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The jungle music & posh skittle of George Harrison (Part II)
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The new album is much more up sounding than your last few LPs. Did you adopt a different philosophy when you went in to record.
I think I was just getting a bit fed up with the music business and maybe the way I'd got myself a bit tied up by doing albums on my own—basically producing them, writing them, and performing them. I just got a bit tired of the whole idea. It was perfect to have that time off, and during that time I thought, a couple of years ago, It's always nice to do a record, but if I'm going to do a record, who could I get to help me?" There were not many people I could think of. but I thought of Jeff Lynne—he'd be perfect But I didn't know him; I'd never met him. Fortunately. Dave Edmunds had worked with Jeff, so I said, "Tell him I'd like to meet him." He called me back some time later to say. "Jeff's coming around to London," so we arranged to have a meeting with him, just dinner. We got on okay, but were a bit shy of each other. Then over a period of time I got to know him a bit better. Eventually I sort of tricked him into producing the thing [laughs]. It was great That blend, you see, is I think what happened: Jeff's input has given me a lift He's put so much time into the record, in a very selfless way. It still sounds like my record; his contribution was done tastefully, not trying to overpower it I really appreciated that, and quite honestly it wouldn't be the same album without Jeff. I'm really pleased to say it worked out nicely, and I just look forward to working more with him in the future. Jeff's a great craftsman. That's his life—he really enjoys that.
Did he help you write any of the material?
We wrote three together. I asked him to write me a tune for the record, and he wrote "This Is Love." When he brought it to me, he had a choice of different versions of the same song, and there are still enough bits left to write another two tunes from what's left-over. I chose the bits I liked from his versions and then wrote some words with him for it We started writing "That's What It Takes" together, and did about five middle parts but weren't sure about any of them. Then Gary Wright was over at the house, and I said, "Gary, have you got a middle bit for this?" He said, "Oh, I've got these funny chords, and I don't know what to do with them." He played these strange chords, and we sort of welded them into the middle of this song. It's like a little Beach Boys bit in the middle; it just steps up one tone. And then there's "When We Was Fab," which Jeff and I wrote totally together. I wanted to do one like an old Fab song.
"We continue to exist whether we're cool and groovy or not."
You got a lot of the Beatles tricks in on the end of that—the backwards guitar, the sitar....
Bits of phasing, yeah.
George playing the sitar, circa 1967.
Do you still practice the sitar?
I do, yeah. I've got a nice sitar in my guitar room, and I pick it up occasionally. I'm still fascinated—it's such a great-sounding instrument I mean, I'm no way very expert at it The same with a guitar. You have to really play and practice if you're going to be any good, and I don't do that Even with the sitar, I didn't touch it for years, but just over the last two years I got it out and all tuned up again. I really enjoy it.
During the five years between Gone Troppo and Cloud Nine, did you play the guitar much?
I tend to just use the guitar to write tunes on. And then—because I've got a studio in my house—to make demos. Like through those five years I never really stopped writing.
Did some of the songs from years ago end up on this album?
Some of the songs did, but we recut them. "Just For Today" was one, and "Cloud Nine" was another. "Wreck Of The Hesperus" I wrote a couple of years ago, but I didn't actually make a demo; I just sang it onto a cassette with an acoustic guitar. Then there were a couple of tunes I wrote last year for the movie Shanghai Surprise, but I didn't put a soundtrack album out because people, even before the movie came out, were so down on it I'd been put through such a lot of bullshit being involved with that, that although I liked the songs a lot, I knew people would not bother with it So I recut the one called "Someplace Else," and the other one I re-grooved it a bit, "Breath Away From Heaven." They're really nice songs, and I didn't want to lose them. There's one song, "Got My Mind Set On You"—I don't know when it was written. I've had a copy of it since at least 1960 or '61. That version was very strange and old-fashioned, but I thought it was a really great song. It's always been stuck in the back of my head.
During your hiatus, did you really consider yourself retired from music?
Not really, but I'd tell that to people—so they wouldn't bother me [laughs]. I mean, I've got a film company, as well, so we've been making some movies. And as I say, I've never really stopped writing tunes and putting demos down. I've always enjoyed that, because I don't have to get the key right or anything. I just do one take. It's quick You can write a song and record it and have it on a cassette in three or four hours. When you get into the studio to make a record, it gets a bit serious.
