In 1994 I had the pleasure of interviewing George Harrison. It was the only interview he did with Australia in the decade before his untimely death in 2001.
In November this year, Martin Scorsese will release his documentary about George titled ‘Living In The Material World’.
Three years ago, I was approached by Scorsese’s office in New York to use the interview I had done for his documentary. As a preview to the ‘Living In The Material World’ dock, here is that interview:
Paul Cashmere: I’m going to start off by talking about movies. I don’t know how many times I’ve see “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” in which you have a cameo. I’ve searched for your part, even on freeze frame. The problem with that movie is that everyone in it looks like George Harrison. Put me out of my misery. Where are you in it?
George Harrison: Well if you’re looking for me, then everybody’s going to look like that. There’s just one little shot, it’s probably about 12 frames. Do you know the scene where he comes out of the room and there’s crowds of people in the house and John Cleese is there saying, “Those people with gifts form a queue on the left. Those possessed by demons over to the right,” and then he comes out and he says, “Brian, Mister Papadopolus has promised to loan us the mount for Monday.” You have to go through it again and see that scene and it cuts across and I’m in the crowd. And I just say “Eh, hello, thank you or something … hello”. That’s all it is!
Paul Cashmere: And you never got an Oscar for that, George?
George Harrison: No, no, but I’m still hoping. Well, actually they wanted me to do the part of Christ in there, you know, at the beginning where he’s doing the sermon on the mount. That’s what they tried to get me to do, but I thought that’s a bit too controversial.
Paul Cashmere: Yes, for someone from Liverpool, England, that is a bit over the top, isn’t it!
George Harrison: (Laughing) Yes, it is.
Paul Cashmere: You and Eric Clapton go back a long way. When did you first meet?
George Harrison: I think I met him … I’m not sure which year … it was probably ’63. No, must have been after that … must have been ’64 or ’65 at the Hammersmith Odeon. He was in the Yardbirds. We did a Christmas season there … two or three weeks we played there. That’s the first time I met him. Then, later I met him … somehow Brian Epstein was managing the Cream and the Bee Gees, and I used to see him hanging around at that point. That was when that guy (Robert) Stigwood had come to work for Brian Epstein. That’s when I really got to know him quite a bit. It must have been 1966, ’67.
Paul Cashmere: Considering Eric ran off with your first wife Pattie, how have you managed to remain friends?
George Harrison: Well, he didn’t really run off with her, because we’d kind of finished with each other basically anyway. And, you know, for me, this is what I think is the main problem, not the fact that he got married to Pattie. I think the fact that makes the problem is that I didn’t get annoyed at him and I think that has always annoyed him. I think that deep down inside he wishes that it really pissed me off, but it didn’t, because I was happy that she went off, because we’d finished together, and it made things easier for me. You see, because otherwise we’d have had to gone through all these big rows and divorces. And you know, she went off to live in the same style she became accustomed to and it was really very convenient for me. So there.
Paul Cashmere: You’ve done a great version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” with Eric on both “The Beatles” album and the live album. Let’s set the record straight. Going back to the original version, there was a version recorded with John on lead guitar, one with yourself on lead guitar and one with Eric. Now which one was the one that actually made the (Beatles’) White album?
George Harrison: Well, I don’t know about one with John on guitar. There was one that just a kind of demo. When I wrote it, that was done with just an acoustic guitar. And then there’s the version that was on the Beatle White album, the version with Eric Clapton. There’s only ever really been the one’s the Eric on it. Even the one I did on the Princes Trust album was still Eric playing on it.
Paul Cashmere: Who came up with the lead break for it?
George Harrison: Yeah, Eric just played that, you know, live as we were figuring out the song. Paul played piano on the original record in 1967. There was Ringo on drums. I don’t believe John was there. I played acoustic guitar, Paul played piano, Ringo on drums and Eric played live with us, and then Paul overdubbed the bass later. So Eric just made up the guitar part spontaneously. So this is the thing … when we went to rehearsal for the Live in Japan tour, he consciously listened to the old version and tried to re-learn, at least, to use the old version as the basis for where he started, and I guess sometimes you forget about good stuff you’ve already done. So he picked back up on what he’d done originally, but the solo on that one is brilliant, I think, on the live version now.
