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The jungle music & posh skittle of George Harrison (Part III)
There's a volume pedal effect you got on songs such as "Yes It Is" and "Wait" and "I Need You." Were you using a volume pedal back then?
I think I tried to. There was a guy in Liverpool who used to go to school with Paul and I, and he was in a band called the Remo Four and played with Billy J. Kramer. And he got all that stuff and could play all those Chet Atkins ones where you can play both tunes at the same time—like "Colonel Bogey." He had a volume pedal, and I think we tried that, but I could never coordinate it So some of those, what we'd do is, I played the part, and John would kneel down in front of me and turn my guitar's volume control.
That's like "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly. He had a guy kneeling down to switch his Strat to the rear pickup for the guitar solo.
Yeah, that's great stuff, isn't it? That's still one of the greatest guitar solos of all time.
At some point, after the Beatles, you switched your solo playing almost exclusively to slide.
Right. In the '60s, I forget exactly which years, there was a period where I really got into Indian music. I started playing the sitar and hanging out with Ravi Shankar, and I took some lessons for a couple of years. Then after that period, I thought, "Well, really, I'm a pop person. I'm neglecting the guitar and what I'm supposed to do." I knew I was not going to be a brilliant sitar player, because I'd already met a thousand of them in India, and Ravi thought one of them was going to make it as a really top-class player. I still play the sitar now for my own amusement, and I enjoy it, but I thought I'd better get back on the guitar. By that time there were all these people like 10 years old playing brilliantly. I just thought, "God, I'm so out of touch. I don't even know how to get a half-decent sound." The result of that was I thought, "Oh, I'll see what happens here with this slide." And it sort of sounded funkier than what I could with my fingers at that time. It developed from that, without me realizing it Then people would come up and say, "Would you play slide on my record?" I'm thinking, "Really? Are you sure?" Then, I don't know, I started hearing people sort of imitating me doing slide—which is very flattering. But, again, like I was saying about the sound—"How did you get that sound?"—I didn't think it was that good.
Do you think that Indian music and the sitar influenced your approach to slide?
Because you can get all those quarter-tones.
Yeah. See, I never really learned any music until I sat down with Ravi Shankar with the sitar. He said to me, "Do you know how to read music?" Oh, no, here we go again. Because I felt like there were really much better musicians who deserved to be sitting with this guy who's such a master of the instrument I started getting panicky. I said, "No, I don't know how to read music." He said, "Oh, good—because it's only going to influence you." Then I did learn how to notate in what they call the sofa system, which is like the Hindustani classical way of notating. It was the first time I had any discipline—doing all these exercises. They show you how to bend the string. I talk briefly about it in I Me Mine. What they call hammering on with the guitar, there's exercises for that, and bending. Because on a sitar, from the first string, you've got a good two inches of fret, and you're pulling it down. It's like Albert King playing left-handed, and he can pull that E string right across the neck.
It's amazing how that sounds different from a right-handed player pushing the string from the opposite direction.
It's because you've got more strength in your hand, I think, to pull it that way than you have to push. So that was the first time I actually learned a bit of discipline—doing all these little things in conjunction with what you do with your right hand, the stroke. If you strike the string down, it's called da, and if you hit it up, it's called ra. I'd be trying to practice one of these complicated exercises, thinking I'd just be getting it, and Ravi would say, "No, No. Ra. Ra." I'm hitting it one way instead of the other—you know, "Does that matter at this stage?" We don't have that sort of frame of reference in guitar.
Then with slide what I could do is actually hit the string with one stroke and [hums a scale]—do a whole little wobbly bit. And because of the Indian stuff, it made me think a bit more about the stroke side to it and I realized there's so many different ways of playing, say, a three-note passage. You can strike it and go down with one stroke; you can strike it each time; there's a million permutations of that one thing. The Indian music also gave me a greater sense of rhythm and of syncopation. I mean, after that I wrote all these weird tunes with funny beats and 3/4 bars, 5/4 bars. Not exactly commercial, but it got inside me to a degree that it had to come out somewhere.
When I did that tour in '74 with all the Indian musicians, I had Robben Ford on guitar. I think he's brilliant, because not only is he a great blues player and rock player, but he really got into playing all the Indian stuff, too.
The sound of the Beatles was influenced a lot by the changes in instruments—a lot of which were simply because some company gave you guys new guitars. Did Rickenbacker give you a 12-string?
