Personalities | George Harrison | Beatlemania | Guitar Heroes

Pigeonholed as the ‘quiet one’, misunderstood as an adopter of Eastern religion and music, and overshadowed (sometimes maligned) by his prolific, trail-blazing bandmates Lennon and McCartney, George Harrison (1943–2001) might have become a footnote in musical history.

But as a member of The Beatles, Harrison made the words ‘lead guitar’ a household term and steadily developed as a songwriter and player to the point of equal artistic footing with his mates, as evidenced by his contributions to the band’s penultimate album Abbey Road (1969) and the abundant creativity of his early solo career. He demonstrated amply that there was life (and love and peace) after The Beatles.

Influenced by the British skiffle star Lonnie Donegan, American rockabilly guitarist Carl Perkins and Nashville stalwart Chet Atkins, Harrison was already developing a unique style when, at the invitation of schoolmate Paul McCartney, he joined John Lennon’s Quarrymen and became part of rock history. Harrison would endure the mayhem of Beatlemania and find solace in the music and faith he encountered in India. As a songwriter, he would grow slowly from the telling solitude of ‘Don’t Bother Me’ to the universality of ‘Something’ and ‘Here Comes The Sun’. As a guitarist, he would often defer to the wishes of McCartney and producer George Martin on solos (and to the talents of Eric Clapton on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’). But his carefully crafted solos and phenomenal exposure with the band inspired millions to take up the guitar, while making the Gretsch Country Gentleman and Rickenbacker 360 12-string two of the world’s most recognized instruments.

Embracing Indian music (along with the Hare Krishna faith), Harrison exposed the Western world to the sitar and brought exotic sounds to The Beatles’ records as they shifted their focus from live performing to studio work. As a solo artist, Harrison was the first ex-Beatle to score a major hit with his three-disc All Things Must Pass. He adopted a signature slide-guitar sound and branched out with historic work as a humanitarian (The Concert For Bangladesh), film-maker (Handmade Films) and bandmate (Traveling Wilburys). When he died of brain cancer in 2001, he left a legacy of guitar music and influence that justified his 2004 entry as a solo artist into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Martin Scorsese’s documentary film George Harrison: Living In The Material World was released in 2011.

Essential Recordings

The Beatles: Abbey Road

Solo: All Things Must Pass

with Friends: The Concert For Bangladesh

Traveling Wilburys: Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1

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