Paul Cashmere: Can you tell me about “Something”. Now, you wrote that about Pattie, is that right?
George Harrison: Well no, I didn’t. I just wrote it, and then somebody put together a video. And what they did was they went out and got some footage of me and Pattie, Paul and Linda, Ringo and Maureen, it was at that time, and John and Yoko and they just made up a little video to go with it. So then, everybody presumed I wrote it about Patti, but actually, when I wrote it, I was thinking of Ray Charles.
Paul Cashmere: He’s not as good looking, but well, you know …
George Harrison: Yeah, but he’s a better singer. (Laughs) But that’s what I was thinking of. I could hear in my head Ray Charles singing it.
Paul Cashmere: Were you frustrated by the fact that it took just about the entire career of the Beatles before you were granted the “A” side of single, and then the band broke up?
George Harrison: Well, it wasn’t so much the “A” side of a single, but it was frustrating at times when we had to wade through millions of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’s” before we could get to one of mine, you know. Because I think now that when you look retrospectively, that there were a couple of my tunes that were good enough — or better — than ones that Paul or John had written occasionally. But you know, that’s just how it was. It doesn’t bother me, really. I was just on hold for a while.
Paul Cashmere: Which of your solo hits do you think would have made great Beatle songs?
George Harrison: This is the funny thing, isn’t it? If the Beatles had continued making records, all of the solo stuff that we’d done would have been on Beatle albums. So “Cloud 9” would have been a Beatle record and all that stuff like that. So I don’t know. Somebody just asked me about the songs on the “Live in Japan” record, saying did I worry about putting so many Beatle songs on. But so much time has elapsed. I don’t even think of them as being Beatle songs so much, you know. When you go back to “I Want To Tell You” and “Taxman,” they, to me, were just tunes I wrote, and they were recorded at that period, and it was the Beatles. And “Cloud 9” was a song that I wrote, but I recorded it with those other guys, and it was a solo album. Basically, the thread that binds it all together was that I wrote it, so I don’t really see things as Beatles or solo. I just see it as a body of work that I’ve been involved with one way or another.
Paul Cashmere: What’s the story with the Traveling Wilburys?
George Harrison: Well the story at the moment is that we’ve all been doing our day jobs, and the Wilburys being a kind of hobby has been just put on hold. So Tom Petty had just done an album, and he did a whole bunch of tours at the end of last year and going into this year. Bob Dylan, as you know, is continually on tour. And I did that live album and tour, so I’m not sure when we’ll do a new record, because, you know, I’m planning to start planning and writing a new studio album … although we all got together in New York for Bob Dylan’s Madison Square Garden show, which was for 30 years of Bob Dylan kind of celebration. We all went on to do Bob Dylan songs.
Paul Cashmere: Have you heard Guns ‘n’ Roses “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”?
George Harrison: Yeah, didn’t even get the chords right, did they?
Paul Cashmere: So I take it you’re not a big fan of that one, then?
George Harrison: There’s only three chords in it, but they managed to get one of them wrong. (Laughs)
Paul Cashmere: Bob Dylan’s been a great friend of yours over the years. Were you in awe of him when you first met him?
George Harrison: You know we’d had our first number one in America when we first met him, and I don’t think he’d ever had a number one record. He just had two albums … the first album didn’t do that well and the second album, you know. He was definitely hot at the time. No, we weren’t particularly in awe of him, but we really loved his album. We just heard his second album, “Freewheelin’.” We’d just spent a month in Paris prior to going to do the Sullivan shows in 1964, February. We’d just spent a month listening to this album of his and it blew us away really. It was just something special about him obviously.
Paul Cashmere: You must have that same effect on new artists now when they meet you.
