ABOUT THIS INTERVIEW:
While promoting his recently released album entitled '33 1/3', George Harrison gave an especially nostalgic and enlightening interview to Crawdaddy magazine. Topics of discussion include Beatle albums, the Hamburg days, the Ed Sullivan appearance, the Maharishi, Beatle reunion offers, songwriting with Bob Dylan, and even Eric Clapton's involvement with Patti Harrison.
- Jay Spangler, www.beatlesinterviews.org
Q: "Were you nervous before the Beatles 1964 debut on the Ed Sullivan Show?"
GEORGE: "The Sullivan Show was funny because I didn't attend the rehearsal. I was sick somehow on the flight over on the first trip to the States. The band did play alot of rehersal for the sound people, they kept going into the control room and checking out the sound. And finally when they got a balance between the instruments and the vocals, they marked on the boards by the control, and then everybody broke for lunch. Then we came back to tape the show and the cleaners had been 'round and polished all the marks off the board. It was sort of a bit tacky in those days with the sound. People would put amplifiers off to the side of the stage so it didn't spoil the shot, you know."
Q: "I just always wondered if you felt the pressure."
GEORGE: "Oh yeah, we did. But we knew we'd had sufficient success in Europe and Britain to have a bit of confidence. And we really needed a helluva lot of confidence for the States because it was such an important place. I mean, nobody'd ever made it, you know, British acts-- apart from the odd singer like Lonnie Donnegan."
"But Ed Sullivan was, you know-- Everybody had told us how he was really big. But again, we were pretty naive to certain things so that helped at the time. I remember them asking us did we know who Walter Cronkite was. And I said, 'I dunno, isn't he somebody on the television?' You know, things like that were good because they all had fun-- the people asking questions and the press-- us being naive and not seeming to care about that sort of thing."
Q: "Was there ever a tendency to still act naive after you wised up?"
GEORGE: "I dunno. But by that time we'd got into that whole sort of routine that we used to have, you know, at press conferences. Alot of it was just nervous energy, just for jokes and stuff which everybody seemed to like. That was one of the big helps for the Beatles at the time-- If anybody dried up in the press conferences there was always somebody else there with a smart answer. There was always a good balance, so nobody could ever really quite nail us."
"The Sullivan show was just the climax to the Beatles' whole America thing. In retrospect it probably wouldn't have mattered what we'd done on the Sullivan show, it was like already established by the previous press that had gone before. But that was a long time ago. We'll get over the question, 'Are the Beatles getting together again?'"
Q: "I won't even ask you."
GEORGE: "...because the answer is just like going back to school again, really. The four of us are so tied up with our own lives, and it's been eight years since we split. And time goes so fast. It's not beyond the bounds of possibility, but we'd have to want to do it for the music's sake first. We wouldn't stick together because somebody had put an ad in the paper putting us on the spot."
Q: "Somebody in New York is saying the Beatles are getting back together to wrestle a Great White Shark in Australia."
GEORGE: "That was the other guy-- He was gonna try and do the Beatles show, and then try and do the other one with somebody fighting a shark. I thought, 'If HE fights the shark, the winner can be the promoter!"
Q: "It seemed that all four of you were locked into something larger than its parts."
GEORGE: "It was. But none of us really thought about leaving until '67 or '68, which was after we stopped touring. I know the first time for me which was the most depressing was during 'The White Album.' It was a problem making a double album because it takes such a long time."
Q: "Why did you make a double?"
GEORGE: "I think it was because there were so many songs, but it was a period that had started a bit negative. It was a bit difficult and we got through it and it was fine. We finally got through the album and everybody was pleased because the track were good. Then I worked on an album with Jackie Lomax on an Apple record and I spent a long time in the States, and I had such a good time working with all these different musicians and different people. Then I hung out at Woodstock for Thanksgiving and, you know, I felt really good at that time. I got back to England for Christmas and then on January 1st we were to start on the thing which turned into 'Let It Be.' And straight away, again, it was just weird vibes. You know, I found I was starting to be able to enjoy being a musician, but the moment I got back with the Beatles it was just too difficult. There were just too many limitations based upon our being together for so long. Everybody was sort of pigeon-holed. It was frustrating."