Yeah, I got number two. This friend of mine in England who takes care of guitars, Alan Rogan, just found out that that Rickenbacker 12-string of mine is the second one they made. The first one they gave to some woman, and the second one is the one I got I got another one from them with the rounded cutaways, but I'm glad to say that the one that went missing—I got a lot of stuff stolen or lost—wasn't that original one. That guitar is really good. I love the sound of it and the brilliant way where the machine heads fit so that even when you're drunk you can still know what string you're tuning.
"People would say, 'Would you play slide on my record?' I'm thinking, 'Really? Are you sure?"
On "If I Needed Someone," is that the Rick 12-string capoed up?
If it's not in D, it must be. It was written in D nut position [capoed at the 5th fret]. The opening to "A Hard Day's Night" is also that Rickenbacker 12-string. And in fact on the new album, "Fish On The Sand" is the Ricky 12-string.
What's your main guitar for slide?
I'm so dumb, really. It takes me years to figure things out But through Ry [Cooderj—I really like his slide—I realized that you jack the bridge up a bit and you put thicker-gauge strings on it, so it doesn't clatter around. So I have my psychedelic Strat set up like that now.
What were the band politics in the instances where one of the other Beatles would play lead guitar? Didn't Paul play the lead on "Taxman," for instance?
Well, with certain things like that, in those days, for me to be allowed to do my one song on the album, it was like, "Great I don't care who plays what This is my big chance." So in Paul's way of saying, 'T11 help you out I'll play this bit," I wasn't going to argue with that There's a number of songs that Paul played lead on, or John did, but people just think because it said "lead guitar" it was all me. Paul played slide actually on "Drive My Car"—that wasn't me. But likewise, I played bass on some tunes, and we all did various things. And to go track by track, like I think John did at some point—"1 did this and I did that"—we all contributed a lot to it, and it doesn't matter to me. Like I said, if there's something where Eric can do it, and it's going to make my song sound better, it doesn't matter to my guitar player's ego. Same with Paul; I was pleased to have him play that bit on "Taxman." If you notice, he did like a little Indian bit on it for me. And John played a brilliant solo on "Honey Pie" from the White Album; sounded like Django Reinhardt or something. It was one of them where you just close your eyes and happen to hit all the right notes—sounded like a little jazz solo.
In I Me Mine, it's surprising that you didn't cover—
The Beatles [laughs].
—or your musical influences and up-bringing.
Well, you've got to understand that the book really started out as a facsimile of the bits of paper that the songs were written on. And then it developed into talking about each song—how I wrote it or some little story. Then they decided to get Derek Taylor, a friend who is a writer, to fill in bits. We'd have a tape recorder and just talk, like we're talking now, and then later they'd type it up and I'd read it and edit or polish it up a bit And it just became a book. But it's just really random conversations from three or four different occasions put together. And the Beatles had been so ripped off and used by everybody—lots of people—in one way or another. And they still are, to this day. So I didn't want to appear to be riding on the Beatles' coattails either. I know John got personally insulted because I never mentioned him in it, but I never really mentioned Paul or Ringo. Derek even said, "Well, hadn't you better say something about Pattie? You were married to her for 10 years." "Oh, okay then." I was avoiding all the stuff people would really want to know about, the gossip side of things, and also I didn't want to insult the other guys—"Look, he's just cashing in on the Beatles." I wanted it to be what it set out to be, which was just the songs, the bits of paper, how I wrote them.
Most of the articles and interviews on the Beatles spend more time on the Beatlemania and seldom discuss the four of you as musicians—for instance, what first attracted you to taking up the guitar?
Exactly, right My earliest recollection is that my dad used to go away to sea in the merchant navy, and sometime when I was a little boy he brought a wind-up gramophone that he bought in New York, and he had all these records. The old 78s with the big needles. And he had Jimmie Rodgers. Not the guy who sang "Honeycomb," but the old Jimmie Rodgers. And I just loved that—just the sound of those old acoustic guitars recorded really roughly. I don't know, something just appealed to me. I'll tell you who was also really big in England was a guy from Jacksonville, Florida—Slim Whitman. And he did all these tunes like "Rose Marie," and he was on the radio and had a lot of hit records in England.