George Harrison: Yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t. But with Bob, he has proven to be special, you know, the words he wrote, the songs he’s done. And I think one of the best things about him is that he’s true to today to how he was back in 1963, and not a lot of people still believe in the same stuff they believed in then.
Paul Cashmere: Do you enjoy doing sessions, like when you played on albums by Belinda Carlisle and Jimmy Nail? How do you decide what you will or won’t do?
George Harrison: I don’t know. I’m not so sure now. The deal is usually I’ll play on it if somebody just sends me the tape and they take whatever I do. I don’t like having someone saying, “Do this, do that and no, can you make it sound like this?” Basically if they want me, they get what I am. Usually they want slide guitar parts. I don’t know. Sometimes it works out good and sometimes I can’t work out what to do with it when it’s the type of song I normally wouldn’t normally play myself.
Paul Cashmere: When your live album came out it ended with a nice touch, “Roll Over Beethoven”. That was the “With the Beatles” track, the old Chuck Berry thing. That was the song you actually did the duet with yourself on originally.
George Harrison: Oh yeah. Well that’s the kind of tune I would have forgotten totally about, but a friend of mine, who’s into rock and roll, said, “You’ve got to do ‘Roll Over Beethoven.'”And as it turned out, we went to do this press conference in Tokyo, and one of the questions, they said, “Mister Hallison, will you be playing Loll Over Beethoven?” (sic). And I said yes, and the whole room stood up and applauded. (Laughs) And I said, “It’s a good job. We are doing it.” The Japanese are very into “Roll Over Beethoven”.
Paul Cashmere: The Apple catalogue, George, is slowly being re-released on CD. Why has that taken so long?
George Harrison: I would imagine because EMI, who have the original deals with the Beatles and Apple Records, you know, they went through years and years of re-negotiation. And it could have had something to do with that, you know, when they finally got it all cleared up, and also because it took a number of years when everybody started re-issuing everything back onto CD.
Paul Cashmere: I hear “Wonderwall Music” (George’s first solo album) is coming up soon.
George Harrison: Oh good, because you can’t find it on vinyl. If you’ve got a vinyl copy of that thing, it’s really rare.
Paul Cashmere: I might head down the markets with mine if that’s the case.
George Harrison: Yeah, you want to put it into one of them Beatle sales.
Paul Cashmere: Who are the bands you’re most proud of from the Apple stable?
George Harrison: Anybody who had a hit, probably … like Badfinger was pretty good. It was a very sad story, though, because the guy, he ended up killing himself. Pete Ham, who was a lovely fellow, he was a good guitar player and a great singer. He wrote … the most famous tune I would imagine is “Without You”, you know, the Harry Nilsson record.
Paul Cashmere: Tell us about Anthology and what’s happening at Apple?
George Harrison: There’s a lot of activity going on in Apple at the moment. We made this series of films, nine or 10 hours of film, because we’ve virtually completed 1962 and it’s 75 minutes long, and there’s also one about the same length for 1963 and then it will go through each year, 1964, ’65, and it will go through like that. It will be a bit like “The Civil War,” (editor’s note: the Ken Burns TV miniseries) you know. Hopefully, a whole box of video cassettes or a TV series. But it’s really interesting because of the years that elapsed, everybody’s put out Beatle footage or videos. They think they’ve just about told all the stories, but the real story is the one that only we can tell, from our point of view, and we know all of the little intimate details. So we’ve been compiling all this footage from our own cameras, and there’s just tons and tons of material. It’s really exciting. I was very pleased to see it, because it’s got all of our influences. It’s this finely woven web of intrigue.
Paul Cashmere: How do you feel about “My Sweet Lord” these days. How did the court case surrounding that song effect your songwriting?
