Monday, February 25, 2013

George Harrison And Me: a Remembrance on His 70th Birthday.

Something about George Harrison distinguished him from his Fab Four band mates. In the early days he was tagged by the press as the "quiet Beatle", he contributed to it with his " don't bother me" attitude. While I was a massive McCartney and Lennon fan, as each appealed to the two sides of my nature, mellow romantic and sarcastic rebel, there was something about George that also appealed to me. I guess I liked the band so intensely that I wanted to be like each of them. As I said, John & Paul were already in my nature and I was as likable and average as Ringo (;-). So, I subconsciously knew I needed to connect with George. But he played lead guitar which at 58, I'm only just beginning to understand, at 10 it was a mystery. It was probably because he possessed this mystifying lead player talent that I wanted to play guitar. But wait those guitars, oh my lord what beautiful magical items. They fascinated me so much. Paul's bass was an amazing and unique instrument but at 10. I really had no idea of bass, besides which, Paul played left handed. But George played some amazing guitars, and regular guitars were readily available in stores. My folks bought me an Emenee white plastic nylon stringed "toy". I might as well have played air guitar but it looked good while I stood in my living room singing into a makeshift microphone stuck into a vase. In the meantime, I studied all of George's guitars in fan mags like TigerBeat. I was fascinated with his Gretsch Duo Jet & Country Gent but then came A Hard Day's Night. I sat in the dark of the Palace Movie Theater with my Dad and cousins and shuttered in amazement at the film that made you feel you were right there with them. There were two instruments that film that really made me sit up and take notice: The Gibson J160E and the Rickenbacker 360-12. I lusted after those two guitars. The J160E was an acoustic electric and the Ric, be-still my heart, that sound, and that amazing design! I loved that guitar as only a 10 year old could. It was two years before I finally took lessons and got my first guitars, a no name hollow body electric that resembled a Gretsch/ Gibson Frankenstein and a cheap mahogany acoustic. By this time, I was an informal student of all things guitar, Beatle and otherwise. Roger McGuinn of the Byrds and Pete Townshend of the Who also played a Ric 360-12 and produced that amazing chime that just spoke to my soul. Mike Nesmith of the Monkees, played a Gretsch 12 string, George, Paul and John added Epiphone Casinos and Paul the famous Epiphone Texan, he played Yesterday with on Ed Sullivan, I lusted after that one, too. Then George and John added Fender Strats like the Beach Boys and other US bands played. We only heard them on record but finally got to see George's psychedelic painted version in Magical Mystery Tour. Paul & John then got Martin D-28's and George added a Gibson J-200, SG & Les Paul from Eric Clapton & a Rosewood Fender Tele from Fender. Clapton was playing Gibsons: a Les Paul, then ES-335 before switching to Jimi Hendrix preferred Stratocasters.
Meanwhile, my lessons continued at a snails pace and I stopped going after I started 9th grade. Then I discovered school dances and all the student Rock bands. I stood in front of the stage and watched my classmates play all the cover tunes of the hits of the day. I went home that night with envy and the next morning, I pulled out my Hollow body electric and started to practice. I started to hang out with my friends bands sometimes working as a sort of roadie for one of them. Playing with one of my friends from time to time, I learned a lot and I began to get better. Then I was given a bright red Giannini Acoustic with a neck like an electric that everyone liked playing. I got good enough to join the Guitar Mass Group. Funny thing was, we didn't just play the usual approved Catholic folk songs like Kumbya but slowly added secular songs like Get Together by the Youngbloods, Jackie DeShannon's Put a Little Love in Your Heart, and Jefferson Airplane's Good Shepherd. My contribution was to introduce George Harrison's My Sweet Lord. I got to sing lead and I was proud to be doing it. I later suggested we add Let It Be and George's Awaiting on You All. The latter chorus which said " The Lord is awaiting on you all to awaken and see" which was very appropriate. But we omitted the verse that said
"And the Pope owns 51% of general motors
And the stock exchange is the only thing he's qualified to quote us"

I began to really get into All Things Must Pass and my friends and I discussed George's love of Eastern religion and philosophy. Being in a parochial school, meditation was a common topic. My friends and I took out the Maharishi's book and experimented with eastern meditation. It was cool but not that easy to do with all the distractions of a busy adolescence, but we were finally able to appreciate the beauty of Within You, Without you and the Inner Light. I bought and enjoyed George's WonderWall soundtrack album and in studying Eastern thought I began to reevaluate my understanding of religion and began to question what I really believed.

Through high school, I continued to play and be influenced by other bands like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Cream, Derek and the Dominoes, Creedence Clearwater, The Who, Dylan etc. I was never really good enough to be in a band but I did alright in small folk group situations and I did write a few songs.

Years passed, my playing time diminished but I still followed all the solo Beatle careers. Paul with Wings and beyond, Ringo solo and with his All Stars, John with the Plastic Ono Band and Elephants Memory until his tragic death, and George thru the Concert for Bangladesh, the Capitol and Warner Brother years, The Traveling Wilbury's and his last days. I never got to see John perform live but I've made up for it with multiple attendance at McCartney and Ringo concerts. And, I was lucky to see George perform, once. He was part of the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert at Madison Square Garden in 1992. I was in the 3rd row behind the stage with a perfect view. George sang Absolutely, Sweet Marie, solo and joined the all star ensemble for My Back Pages and Knockin' on Heaven's Door. He was so cool.

A few years later, I had begun to play again on a regular basis, influenced this time by my guitar playing students. At the time of George's death, we were putting on a Holiday variety performance. So, I got together with some students and we played My Sweet Lord in Honor of George's passing. It went well until the sheet music fell off the stand which resulted in a slightly abbreviated performance. As a result of that experience, I decided to buy a new guitar and discovered that playing with a quality instrument improved my playing. My first purchase was an Epiphone Casino. It was an instrument played by all the Beatle guitarist, I picked a natural finish as John & George had stripped theirs in the late 60's. John made it his main guitar until the end. I followed this with the Epiphone version of the J160E, the John Lennon signature model. I discovered that while being a reasonably priced guitar, it was actually a better instrument then the Gibson version as it had a solid spruce top and the Gibson was a laminate. I caught the collecting bug and have since added many Beatle inspired purchases to my guitar collection, including a Hofner Bass, and a Paul McCartney signature edition Epiphone Texan and a Fender Rosewood Telecaster like one that George played all over Let It Be and Abbey Road and, heck, I even bought a ukulele because George was the ultimate Uke fan. For my 50th birthday, however, I decided to treat myself to my childhood dream and buy a Rickenbacker 360-12. The only problem was that Rickenbacker changed the design in the 1966. I bought it anyway as the sound was right and George also owned and played one. I enjoyed it greatly until last year when I was finally able to get an actual Rickenbacker 360-12 v64 reissue from 1994. I've begun to write songs again and actually wrote all the music for my recent production of As You Like and I've continued to add to my guitar collection. And, yes, I've also been practicing and playing with my friends and slowly improving my skills. Playing guitar relaxes and de-stresses me, I love my instrument collection and collecting items that for the most part don't lose value.
So, on this the 70th anniversary of George Harrison's birth I'm remembering George and all those year's ago, when they were Fab and realizing that if not for you, I would probably have taken any road but instead I'm still living in the material world where I try some guitars and buy some. Tonight, I've got my mind set on you and thinking you were definitely a real cool cat.