"The problem was that John and Paul had written songs for so long it was difficult-- First of all because they had such alot of tunes and they automatically thought that theirs should be priority. So for me, I'd always have to wait through ten of their songs before they'd even listen to one of mine. That was why 'All Things Must Pass' had so many songs, because it was like I'd been constipated. I had a little encouragement from time to time, but it was very little. It was like they were doing me a favor. I didn't have much confidence in writing songs because of that. Because they never said, 'Yeah that's a good song.' When we got into things like "While My Guitar Gently Weeps,' we recorded it one night and there was such a lack of enthusiasm. So I went home really disappointed because I knew the song was good."
"The next day I brought Eric Clapton with me. He was really nervous. I was saying, 'Just come and play on the session, then I can sing and play acoustic guitar.' Because what happened when Eric was there on that day, and later on when Billy Preston... I pulled in Billy Preston on Let It Be... it helped, because the others would have to control themselves a bit more. John and Paul mainly because they had to, you know, act more handsomely. Eric was nervous saying, 'No, what will they say?' And I was saying, 'Fuck 'em, that's my song.' You know, he was the first non-Beatle person who'd ever played on anything."
Q: "It must have been terrifying..."
GEORGE: "And it was a good date. Paul would always help along when you'd done his ten songs-- then when he got 'round to doing one of my songs, he would help. It was silly. It was very selfish, actually. Sometimes Paul would make us do these really fruity songs. I mean, my god, 'Maxwell's Silver Hammer' was so fruity. After a while we did a good job on it, but when Paul got an idea or an arrangement in his head... But Paul's really writing for a 14-year-old audience now anyhow. I missed his last tour, unfortunately."
Q: "'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' was such a personal song, I'd always wondered why Eric was there."
GEORGE: "Well, I'd been through this sitar thing. I'd played sitar for three years. And I'd just listened to classical Indian music and practiced sitar-- except for when we played dates, studio dates-- and then I'd get the guitar out and just play, you know, learn a part for the record. But I'd really lost alot of interest in the guitar. I remember I came from California and I shot this piece of film for the film on Ravi Shankar's life called 'Raga' and I was carrying a sitar. And we stopped in New York and checked in a hotel, and Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton were both at the same hotel. And that was the last time I really played the sitar like that. We used to hang out such alot at that period, and Eric gave me a fantastic Les Paul guitar, which is the one he plays on that date. So it worked out well. I liked the idea of other musicians contributing."
"I helped Eric write 'Badge' you know. Each of them had to come up with a song for that 'Goodbye Cream' album and Eric didn't have his written. We were working across from each other and I was writing the lyrics down and we came to the middle part so I wrote 'Bridge.' Eric read it upside dwn and cracked up laughing-- 'What's BADGE?' he said. After that Ringo walked in drunk and gave us that line about the swans living in the park."
Q: "I always thought your contributions guided the band's direction. Beatles '65-- the country influence. Or the Indian influence."
GEORGE: "Well, Ringo as well, you know. We all gave as much as we could. The thing was, Paul and John wrote all the songs in the beginning. And they did write great songs, which made it more difficult to break in or get some action on the songwriting thing. But you know, we all did contribute such alot to the Beatles. There was a period of time when people thought, 'Ringo doesn't play the drums.' I don't know what they thought of me, but they tended to think it was John and Paul for a period of time."
"I helped out such alot in all the arrangements. There were alot of tracks though where I played bass. Paul played lead guitar on 'Taxman,' and he played guitar-- a good part-- on 'Drive My Car."
Q: "You played bass?"
GEORGE: "No, I didn't play-- We laid the track because what Paul would do, if he's written a song, he'd learn all the parts for Paul and then come in the studio and say, 'Do this.' He'd never give you the opportunity to come out with something. But on 'Drive My Car' I just played the line, which is really like a lick off 'Respect,' you know, the Otis Redding version-- and I played that line on guitar and Paul laid that with me on bass. We laid the track down like that. We played the lead part later on top of it. There were alot of things... like on a couple of dates Paul wasn't on it at all, or John wasn't on it at all, or I wasn't on it at all. Probably only about five tunes altogether where one of us might not have been on."
Q: "Which of the Beatles albums do you still listen to?"