Do you have drum machines at your home studio?
Yeah. We only used them on two tracks on the album, I think But Jim Keltner, who is ace as a drummer with a real kit, is the best that I've ever heard on the drum machine, too. We loaded all his sounds in, or put him with Ringo's kick in, and various snare sounds. But the engineer got a really full sound. Like the drumming on "Mind Set On You" is all machine. Jim also can make it swing, so it's not rigid. I don't mind them on demos, and I don't mind them when Jim plays them, but basically I don't really enjoy machines and MEDI and all that DX7. Everybody's got it, and the sound has got so boring. I just wanted to do it more live, like a band, with Ringo and them. Nowadays, people are so conscious of perfect timing, but I like to have some human element to it I supposed rm just old-fashioned, from that old school. I tried to make the record so that I like it, too; fortunately, that's one of the reasons I like to work with Jeff. He dislikes the things that I dislike about current music and certain sounds.
Why did you wait so long to do another album?
I was fed up with the record business, which was partially, I suppose, my own fault —because I just got tired of having all of the responsibility and not having somebody else to bounce off of—but also partially because of the way it was going. Personally, I still prefer the old music—late '50s and early '60s, and a lot of stuff from the late '60s and early '70s. Of course, there's stuff now that I do like; I mean, there's always been some good stuff that I enjoyed. But the mass of stuff, it all just sounds the same to me. And the way the record business was; it went through a down period—not just the record business, but everything, when the oil crisis hit and every-one was getting fired from labels and the radio stations were all playing the same stuff. I just got so sick of it I wrote a song on an album a few years back called "Blood From A Clone" [Somewhere In England], which is sort of me trying to express that: "They say they like it but you're now in the market It may not go well because it's too laid-back" just all this marketing thing—how everything has to be a certain way, otherwise you don't have a chance of getting it on the radio. I got tired of writing songs and making records and then finding out that nobody ever got to hear it—unless I wanted to go and do me video and all that At that point I just got tired of it—after 20-odd years of doing it.
But I've had a good rest now, and I've peen doing movies for years. Part of that time away was also trying to get to know Jeff and zet to the point where I could work with him. So I think it's been time well spent, and also maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder. Hopefully, people will say, "Oh, it's good to :ear you're back." Whereas if you're just churning them out all the time, they get so tired of you anyway.
Do you think there's more pressure, though, because you've been away? More anticipation?
Now, no. Not at all. I don't see it like I'm making a comeback; I've always laughed at that—making a comeback Because I haven't been anywhere, and I'm not going anywhere. My attitude is better now, too. It doesn't matter. I think within my own limitations I've tried my best, and Jeff's done his best to help me, and by him being there I think he's got more out of me than if I'd done it on my own. The record company is pleased with the record, and they'll give it their best shot It's done. If people like it, and they get to hear it, they'll buy it And if they don't, it's a shame, but, you know, we continue to exist whether we're cool and groovy or not.
On the Carl Perkins show, with Dave Edmunds and Eric Clapton, you stole the show—just the tone you got.
Well, I must say, I had a really nice amplifier that a guy in England brought me for the show. It was a Fender twin-speaker, really low, wide thing [a tweed Twin]. That guy who used to be in the Stray Cats, Brian Setzer, phoned Dave Edmunds and said, "Hey, man, rve got that same guitar. Why doesn't mine sound like that?" That little amplifier had something to do with it, but Dave Edmunds was the musical director for the program, and it was recorded on a 24-track and he put all the slap echo on and everything.
Was that added after the fact?
Hmm, we did have a bit of slap on the voices, singing in the room where we recorded. But I think on the mix they tried to make it sound a bit like Sun Records.
Your tone bordered on Duane Eddy.
Duane! You know we just did a couple of tracks with Duane_ Well that Gretsch of his—I mean, when he hits that low E, it's still only an E—but it sounds like it's got to be an octave lower. It's all stuffed with cotton wool, too. Duane gets a great tone anyway, but Jeff Lynne producing—I thought that was perfect Jeff's such a big fan of his, and so am I. He got a really good sound on those two tracks we did in my house The Trembler" and "Theme For Something Really Important."