I heard there was a guy, when I was about 12 or 13, who went to the junior school I went to, and he was selling this guitar. I just went and bought it off him. Cost me three pounds, 10 shillings. This was when it was $2.50 for a pound, so it was about $10.00. Just a little cheap acoustic guitar, but I didn't really know what to do with it I noticed where the neck fitted on the box it had a big bolt through it, holding it on. I thought, "Oh, that's interesting." I unscrewed it, and the neck fell off [laughs]. And I was so embarrassed, I couldn't get it back together, so I hid it in the cupboard for a while. Later my brother fixed it.
Then there was this big skiffle craze happening for a while in England—which was Lonnie Donegan. He set all them kids on the road. Everybody was in a skiffle group. Some gave up, but the ones who didn't give up became all those bands out of the early '60s. Lonnie was into, like, Lonnie Johnson and Leadbelly—those kind of tunes. But he did it in this sort of very accessible way for kids. Because all you needed was an acoustic guitar, a washboard with thimbles for percussion, and a tea chest—you know, a box that they used to ship tea in from India—and you just put a broom handle on it and a bit of string, and you had a bass. We all just got started on that You only needed two chords: [hums] jing-jinga-jing, jing-jinga-jing, [hums lower] jing-jinga-jing, jing-jinga-jing [laughs]. And I think that is basically where I've always been at Fm just a skiffler, you know. Now I do "posh skiffle." That's all it is. That's why I've always been embarrassed at the idea of being in Guitar Player Magazine. It's just posh skiffle.
Once you got electrified, who were your main influences?
Once we got going it was like "Heartbreak Hotel," hearing that early Elvis stuff, Carl Perkins—I don't recall which order they came in—the Everlys, Eddie Cochran. You know, I've always wanted one of them orange Gretsches with a big "G" stamped on it I finally got one—my wife got me the one I used on the Carl Perkins program for Christmas a couple of years ago—except it didn't have the "G" on it I mean, I just loved that stuff. And the first time I ever saw a photograph of Buddy Holly with that Strat—I'm sure it was the same for millions of kids—but, you know, you cream yourself, your pants, looking at this. Wow! When I was in school, I was always bad in school—I didn't like it—and I'd always just sit in the back. But I've got some of my books still, from when I was about 13. And there's just drawings of guitars and different-style scratchplates—always trying to draw Fender Stratocasters.
Was "Cry For A Shadow," the instrumental you wrote with John, written in reference to the Shadows?
We always used to have a little joke on the Shadows. Because in England, [singer] Cliff Richard and the Shadows were the biggest thing; they were like the English version of the Ventures. And it was a time when—we were lucky because we didn't get into it—everybody had matching ties and handkerchiefs and suits, and all the lead guitar players had glasses so they looked like Buddy Holly, and they all did these funny walks while they were playing. Well, we went to Hamburg and got straight into the leather gear. And we were doing all the Chuck Berry and Little Richard and that kind of stuff—and just foaming at the mouth because they used to feed us these uppers to keep us going, because they made us work eight or ten hours a night So we used to always joke about the Shadows, and actually in Hamburg we had to play so long, we actually used to play "Apache" or whatever was their hit But John and I were just bullshitting one day, and he had this new little Rickenbacker with a funny kind of wobble bar on it And he started that off, and I just came in, and we made it up right on the spot Then we started playing it a couple of nights, and it got on a record somehow [The Beatles Featuring Tony Sheridan—In The Beginning (Circa 1960)].
"You can't beat an old Strat with those old pickups—I don't care what you say."
But it was really a joke, so we called it "Cry For A Shadow." But you don't consider yourself to have been influenced by the Shadows' Hank Marvin, as was the case with most English guitarists of that period?
Naw, no. Although Hank is a good player —I would certainly not put him down—and I did enjoy the little echo things they had and the sound of the Fenders, which they started out on. But, to me, "Walk—Don't Run," the Ventures—I just always preferred the American stuff to the English. So I wasn't influenced by him at all. I'm more influenced by Buddy Holly. I mean, right till this day I could play you the "Peggy Sue" solo any time, or "Think It Over" or "It's So Easy." I knew all them tunes, and Eddie Cochran stuff. Right before Eddie Cochran got killed, I was lucky enough to see him when he came to play the Liverpool Empire, and he was hot—I'll tell ya. He started the show with "What'd I Say" and "Milkcow Blues." He had his unwound third string and his Bigsby going—he was real cool.