GEORGE: "I liked when we got into 'Rubber Soul,' 'Revolver.' Each album had something good about it and progressed. There were albums which weren't any good as far as I was concerned, like 'Yellow Submarine.'"
"We put all the songs together into an album form-- I'm talking about English albums now, because in the states we found later that for every two albums we had, they (Capitol) would make three... because we put fourteen tracks on an album, and we'd also have singles that weren't included on albums in those days. They'd put the singles on, take off a bunch of tracks, change all the running order, and then they'd make new packages like 'Yesterday And Today,' just awful packages."
Q: "That entire era was so productive. Did it seem that way to you?"
GEORGE: "Yeah, it was good, it was enjoyable. We'd get into doing harmonies and this and that. Beacause in the early days we were only working on four-track tapes. So what we'd do would be work out most of the basic track on one track, get all the balance and everything set, all the instruments,. Then we'd do all the vocals, or overdub. If there was guitar, lines would come in on the second verse and piano in the middle eight with shakers and tambourines. We'd line up and get all the sounds right and do it in a take, and then do all the vocal harmonies over."
"Those old records weren't really stereo. They were mono records and they were rechanneled. Some of the stereo is terrible because you've got backing on one side. In fact, when we did the first two albums-- at least the first album which was 'Please Please Me,' we did it straight onto a two-track machine. So there wasn't any stereo as such, it was just the voices on one track and the backing on the other. Sgt Pepper was only a four-track."
Q: "It's hard to believe."
GEORGE: "Yup. Well, we had an orchestra on a separate four-track machine in 'Day In The Life.' We tried to sync them up. I remember-- they kept going out of sync in playback, so we had to remix it."
Q: "Was the rest of the band difficult when you started getting into Indian music?"
GEORGE: "Not really. They weren't really as interested. When I'd first met Ravi (Shankar) he played a private concert just at my house, and he came with Alla Rakha, and John and Ringo came to that. I know Ringo didn't want to know about tabla because it just seemed so far our to him."
Q: "He couldn't relate to it?"
GEORGE: "Well, he could relate to it as a percussion instrument, as drums. But how Rakha actually played it, he couldn't figure that out at all. But they liked it. They knew there was something great about it. But they weren't into it as I was. Then they all went to India and had those experiences in India, too... which, for anybody who goes to India, I think straight away you can relate much more to Indian music because it makes so much more sense having been there."
Q: "Was it intimidating to start out at age 17 or 18, and be younger than the others?"
GEORGE: "No. There are around nine months between me and Paul... Nine months between Paul and John. In the early days when I was still at school, I was really small. I sort of grew in height when we were away in Hamburg. A few years before that we did a few parties at night-- just silly things-- John, Paul, and I. And there were a couple of other people who kept coming and going. John was in school, the College of Art, which was adjoining our school. Paul and I would sneak out of our school and go into his place, which was a bit more free, you know. Ours was still in school uniforms, and we could smoke in his place and do all that. I think he did feel a bit embarrassed about that because I was so tiny. I only looked about ten years old."
"But in Hamburg, we were living right in the middle of St Paulie, which is right in the middle of the Reeperbahn district in Hamburg. All the club owners were like gangsters, and all the waiters had tear-gas guns, truncheons, knuckle-dusters. They were a heavy crew. Everybody around that district were homosexuals, pimps, hookers. You know, being in the middle of that when I was 17. (laughs) It was good fun. But when we moved into our second club we were becoming so popular with the crowd of regulars that we never got in any problems with all these gangster sort of people. They never tried to beat us up because they knew the Beatles. And you know, they'd say 'Pedels' (pronounced, Peedles), that's German for prick."
Q: The whole image of the Beatles got cleaned up and smoothed over, which is always attributed to Brian Epstein."
GEORGE: "In the Hamburg days we had to play so long and really rock it up and leap about and foam at the mouth and do whatever. We missed the whole period in England-- Cliff Richards and the Shadows became the big thing. They all had matching ties and handkerchiefs and gray suits, but we were still doing Gene Vincent, Bo Didley, you know, Ray Charles things. So when we got back to England that was the big thing. They didn't know us in Liverpool, and there was a big gig at the townhall or something, at a dance. There was an advertisement in the newspaper saying, 'Direct from Hamburg,' and so many people really dug the band, and they were coming up to us and saying, 'Oh, you speak good English!'"