How did the co-authorship of "The Trembler"—by Duane Eddy and Ravi Shankar—come about?
Isn't that great? Ravi sang me that tune years ago. He said here's something maybe you can do something with" and just sang into the tape [see music below].
When Duane was around. I remembered that thing and played it to Jeff. He thought it was really cool, and we just changed it to make it more simple. But basically that's Ravi's line. even thot4la Jeff and I tried to help figure it out, and then Duane thought of doing those bits in the middle. It just cracked me up, the idea of Ravi and him writing a tune. I played the Duane track for Ravi, and at the end I said, 'Do you remember that tune you sang me?" And he said, "Ah, yeah. I thought it sounded familiar." I think that's brilliant They're such worlds apart, and yet 'Duane Eddy-Ravi Shankar."
Considering the amount of success you've already achieved, there shouldn't be as much of a need to prove yourself and make the Top 10 with every album. So why not just get a few guys together and make a straight-ahead rockabilly album, just for fun?
A lot of people would like that, but then there's all these other people out there, too. I don't know if there's enough rockabilly people to make a record a success. You know, I thought of that, and a lot of people have said that to me. Years ago Leon Russell used to keep saying, "Just do that! You really do that good." Jing-jinga rhythm—all those "That's All Right, Mama" kind of tunes. But I know Paul McCartney used to always say years ago, "In a way, it's easier to write 'Yesterday' than it is to write 'A-wop-bop-a-lubop-a-wop-bam-boom.'" It's true. It's one thing singing "Blue Suede Shoes," but it's another thing writing it I said to Carl Perkins, "Wouldn't it be great if there were songs like that around now?" And he sat down and raffled off about 10 tunes he's got written that are brilliant—just like that All he needs is somebody to get on producing him and get him a record deal.
At the Concert For Bangla Desh, New York,
1971, with Eric Clapton in background.
Oh, sure, we'll help Carl. I'd like to do some tracks with him.
When the Stray Cats and all the rockabilly revival groups came around, you stayed out of it What was your view of the newer rockabilly bands?
I liked the Stray Cats stuff because in the middle of all the punk, it was great to see younger people, the generation after us, who were into that old stuff. Lee Rocker was great on that Carl Perkins show, playing that big bass.
Do you plan to tour behind the new album?
I'm not too sure about that I sort of went out a couple of months ago and stuck my toe in the water [at the Prince's Trust concert], just to see. And although part of it is enjoyable—I don't know—it takes a lot out of you, doing that kind of stuff. And to do it for two nights is one thing, but to go on the road ...I could be staying in some crappy motel in Philadelphia. I'd rather be at home with the family. I tell you a nice way to do it would be like the old rock and roll shows, when they'd have 10 or 15 different people on the show, and you'd all just go on and sing a couple of tunes each. That kind of thing's good, but I don't know how you'd ever pay everybody and work that kind of situation out.
All of the Beatles seemed extremely underrated as players, and there was a period when Ringo was being interviewed quite a bit, a few years ago, and people asked him, "Who do you think is the best rock and roll drummer?" His answer was, "I am."
Well, he could be the best rock and roll drummer—or at least one of the best rock and roll drummers. I mean, I've seen Ringo playing on other people's sessions, as well as for me or in the Beatles, where he'll hold that, rock-steady, all day and night He'll have a break every hour-and-a-half to go for a pee and have a cigarette, and then he'll sit back down and he'll hold it steady. He plays drums like I feel I play guitar. Technically, he just gets hold of his sticks and just bangs the drums, and he does fills which crack up people like Jim Keltner. He's just amazed because Ringo starts them in the wrong place and all that, but that is brilliant That's pure feel. There were certain tracks on this new record—particularly "When We Was Fab"—before I started to write that song, I thought "Okay, it's going to be Ringo going, 'One, two, bag-a-dum, bag-a-duet; and I'll take it from there." The rest comes after that He does some of them wacky drum fills, like in the old days, but there's one fill towards the turn-around at the end that's brilliant It's like it came right out of 1965. You know, he does everything back to front.
The combination of Ringo and Jim Keltner is great, because they're both in awe of each other; there's this sort of mutual admiration society going on. I'm a bit like that I like to play rhythm guitar and then think about what the solo's going to be. If I want a really spontaneous, bluesy, rocky solo—I'll make an attempt I can do that sometimes, or figure out what I'm going to do, like on my demos—but here I've got a mate called Eric who plays that It's just a great opportunity to hang out with Eric, too.
