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George HarrisonGeorge

Harrison

 

1943 -2001

 

When We Was Fab

 

Part 4

 

GW: I think it's called being human - and young.

 

Harrison: It is...[sighs] It really is.

 

GW: How difficult was it to squeeze your songs in between the two most famous songwriters in rock?

 

Harrison: To get it straight, if I hadn't been with John and Paul I probably wouldn't have thought about writing a song, at least not until much later. They were writing all these songs, many of which I thought were great. Some were just average, but, obviously, a high percentage were quality material. I thought to myself, If they can do it, I'm going to have a go. But it's true: it wasn't easy in those days getting up enthusiasm for my songs. We'd be in a recording situation, churning through all this Lennon/McCartney, Lennon/McCartney, *Lennon/McCartney*! Then I'd say, [meekly] can we do one of these?

 

GW: Was that true even with an obviously great song like "My...uh...

 

Harrison: "Piggies"? You mean "While My Piggies Gently Weep"? [laughs] When we actually started recording "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" it was just me playing the acoustic guitar and singing it [This solo version appears on the Anthology 3 CD - GW Ed.] and nobody was interested. Well, Ringo probably was, but John and Paul weren't. When I went home that night, I was really disappointed, because I thought, Well, this is really quite a good song, it's not as if it's shitty! The next day, I happened to drive back into London with Eric Clapton, and while we were in the car I suddenly said, "Why don't you come and play on this track?" And he said, "Oh, I couldn't do that. The others wouldn't like it."

 

GW: Was that a *verboten* thing with the Beatles?

 

Harrison: Well, it wasn't so much *verboten*; it's just that nobody had ever done it before. We'd had oboe and string players and other session people in for overdubbing, but there hadn't really been other prominent musicians on our records. So Eric was reluctant, and I finally said, "Well, sod them! It's my song and I'd like you to come down to the studio."

 

GW: So did that cause more tension with the others? How did they treat him?

 

Harrison: The same thing occurred that happened during "Get Back," while we were filming the movie [Let It Be (Apple Films) 1970]. Billy Preston came into our office and I pulled him into the studio and got him on electric piano. And suddenly, everybody started behaving and not fooling around so much. Same thing happened with Eric, and the song came together nicely.

 

GW: Yet, rumor has it that you weren't satisfied with your performance on the record. Why?

 

Harrison: Actually, what I was really disappointed with was the take number one [i.e. the solo version]. I later realized what a shitty job I did singing it. Toilet singing! And that early version has been bootlegged, because Abbey Road Studios used to play it when people took the studio tour. [laughs] But over the years I learned to get more confidence. It wasn't so much learning the technique of singing as it was just learning not to worry. And my voice has improved. I was happy with the final version with Eric.

 

GW: Did you give Eric any sense of what you wanted on the solo? He almost sounds as if he's imitating your style a bit.

 

Harrison: You think so? I didn't feel like he was copying me. To me, the only reason it sounds Beatles-ish is because of the effects we used. We put the "wobbler" on it, as we called ADT. [Invented by a Beatles recording engineer, ADT, or artificial double tracking, was a tape recording technique that made vocals and instruments sound as if they had been double tracked (i.e. recorded twice) to create a fuller sound. The technique also served as the basis for flanging - GW Ed.] As for any direction I may have given him, it was just, "Play, me boy!" In the rehearsals for the Japanese tour, he did make a conscious effort to recap the solo that was on the original Beatles album. And although the original version is embedded in Beatles' fans' memories, I think the version we captured on the live album is more outstanding.

 

GW: Want to play rock critic for us and critique his playing?

 

Harrison: Ah, well, he starts out playing the first couple of fills like the original, and the first solo is kind of similar. But by the end of the solo he just goes off! Which is why I think guitar players like to do that. It's got nice chords, but it's also structured in a way that gives a guitar player the greatest excuse just to wail away. Even Eric played it differently every night of the tour. Some nights he played licks that almost sounded flamenco. But he always played exceptionally well on that song.

 

GW: You talked about the pluses and minuses of working with Paul. What about John? He was a much looser, more intuitive musician and composer. Did you help him flesh things out?

 

Harrison: Basically, most of John's songs, like Paul's, were written in the studio. Ringo and me were there all the time. So as the songs were being written, they were being given ideas and structures, particularly by John. As you say, John had a flair for "feel." But he was very bad at knowing exactly what he wanted to get across. He could play a song and say, "It goes like this." Then he'd play it again and ask, "How does that go?" Then he'd play it again - totally differently! Also his rhythm was very fluid. He'd miss beats, or maybe jump a beat...

 

GW: Like a lot of old blues players.

 

Harrison: Exactly like that. And he'd often do something really interesting in an early version of a song. After a while, I used to make an effort to learn exactly what he was doing the very first time he showed a song to me, so if the next time he'd say, "How did that go?" we'd still have the option of trying what he'd originally played.

 

GW: The medley on side two of "Abbey Road" is a seamless masterpiece. It would probably take a modern band ages to put together, even with digital technology. How did you manage all that with just four- and eight-track recorders?

 

Harrison: We worked it all out carefully in advance. All of those mini songs were partly completed tunes; some were written while we were in India a year before. So there was just a bit of chorus here and a verse there. Then we actually learned to play the whole thing live. Obviously there were overdubs. Later, when we added the voices, we basically did the same thing. From the best of my memory, we learned all the backing tracks, and as each piece came up on tape, like "Golden Slumbers," we'd jump in with the vocal parts. Because when you're working with only four or eight tracks, you have to get as much as possible on each track.

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