"But a year or so after that, When Brian Epstein came on the scene, he said, 'You should smarten up because nobody wants to know you,' --TV producers or record producers or whatever. We just looked too scruffy. In Germany they had alot of leather stuff, like black leather trousers and jackets and boots."
Q: "Do you miss that Hamburg in your music?"
GEORGE: "I just had a good time just playing, you know. That's what I miss. Even when we sold records and started doing alot of tours, it was a bit of a drag because we'd go on the road and we'd play the same tunes to different people, and then we'd drop a few and add the new ones all the time. It got stale. I felt stale, you know, because you play the same riffs... da-da-ding-ding-dow, you know. 'Twist And Shout' and things. By the time you came off the road, touring the world, I'd just want to not particularly..."
Q: "...look at an instrument?"
GEORGE: "Yeah... for a while. And so we did get very stale, and that's a period when-- I was saying about after being into the sitar-- I got really friendly with Eric, and all the kids were playing guitars. I'd felt as though I'd missed so many years out."
Q: "You mean like Hendrix and Cream, and that whole era?"
GEORGE: "Yeah, and all the young kids coming up were all playing so good, and I hadn't been involved with it for so long, both being in the Beatles just playing the same old tunes, and playing Indian music. So I felt a long way behind. That was one reason why I had all the instruments. I suddenly realized, 'I don't like these guitars,' and Eric gave me this Les Paul which really got me back into it because it sounded so funky. That was one of the reasons I started playing slide, you know, because I felt so far behind in playing hot licks. With slide I didn't have any instruction, I just got one and started playing."
Q: "Do you feel self-conscious about your guitar playing?"
GEORGE: "I just had to force myself back. Alot of it was just confidence."
Q: "John said the best Beatle music happened before the group ever cut a record."
GEORGE: "Mmm, well yes. I think some of the best stuff we did was when we stopped touring and spent alot of time in the studio. You know, we lived in a studio, really. Alot of things which were innovations as far as recording went-- I think THAT was some of the best music. But as far as playing live, I agree with what John says about the old days. We were really rocking. We had fun, you know. We really had fun."
Q: "Since you've gone solo, your signiture musically is different from that now. Like when you did 'Wah-Wah.'"
GEORGE: "That was the song, when I left from the 'Let It Be' movie, there's a scene where Paul and I are having an argument, and we're trying to cover it up. Then the next scene I'm not there and Yoko's just screaming, doing her screeching number. Well, that's where I'd left, and I went home to write 'Wah-Wah.' It had given me a wah-wah, like I had such a headache with that whole argument. It was such a headache."
Q: "When did you meet Eric for the first time?"
GEORGE: "We were in the Hammersmith Odeon, and the Yardbirds were sort of supporting a group on the bill, and I just met him then, but really didn't get to know him. I met him again when the (Lovin) Spoonful were at the Marquee, and John and I went down and were just sort of hanging about backstage with them. We were going down to their hotel... I can remember just seeing Eric, 'I know him. I'm sure I know this guy, and he seems like, you know really lonely.' I remember we went out and got in a car and went off to Sebastian's Hotel and I remembered thinking, 'We should've invited that guy 'cuz I'm sure we know him from somewhere and he just seemed, like, lonely."
"And then a couple of years, maybe a year or so later, The Bee Gees, the Cream, were all involved with Brian Epstein originally, so I started meeing Eric and hanging out with him then at Brian Epstein's house. We sort of went out quite a bit with Brian for dinner and stuff, and then the whole Cream thing started happening. Through that period he played 'Guitar Gently Weeps,' and after that he just escaped out of London because some cop was after him. And he bought a house just a bit further out in the country from where I was, and we used to hang out."
"'Savoy Truffle' on The White Album was written for Eric. He's got this real sweet tooth and he'd just had his mouth worked on. His dentist said he was through with candy. So as a tribute I wrote, 'You'll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle.' The truffle was some kind of sweet, just like all the rest-- cream tangerine, ginger sling-- just candy, to tease Eric."
Q: "I remember him saying he was dedicating 'Layla' to some mystery woman. Did you know what was happening?"