Why did you end up with a Gretsch instead of a Strat, considering Buddy Holly's influence?
What happened was, my first guitar was this little cheap acoustic I mentioned, and then I got what they call a cello-style, f-hole, single-cutaway called a Hofner—which is like the German version of a Gibson. Then I got a pickup and stuck it on that, and then I swapped that for a guitar called a Club 40, which is a little Hofner that looked like a solid guitar but was actually hollow inside with no soundholes. Then this guitar came along called a Futurama. It was a dog to play, it had the worst action. They tried to copy a Fender Strat It had a great sound, though, and a real good way of switching in the three pickups and all the combinations. But when we got to Hamburg, there was this Fender Strat, which was the first real Strat I'd ever seen in person, other than a photo. I was going to buy it the next day, and there was this other band called Rory Storm & The Hurricanes—which Ringo was with. And their guitar player ran out and got his money, and he got it The next day when I got up there, it had gone, and he was up there playing it [smiles, strumming air guitar]. I thought, "Aw, shit!"
Then we started making a bit of money, because I saved up 75 pounds, and I saw an ad in the paper in Liverpool, and there was a guy selling his guitar. I bought it it was a Gretsch Duo Jet—which is now on my new album cover. It was a sailor who bought it in America and brought it back. It was like my first real American guitar, and I'll tell you, it was second-hand, but I polished that thing; I was so proud to own that That was the reason I think when we went to the States to play the Ed Sullivan Show, Gretsch gave me a Gretsch that I used on the show. I didn't realize at the time—because if I had, I'd have 20 Gretsches right now, with square ones, round ones, fur ones, and all them like Bo Diddley—but I read somewhere that after the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show that Gretsch sold 20,000 guitars a week or something like that I mean, we would have had shares in Fender, Vox, Gretsch, and everything, but we didn't know—we were stupid.
Nevertheless, they gave me a couple of Gretsches, which was very nice of them, and I wish they were still in business—the original company—because I've got some great ideas for what they should do. I mean, all these companies—I suppose it's the same as motor cars. They're so into making little wedgie turbos, but what about all them with the big wings? They could still put on all those high-tech switches and pickups, possibly, but you can't beat that Strat and those old pickups they had on it—I don't care what you say. The same with some of those designs of those older guitars. I mean, that book American Guitars [Harper & Row] is fantastic. I just look at that, and certain ones, like that D'Angelico with the real art-deco scratchplate. I'm still a kid when it comes to guitars. Anyway, Gretsch gave me those guitars, and I was pleased to have them, but I never really got the one I wanted, which was the orange—well, it's called the Chet Atkins, but to me it's the "Eddie Cochran" model.
In the past few years, when you were concentrating more on filmmaking, did you see yourself primarily as a guitarist still, as a songwriter, a filmmaker, or what?
I don't really see myself as a songwriter or a guitarist or a singer or a lyricist or even a film producer. All of those are me, in a way —just like I like gardening, digging holes and sticking trees in. But I'm not really a gardener, just like I'm not really a guitarist—but I am. If I plant 500 coconut trees, I'm sort of a gardener, aren't I? And if I play on records and stuff, then I'm a guitarist But not in the sense like, say, B.B. King or Eric Clapton, who play constantly and keep their chops together and are really fluid. You have to play all that time to keep good, and in that respect... you know, I'm not trying to put myself down, but the reality is I'm okay. I mean. I've sat with people who are just learning the guitar and showed them some chords and a few things—and I realized I do know quite a lot about guitar, I've absorbed quite a lot over the years. But I've never really felt like I was a proper guitar player. You see all these guys with their chops together, with charts showing how they did it. In the sense of being a guitarist who works and plays, and who could just pop in on anybody's session and come up with the goods, I'm not that kind of player. I'm just a jungle musician, really.