George Harrison: It didn’t really affect my songwriting. I did record “This Song,” which was kind of a comment about the situation. The thing that really disappoints me is when you have a relationship with one person and they turn out to betray you. Because the whole story of “My Sweet Lord” is based upon this fellow, Allan Klein, who managed the Beatles from about 1968 or ’69, through until 1973. When they issued a complaint about “My Sweet Lord”, he was my business manager. He was the one who put out “My Sweet Lord” and collected 20 percent commission on the record. And he was the one who got the lawyers to defend me, and did an interview in Playboy where he talked about how the song was nothing like the other song. Later, when the judge in court told me to settle with them, because he didn’t think I’d consciously stolen their song, they were doing a settlement deal with me when they suddenly stopped the settlement. Some time elapsed, and I found out that this guy Klein had gone around the back door. In the meantime, we’d fired him. He went round the back door and bought the rights to the one song, “He’s So Fine,” in order to continue a law suit against me. He, on one hand, was defending me, then he switched sides and continued the law suit. And every time the judge said what the result was, he’d appeal. And he kept appealing and appealing until it got to the Supreme Court. I mean this thing went on for 16 years or something … 18 years. And finally, it’s all over with, and the result of it is I own “My Sweet Lord,” and I now own “He’s So Fine,” and Allan Klein owes me like three or four hundred thousand dollars ’cause he took all the money on both songs. It’s really a joke. It’s a total joke.
Paul Cashmere: There’s a movie plot in there somewhere.
George Harrison: There’s definitely a book, because, now with any kind of law pertaining to infringement of copyright, they always quote this case. It’s become the precedent in all these law students’ books.
Paul Cashmere: So we might be seeing George Harrison make a guest appearance on “LA Law.”
George Harrison: (Laughs) I doubt it, but we did keep a lot of lawyers employed for years, and we still are in one way or another. There’s always some kind of bullshit going on.
Paul Cashmere: You’ve already documented your own anthology. For the benefit of Aussies, tell us about “When We Was Fab”.
George Harrison: Yeah, until I finalized the lyric on it, it was always called “Aussie Fab”. That was it’s working title. I hadn’t figured out what the song was going to say … what the lyrics would be about, but I knew it was definitely a Fab song. It was based on the Fabs, and as it was done up in Australia there, up in Queensland, then that’s what we called it. As we developed the lyrics, it became “When We Was Fab”. It’s a difficult one to do live because of all the all the little overdubs and all the cellos and the weird noises and the backing voices. Who knows … maybe next time, we’ll attempt it. We’ll try it in the rehearsal and see.
Paul Cashmere: What do you think of the Beatle sound alike bands, the bands that have drawn influence, not the copy bands, but bands like Crowded House, for instance?
George Harrison: I don’t think I’ve heard that Crowded House … is that the latest one? You know, it’s good, because there were some really good sounds in the mid-’60’s Beatle records. Thats’s really why I wanted to do that “Fab” one as well, to recreate some of those sounds.
Paul Cashmere: Were you ever disappointed that the Beatles stopped performing live when they did?
George Harrison: Not really. I was disappointed retrospectively. I was disappointed that we got so famous, because as musicians, we were a really good band in the early days. And the more fame that we got, the more the audience screamed and the more that we did just 20 or 30 minute shows of our latest singles. The musicianship kind of went out the window. And when I hang out with somebody like Eric Clapton, who, on the other hand never stopped touring and never got into that situation, he always just changed bands, he really became so fluent on his instrument. You know, we pigeonholed ourselves by the mania that was going on and the inability to perform for longer periods at a time, because of the way it was.
Paul Cashmere: The works got so intricate. You could never have done “Sgt Pepper” or “Abbey Road” live, could you?
George Harrison: But then again, if we’d have kept touring, we might not have gone into the studio to do those kind of intricate works. But the last tour we did, I remember trying to do “Paperback Writer”, which had a kind of double-tracked vocal and all that stuff, and it was a bit embarrassing at the time. I remember, “This isn’t making it. This doesn’t sound very good.” So I don’t know, but the Beatle tours were something else. You would have had to have been there to know how ridiculous it was. There was no way we could have continued under those circumstances.