GEORGE: "Well yeah, sort of. The thing is, with Eric over the years, and you know we (George and Patti Harrison) both loved Eric. Still do. And there were a few funny things. I pulled his chick once. That's happened, and now you'd think he was trying to get his own back on me. (laughs) But much later, when all that thing was going on, when I split from Patti, you know... Patti and he got together after we'd really split. And actually we'd been splitting up for years. That was the funny thing, you know. I thought that was the best thing to do, for us to split, and we should've just done it much sooner. But I didn't have any problem about it-- Eric had the problem. Everytime I'd go and see him, and stuff, he'd be really hung up about it, and I was saying, 'Fuck it, man. Don't be apologizing,' and he didn't believe me. I was saying, 'I don't care.'"
Q: "You said 'All Things Must Pass' was like as explosion for you."
GEORGE: "Yeah. I had alot from during the Beatles time and I was writing all the time, and I wrote a few while making the album as well."
Q: "Which was your favorite? 'My Sweet Lord?'"
GEORGE: "No, not particularly. I liked different songs for different reasons. I liked the first song that was on the album, 'I'd Have You Anytime,' and particularly the recording of it, because Derek and the Dominoes played on most of the tracks and it was a really nice experience making that album-- because I was really a bit paranoid, musically. Having this whole thing with the Beatles had left me really paranoid. I remember having those people in the studio and thinking, 'God, these songs are so fruity! I can't think of which song to do.' Slowly I realized, 'We can do this one,' and I'd play it to them and they'd say, 'Wow, yeah! Great song!' And I'd say, 'Really? Do you really like it?' I realized that it was okay... that they were sick of playing all that other stuff. It's great to have a tune, and I liked that song, 'I'd Have You Anytime' because of Bob Dylan."
"I was with Bob and he'd gone through his broken neck period and was being very quiet, and he didn't have much confidence anyhow-- that's the feeling I got with him in Woodsock. He hardly said a word for a couple of days. Anyway, we finally got te guitars out and it loosened things up a bit. It was really a nice time with all his kids around, and we were just playing. It was near Thanksgiving. He sang me that song and he was, like, very nervous and shy and he said, 'What do you think about this song?' And I'd felt very strongly about Bob when I'd been in India years before-- the only record I took with me along with all my Indian records was 'Blonde On Blonde.' I felt somehow very close to him or something, you know, because he was so great, so heavy and so observant about everything. And yet, to find him later very nervous and with no confidence. But the thing that he said on 'Blonde On Blonde' about what price you have to pay to get out of going through all these things twice-- 'Oh mama, can this really be the end.' So I was thinking, 'There is a way out of it all, really, in the end.'"
"He sang for me, 'Love is all you need/ Makes the world go 'round/ Love and only love can't be denied/ No matter what you think about it/ You're not going to be able to live without it/ Take a tip from one who's tried.' And I thought, Isn't it great, because I know people are going to think, 'Shit, what's Dylan doing?' But as far as I was concerned, it was great for him to realize his own peace, and it meant something. You know, he'd always been so hard.. and I thought, 'Alot of people are not going to like this,' but I think it's fantastic because Bob has obviously had the experience. I was saying to him, You write incredible lyrics,' and he was saying, 'How do you write those tunes?' So I was just showing him chords like crazy. Chords, because he tended just to play alot of basic chords and move a capo up and down. And I was saying, 'Come on, write me some words,' and he was scribbling words down. And it just killed me because he'd been doing all these sensational lyrics. And he wrote, 'All I have is yours/ All you see is mine/ And I'm glad to hold you in my arms/ I'd have you anytime.' The idea of Dylan writing something, like, so very simple."
Q: "Did you get any feedback from John or Ringo or anybody, saying Congratulations?"
GEORGE: "I remember John was really negative at the time, but I was away and he came 'round to my house, and there was a friend of mine living there who was a friend of John's. He saw the album cover and said, 'He must be fucking bad, putting three records out. And look at the picture on the front, he looks like an asthmatic Leon Russell,' There was alot of negativity going down. You know... Ringo played on almost the whole album. I don't care about that. Fuck it-- we've been through the thing. I felt that whatever happened, whether it was a flop or a success, I was gonna go on my own just to have a bit of peace of mind."
Q: "So you weren't apprehensive about how it would go over?"