A SELECTED GEORGE HARRISON DISCOGRAPHY
The Beatles catalog is confusing, to say the least For starters, their original English albums usually contained more songs than the American counterparts. For instance, the American edition of Rubber Soul doesn't include "What Goes On," "Nowhere Man," "Drive My Car," and "If I Needed Someone" —which were crammed (with various other leftover album cuts and singles) onto Yesterday & Today, a title that never existed in England—yet the American Rubber Soul does contain "It's Only Love" and 'Tye Just Seen A Face," which were on the English version of Help (but not the American release). Got that? To further muddle matters, the Beatles' first two English LPs came out in America (almost simultaneously) on two different labels: Please Please Me (retitled Introducing The Beatles) was on VeeJay, while With The Beatles (redubbed Meet The Beatles) was on Capitol. Capitol then took left-over tracks from the shortened With The Beatles and various English singles and put out The Beatles' Second Album, which was actually their third to hit American shores but never existed as an album in the U.K. Also, many English singles, including "She Loves You" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand," were not put on any of the original LPs in England, and the music from their TV film Magical Mystery Tour was only released in England in EP form. There have also been numerous post-breakup repackagings.
In cases where an album with the same title was released in both countries, the number given here indicates the original English configuration.
Solo albums: Wonderwoll Music, Apple, ST 3350; Electronic Music, Zapple, ST-3358; All Things Must Pass, Apple, STCH 639; Living In The Material World, Apple, SMAS-3410; Dark Horse, Apple, SMAS-3418; Extra Texture, Apple, SW-3420; 33 1/3, Dark Horse (dist by Warner Bros), DH 3005; George Harrison, Dark Horse, DHK 3255; Somewhere In England, Dark Horse, DHK 3492; Gone Troppo, Dark Horse, out of print Cloud Nine, Dark Horse, 1-25643; Best Of George Harrison, Capitol, 11578.
With the Beatles: Please Please Me, Parlophone, PCS 3042; With The Beatles, Parlophone, PCS 3045; A Hard Day's Night, Parlophone, PCS 3058; Beatles For Sale, Parlophone, PCS 3062; Help!, Parlophone, PCS 3071; Rubber Soul, Parlophone, PCS 3075; Revolver, Parlophone, PCS 7009; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Parlophone, PCS 7027; The Beatles (the "White Album"), Apple, PCS 7067-8; Yellow Submarine, Apple, PCS 7070; Abbey Road, Apple, PCS 7088; Let It Be, Apple, PCS 7069-, Magical Mystery Tour, Capitol, SMAL 2835; Introducing The Beatles, VeeJay, LP 1062 (also issued as The Early Beatles, Capitol, ST 2309) Meet The Beatles, Capitol, ST 2047; The Beatles' Second Album, Capitol, ST 2080; Something New, Capitol, ST 2108; Beatles '65, Capitol, ST 2228; Yesterday & Today, Capitol, ST 2553; Beatles VI, Capitol, ST 2358; Hey Jude, Capitol, SW-385; The Beatles Featuring Tony Sheridan—In The Beginning (Circa 1960), Polydor, 24-4504; At The Hollywood Bowl, Capitol, SMAS-11638; Reel Music, Capitol, SV-12199; 20 Greatest Hits, Capitol, SV-12245; Rarities, Capitol. SHAL-12060; Love Songs, Capitol, SKBL-11711; The Beatles/1962-1966, Capitol, SKBO 3403: The Beatles/1967-1970, Capitol, SKBO 3404.
With John Lennon: Imagine, Apple, 3379; Sometime In New York City, Apple, 3392.
With Billy Preston: I Wrote A Simple Song. A&M, 3507; It's My Pleasure, A&M, 4532.
With Splinter: The Place I Love, Dark Horse, AMLH 22001; Harder To Live, Dark Horse, AMLH 22006.
With others: Ringo Starr, Ringo, Apple, 3413; various artists, Concert For Bangla Desh, Apple, STCX 3385; Duane Eddy, Duane Eddy, Capitol, ST-12567; Cream, Goodbye, RS0,1-3013; Pete Best, The Pete Best Story, Savage, 71/2; Jack Bruce, Songs For A Tailor, Atco, SD 33306; Cheech & Chong, Los Cochinos, Warner Bros., 3252; Mick Fleetwood, The Visitor, RCA, AFL1- 4080; Hall & Oates, Along The Red Ledge, RCA, 2894; Bobby Keys, Bobby Keys, Warner Bros, K46141; Alvin Lee, Road To Freedom, CBS, 32729; Jackie Lomax. Is This What You Want, Apple, 3354; Leon Russell, Leon Russell, Shelter, 8901; Tom Scott, New York Connection, Ode, 77033; the Silkie, You've Got To Hide Your Love Away, Fontana, 67548.