Clapton has also mentioned you as an influence, and there was that period where you both sounded very similar. "Something" [Abbey Road] is not all that far removed from say, "Wonderful Tonight" [Slowhand, RSO, RS-1-3030].
Yeah, I love Eric. I love the touch he has on his guitar. When he comes over to play on my songs, he doesn't bring an amplifier or a guitar, he says, "Oh, you've got a good Strat" He knows I've got one because he gave it to me [laughs]. He plugs in, and just his vibrato and everything ... he makes that guitar sound like Eric. That's the beauty of all the different players that there are. There are players who are better than each other, or not as good, but everybody's got their own thing. It's like a 12-bar blues. You can't do a 12-bar the same way twice, so they say. There's things that Eric can do where it would take me all night to get it right—he can knock it off in one take. Because he plays all the time. But then again, when we're listening to some of my slide bits, he'll look at me, and I know he likes it And that, for me, if Eric gives me the thumbs up on a slide solo, it means more than half the population.
On the Dark Horse tour, his most recent, 1974.
It seems odd that the one real guitar-solo vehicle you wrote with the Beatles, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," was the only Beatles song where you had Eric Clapton play the solo. From a producer's point of view, that's a perfect move, but as an artist with an ego, didn't you want your own stamp on that solo?
No, my ego would rather have Eric play it I'll tell you, I worked on that song with John, Paul, and Ringo one day, and they were not interested in it at all. And I knew inside of me that it was a nice song. The next day I was with Eric, and I was going into the session, and I said "We're going to do this song, Come on and play on it" He said, "Oh, no. I can't do that Nobody ever plays on the Beatles records." I said 'Look, it's my song, and I want you to play on it" So Eric came in, and the other guys were as good as gold—because he was there. Also, it left me free to just play the rhythm and do the vocal. So Eric played that and I thought it was really good. Then we listened to it back, and he said, "Ah, there's a problem, though; it's not Beatley enough"—so we put it through the ADT [automatic double-tracker], to wobble it a bit.
Were many of the guitar solos cut live?
Yeah. In those days we only had, like, 4-tracks. On that album, the White Album, I think we had an 8-track by then, so some things were overdubbed, or we had our own tracks. I would say the drums would probably all be on one track, bass on another, the acoustic on another, piano on another, Eric on another, and the vocal on another, and then whatever else. But when we laid that track down, I sang it with the acoustic guitar with Paul on piano, and Eric and Ringo—that's how we laid the track down. Later, Paul overdubbed the bass on it.
That's the album people always point to as being the first sign of the Beatles separating—with the different songs really exhibiting more of the individual composer's style, rather than the band's. But it still has an organic, band feel—with various members trading instruments.
Yeah, yeah. We still all helped each other out as much as we could.
Speaking of collaborations, on Cream's "Badge" [Goodbye, RSO, 1-3013] did you write the words and Clapton the music? Who played the guitar through the Leslie on the bridge?
That's where Eric enters. On the record Eric doesn't play guitar up until that bridge. He sat through it with his guitar in the Leslie [rotating speaker], and I think Felix somebody [Pappalardi] was the piano player. So there was Felix, Jack Bruce, [drummer] Ginger Baker, and me—I played the rhythm chops —and we played the song right up to the bridge, at which point Eric came in on the guitar with the Leslie. And then he over-dubbed the solo later. Let me see—I wrote most of the words, Eric had the bridge, definitely, and he had the first couple of chord changes. He called me up and said, "Look, we're doing this last album, and we've each got to have our song by Monday." I finished the verses off, and he had the middle bit already, and I think I wrote most of the words to the whole song—although he was there, and we bounced off of each other. The story's getting a bit tired now, but I was writing the words down, and when we came to the middle bit I wrote "Bridge." And from where he was sitting, opposite me, he looked and said, "What's that—Badge?" So he called it "Badge" because it made him laugh.
Rehearsing for Blue Suede Shoes — A Rockabilly Session (L-R):
Harrison, Carl Perkins, and Eric Clapton, 1986.
It sounds as much like a Beatles song as a Cream song.