GEORGE: "No. Not at all. I felt it was good music, whether people bought it or not. I was concerned that the musicians who played on it were concerned. It was good."
Q: "By the time it was finished, you were confident it was good?"
GEORGE: "Even before I started I knew I was gonna make a good album because I had so many songs and I had so much energy. For me to do my own album after all that-- it was joyous. Dream of dreams."
Q: "Let's move ahead. On the new album I've never been able to figure out whether you're talking about Krishna or a woman."
GEORGE: "That's good-- I like that. I think individual love is just a little of universal love. The ultimate love, the universal love or love of God, is a basic goal. Each one of us must manifest our individual love, manfest the divinity which is in us. All individual love between one person loving another, or loving this that or the other, is all small parts or small examples of that one universal love. It's all God, I mean if you can handle the word 'God.'"
"Ultimately the love can become so big that we can love the whole of creation instead of 'I love this but I don't like that.' Singing to the Lord or an individual is, in way, the same. I've done that consciously in some songs."
"I've had alot of interest in different ways and one of the things I never liked was the whole bit in the late '60s when everybody started getting into it. One thing I really disliked was this, 'My guru's better than your guru.' It's like little kids on the street-- 'My dad's bigger than your dad.' The point is that there is only one God, he's got millions of names, but there's only, but there's only one God. All Maharishi ever gave me was good advice and he gave me the technique of meditation which is really wonderful."
Q: "They say he was a..."
GEORGE: "Well you know, John went through a negative thing moreso than I did with the Maharishi. I can see now much clearer what happened, and there was still just alot of ignorance that went down. Maharishi was fantastic and I admire him, like Prabhupada, for being able in spite of all the ridicule to just keep going. And there's more people now-- especially in the United States-- who are all doing it. And in the '60s they were laughing at us saying it was stupid. All of these people have influenced me and I've tried to the best out of all of them without getting spitiual indegestion."
Q: "What about your albums like, 'Living In The Material World,' the whole concept of maya. It's so ironic that you got caught up in it."
GEORGE: "Oh yeah. I'm living in it. But people interpret it to mean money, cars, that sort of thing-- although those are part of the material world. The material world is like the physical world, as opposed to the spiritual. For me, living in the material world just meant being in this physical body with all the things that go along with it."
Q: "The litigation involved in the Concert For Bangladesh, didn't that depress you?"
GEORGE: "Yeah, that is sure enough to make you go crazy and commit suicide. The whole thing of being Beatles-- it was very heavy on us four. It was like some people wrote saying, 'Well, the problem with the Beatles is that when we were all growing up they were just tooling 'round the world in limosines.' Actually it was the reverse. We were forced to grow up much faster. And what they call growing up was actually being stuck in a rut while we were transcending layer upon layer. So the heaviness of just the things we've been through, we either use it or rise above it or it pulls you down. For me, it's like it makes me have to call upon the inner me for the strength in order to rise above it, because that part is the maya. Whereas, if you just cop out, it doesn't do anybody any good."
"Is it a prioity to go 'round the world being a rock & roll star? That's what I'm saying. There's no time to lose, really, and there's gonna have to be a point where I've got to drag myself away and try and fulfill whatever I can."
"There are alot of people in the business that I love, friends, you know, who are really great but who don't have any desire for knowledge or realization. It's good to boogie once and a while, but when you boogie all your life away it's just a waste of life and of what we've been given. I can get high like the rest of them, but it's actually low. The more dope you take, the lower you get, really. Having done that, I can say that from experience. Whatever it is-- you just need more, and the more you take the worse you get."
"I used to have an experience when I was a kid, which used to frighten me. I realized (years later) in meditation that I had the same experience... I'd feel really tiny, and at the same time I'd feel I was a whole thing as well. It was feeling like two different things at the same time. And this little thing with this feeling would vibrate right through me... and it would start getting bigger and bigger and faster and faster until it was going so far and getting so fast that it was mind-boggling, and I'd come out of it really scared."
"I used to get that experience alot when we were doing 'Abbey Road' recording. I'd go into this big empty studio and get into a soundbox inside of it and do my meditation inside of there, and I had a couple of indications of that same experience, which I realized was what I had when I was a kid."
Source: Transcribed by www.beatlesinterviews.org from original magazine issue