like Live Aid. The evening would include performances from Shankar and Harrison, along with Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Badfinger, Ringo Starr, and Billy Preston.
Check out Clapton and Harrison playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as well as footage of Harrison delivering an intensely beautiful “Something” from the Concert For Bangladesh below.
George Harrison & Eric Clapton – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
[Video: 52adler The Beatles]
George Harrison – “Something”
[Video: 52adler The Beatles]
On February 19th, 1987, Taj Mahal and the Graffiti Band played a regularly scheduled performance at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood, CA. The Tinsel Town crowd included such musical heavyweights as Bob Dylan, John Fogerty and, of course, George Harrison, and all of them made their way to the stage to sit in with the band. You can watch footage of the incredible impromptu performance below.
Taj Mahal and the Graffiti Band with George Harrison – Palomino Club – 2/19/87
In 1988, Harrison went on to co-found the Traveling Wilburys supergroup alongside Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. So the story goes, the group gathered in Dylan’s basement to cut a B-side for a Harrison single set to be released in Europe, but after being told it was too good for its original purpose, the all-star cast was asked to record an entire album. They would do so with Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 as well as Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3, following the death of Orbison. Watch Traveling Wilburys perform “Handle With Care” below.
Traveling Wilburys – “Handle With Care”
Following the Wilburys project, Harrison remained out of the public spotlight for the better part of the 90s, making his final TV appearance on VH1 in a promotion for Shankar’s Chants Of India.
In 1997, Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer, publicly blaming it on his years as a smoker. After several years of fighting, Harrison succumbed to cancer at a friend’s home in Los Angeles on November 29th, 2001, but not before he had the opportunity to shape music and the world at large with his vibrant guitar tone and his inspired songwriting. For that, we cannot thank him enough.
Happy Birthday, George. We miss you.