Yeah, well, that's because he did it with me instead of with Jack. Like, I wanted Eric on "Guitar Gently Weeps" for a bit of moral support and to make the others behave, and I think it was the same reason he asked me to play on that session with them.
In the Beatles, you always seemed to play solos as mini compositions and use different sounds and techniques according to whatever the song called for. That attitude tends to get overlooked a lot with so much importance placed on pyrotechnics.
Yeah, worked-out solos. I think that was largely because, like on the early records, we went straight onto mono or stereo. Then we got a 4-track But a lot of those takes, we had to do everything at the same time, or as much as possible. So we'd say, "These guitars are gonna come in on the second chorus playing these parts, at which time the piano will come in, too, on top." And we'd have to get the individual sound of each instrument, and then the balance of those to each other, because they were all going to be locked together on one track Then we had to do the performance, where everybody got their bit right I think it was maybe to do with that, where we'd worked out parts. Listening to some of the CDs, there are some really good things, like "And Your Bird Can Sing," where I think it was Paul and me, or maybe John and me, playing in harmony—quite a complicated little line that goes right through the middle eight We had to work those out, you know. In the early days, the solos were made up on the spot, or we'd been playing them onstage a lot.
What do you think of the Beatles on compact disc?
I'm not so keen on the sound on the CDs; I think I prefer the old mixes, the old versions. I think CDs are good on all this new stuff, but I don't know about the old stuff put on them.
But those early sounds, I hated them. I remember midway through the '60s there'd be all these American groups we'd bump into, and they'd say, "Hey, man, how did you get that sound?" And I realized somewhere down the line, I was playing these Gretsch guitars through these Vox amps, and in retrospect they sounded so puny. It was before we had the unwound third string, that syndrome, and because it was always done in a rusk and you didn't have a chance to do a second take, we just hadn't developed sounds on our side of the water. I mean, listening to James Burton playing them solos on the Rick Nelson records, and then we'd come up with this stuff—it was so feeble. I got so fed up with that, and that was the time that Eric gave me that Les Paul guitar. And that gets back to the story of "Guitar Gently Weeps". It was my guitar that was gently weeping—he just happened to be playing it.
The White Album was a definite departure in terms of guitar sounds—with more volume and fuzz. Was that a product of the times and the themes of those songs?
It was partly that, and the type of bands that were around. We started out like this little group in mono; we just played a couple of takes, and that was it And the engineers who worked in Abbey Road had been doing Peter Sellers records or skiffle. Nobody had had any experience like in America. America was always ahead, and we always looked to America for the sounds and the groovy players. We felt just like a lucky little group—we knew we had something good to offer, but we were quite modest The situation we were in was this old equipment but we were happy with it in those days; we were just happy to be in the studio. And as things developed, we probably got a 4-track when America was all getting their 8-tracks, going to 16. Then we got an 8-track when they were all into 24. We were always that far behind, but this is the thing that puts me against a lot of the music now. Everybody's got 48 channels and MIDI'd and MAXI'd and 89,000 pedals on their guitars and everything—and yet, it's still not as good as "That's All Right, Mama" by Elvis Presley or "Blue Suede Shoes" by Carl Perkins, or Chuck Berry or Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, the old Everlys. You can go through all that stuff—they had greater sounds. So when the pedal syndrome came along, I couldn't be bothered with that I got into the thing of thinking, "Now, if I can just get my guitar in tune and get it so that I can play jing-jinga-jing and a few little licks and it sounds nice, that'll do me." I ain't doing acrobatics with all these things.
"America was always ahead, and we always looked to America for the sounds and the players."
Also, we used to do things like on that Carl Perkins program where he talks about hearing Les Paul and learning to play like that [not knowing that Les Paul used tape echo and overdubs]. Well, we used to do that, in a way. Like the slap echo that was on the old Sun records, Carl's and Elvis'—we used to sing like that, sing the tape echo, or try to play it We thought, "Well, that must be the drummer drumming with the sticks on the bass strings" [imitates a slap bass line]. We were naive; we didn't have a clue. Even on Abbey Road we used to have to invent ways of keeping it interesting or making new sounds. We'd think, "Well, let's be Fleetwood Mac today," and we'd put a lot of reverb on and pretend to be Fleetwood Mac.