George Harrison was born in Liverpool, England on February 25, 1943, the youngest of four. He died in Hollywood Hills, California from lung cancer on November 29, 2001 at age 58. With John Lennon and Paul McCartney, he was one of the original Beatles. Harrison was most noted for his elegant lead guitar playing, his musical compositions, and his interest in Indian mysticism. He was the main force behind the introduction of the sitar, and of Indian music in general, into Western popular culture. When the Beatles disbanded, Harrison pursued a successful solo career. In the late 1980's he took part in the super group called "The Traveling Willburys" with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynn and Roy Orbison. He also produced several films and records in the period 1970-2000. He is remembered, somewhat inaccurately, as the "quiet Beatle." Rolling Stone magazine named him 21st in its list of the 100 Best Guitarists of All Time.
Harrison's best-known Beatles song is probably Here Comes the Sun. Starting with Help!, the Beatles' fifth album, he almost always contributed at least two songs to the track listing of each. Other well-known songs from his catalogue with the Beatles are: While My Guitar Gently Weeps, I Me Mine, Taxman, Within You Without You If I Needed Someone, Something, Old Brown Shoe, Piggies The Inner Light and Think For Yourself.
Harrison started playing guitar at an early age. In 1954, at age 11, he was able to buy an acoustic guitar for the first time. While in high school he formed "The Rebels," a skiffle band that included his brother Peter and a friend. It was then that Harrison met McCartney, who was playing with Lennon's Quarrymen. Harrison hung out with them, starting in the fall of 1957. As he was so young, it took some time to be fully accepted. Lennon, who did not want "kids" in his band, finally was won over by George, because of his talent and his ability to play lead on many of the classics of rock and roll.
During the Hamburg stint in 1960 Harrison learned more riffs and tricks from Toney Sheridan, all of which led to his invaluable contribution to what would become known as "the Beatles' sound." He was later deported from Germany because of his tender age. When he finally turned 21 (in 1964), he reportedly received 30,000 cards and mementos from well-wishers, mostly crazed and enamored schoolgirls.
Harrison's first composition with the Beatles, Don't Bother Me, came out on the second studio album (With the Beatles) in 1964. He wrote it while sick, in a hospital bed.
Harrison was by nature a careful and methodical musician. He took responsibility for making sure the group was always in tune. He led the Beatles into experimentation with new instruments – first with his electric 12-string, then with the slide guitar, and ultimately with the sitar and tambura. More than any other member of the band, he embraced the sounds of artists like Dylan and David Crosby of the Byrds. Thus, it was Harrison, more than Lennon and McCartney who led the Beatles in the direction of folk rock during their "middle period."
Harrison recorded as solo track (Within You Without You) on the Sgt. Pepper album. This was a pioneering innovation, which Lennon and McCartney soon followed. Considered something of a maverick, he continued to pursue and develop musical tastes and interests outside of whatever was the prevailing mainstream of the Beatles' sound at the time.
During his time with the Beatles Harrison grew increasingly impatient with McCartney and Lennon, who, he felt, did not afford him the respect and attention he deserved as a composer. His composition, Only a Northern Song, was intended as a criticism of the publishing arrangement the Beatles had made and also as a jab at Lennon and McCartney for their dominance in the songs selected for the Beatles to record.
From the time of The White Album onwards he became more vocal about what he felt was the egotism and the competitiveness of his two colleagues – a rivalry that kept his songs from being recorded and released. During the "Get Back" sessions, he actually quit the band for a couple of weeks, mainly because he resented Lennon's detachment from the group (due to the influence of Yoko Ono and drugs) and McCartney's imperious behavior. The last recording sessions, for Abbey Road, produced his classic, Here Comes the Sun.
By the time the Beatles era ended, Harrison had composed many songs that were never released. These he quickly put together in his debut solo album, All Things Must Pass (1970). It was a triple album with two discs of songs and one of instrumental jams. This record sold well, topped the charts, and is acclaimed as perhaps Harrison's best work ever. My Sweet Lord and What Is Life appear on this album. His friend, Eric Clapton, plays on the recording, as well as Billy Preston and Ringo Starr. Phil Spector, who produced Let It Be, was the producer.
In the post-Beatles period Harrison also released two singles and wrote three more for Ringo Starr, which also became hits. George also played slide guitar, dobro and electric for five of the tracks on Lennon's 1971 album, Imagine.
On a personal note, Harrison became a firm believer in meditation. His trips to India in the 1960's had affected him deeply. It was then that he learned from Ravi Shankar and Shambhu Das how to play the sitar. In 1968 he studied transcendental meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He helped to spread the Hare Krishna movement. In 1971, together with Ravi Shankar, he put together a large charity concert to aid the lost and homeless in Bangladesh in the wake of the devastating cyclone that struck there on November 12, 1970.
In the post-Beatles era, George Harrison will also be remembered as a film producer. Under the name "HandMade Films," a company established together with Dennis O'Brien in 1978, he released Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), Mona Lisa (1986) and 21 others.
Harrison married twice. In a civil ceremony on January 21, 1966 he married Pattie Boyd, a young model and actress whom he met on the set of A Hard Day's Night. She was 19 at the time, and had been hired to play a devoted Beatles' fan. That she was. Paul McCartney was his best man. During the Beatles era, the public perception of the relationship between Harrison and his bride was very positive, somewhat in contrast with the turmoil that enveloped both Lennon and McCartney with respect to their girlfriends and wives. George and Patti split up in 1974. Pattie then moved in with Harrison's closest friend, Eric Clapton. They later married. This curious twist did not cause rancor between the two friends; they just referred to each other as "husbands-in-law."
Harrison later married Olivia Trinidad Arias, a native of Mexico City who was working at A&M records at the time. Together they had a son, Dahni, who later became a composer and guitarist like his father. He helped to finish the production of George's last album, Brainwashed, which was released posthumously.
Olivia Harrison became well-known for her charitable work and her production of the Concert for George in 2002. Famously, she once saved her husband from a murder attempt. On December 30, 1999, an intruder at his Friar Park home stabbed him seven times with a kitchen knife. Olivia struck the man vigorously with a fireplace poker, knocking him out until the police arrived. Shortly afterwards, Tom Petty sent a fax to Harrison, saying "Aren't you glad you married a Mexican girl?"
Though Harrison had played guitar for How Do You Sleep? on the 1971 album, Imagine, he did not ultimately take sides in the feud between McCartney and Lennon. He clearly loved and admired both of them, but found friendship with each of them frustrating in different ways.
Harrison had been vocal about his disapproval of Yoko Ono and her presence at Beatles' rehearsals and recording sessions. In his 1971 Concert for Bangladesh he excluded Lennon and Ono from participation. In his autobiography, I Me Mine (published in 1980), incredibly there is no mention of John Lennon, something that wounded John greatly. Nevertheless, the attack and murder of John Lennon later in that year shocked and grieved him visibly, causing him to withdraw further from the public eye for several years.
He revised his song, All Those Years Ago (which had been written for Ringo), to become a tribute to Lennon. When it was recorded, all three of the survivors of the Beatles performed on it.