Thursday, February 21, 2013

Tony's Guitarist Picks - George Harrison

George Harrison – He was the lead guitarist of The Beatles, the first and most enduring musical love of my life. There are many guitar players who can play rings around George Harrison.  He would be the first one to admit it if he was still with us.  After all, he got Eric Clapton to play the solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps because he knew EC could play it better.  During 1967, he played little guitar at all because he was more interested in the sitar and Indian music.  He was not flashy – he didn’t have to be.  All of this doesn’t matter to me.  The way he played, he made every note count.  George Harrison was my first guitar hero, and will always be one of my favorite guitar players. 

Influences – Lonnie Donnegan, Carl Perkins, Eddie Cochran, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and Scotty Moore.  You will notice there are no blues players on this list.  George came from a completely different place than most of his contemporaries.

The guitars [just to name a few]–
1957 Gretsch Duo Jet 6128 [pictured on Cloud 9, Please Please Me sessions]]
1962 Gretsch 6122 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman [With The Beatles sessions]
1963 Gretsch 6122 Chet Atkins Country Gentleman [played on The Ed Sullivan Show, 1964]
1962 Gretsch 6119 Tennessean [Beatles For Sale sessions, played at Shea Stadium, 1965]
1961 Fender Stratocaster [“Rocky” – psychedelic paint job, Rubber Soul sessions]
1963 Rickenbacker 360/12 [A Hard Day’s Night, Ticket to Ride, You Can’t Do That, If I Needed Someone]
1964 Gibson SG Standard [Revolver sessions, Hey Bulldog solo]
1965 Epiphone Casino [road guitar in 1966, Sgt Pepper sessions]
1968 Fender Telecaster [Rosewood] [Let It Be sessions]
1957 Gibson Les Paul Standard [“Lucy” - White Album, Abbey Road sessions]
Gibson J-200 acoustic [vintage unknown] [White Album, Let It Be, Abbey Road sessions]


Gretsch Duo-Jet


All those chords.  Mark Knopfler wrote Sultans of Swing a long time ago.  There’s one line I always thought was about George Harrison – Check out Guitar George, he knows all the chords…  I’m sure that wasn’t Knopfler’s intent to name check George Harrison, but it doesn’t matter.  Paul McCartney said on many occasions that one big reason George got into the Beatles was because he knew more chords than anybody else.  I’d Have You Anytime alone has over twenty chords in it. [!]

THE Chord – With his 12-string Rickenbacker, George played one of the most iconic openings of a song anywhere in recorded music – the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night.  Plain and simple, that single chord is the “big bang” of both Beatlemania and the British Invasion.

Riffs – Riffs were more John Lennon’s department, but George could come up with a riff if needed.  George had riffs for the other Beatles – the 12-string riffs on You Can’t Do That and Ticket To Ride are unmistakably his.  The acoustic riff for And I Love Her is his.  Other riffs that I think are his [but I can’t very] include Octopus’s Garden, Paperback Writer, Rain, And Your Bird Can Sing and She Said She Said. For his own stuff, there’s Isn’t It a Pity, What Is Life and Wah-Wah.  Here Comes the Sun has an unforgettable acoustic riff.  Something is also unforgettable.  If I Needed Someone is another 12-string riff from Rubber Soul.

Whatever the song needs.  George proved that one can be a lead guitar player and not have to play any solos.  The Beatles’ catalog is full of songs where George will play a fill here, a riff there, and not play a solo.  On Drive My Car, George played the same lines on guitar that Paul played on bass in unison.  One can’t tell where the guitar ends and where the bass begins – it sounds like one instrument.  George got his inspiration for that after hearing Otis Redding’s Respect.  They did the same thing on Old Brown Shoe.  On Help! he plays the descending figure while John sings “Won’t you please, please help me.  On I’ve Got a Feeling, John plays the intro, but after the first verse ends George announces his presence in a way that’s like he’s kicking a door down.  On Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds you can hear him echo John’s vocal with his guitar.  Another great guitar track is Dear Prudence from the White Album.  John and George weave quite a tapestry of acoustic and electric guitars.  I can go on, and on, and on…  For the Ringo album [1973], John, George and Ringo were all on I’m the Greatest with Billy Preston and Klaus Voorman, just one Beatle shy of a full reunion.  George played all the fills, and a nasty guitar during the song’s fade-out.

I'm the Greatest

The Indian instruments.  The sitar part on Norwegian Wood [This Bird Has Flown] is not George’s only Indian contribution to the Beatles’ music.  He played the swarmandel [an Indian zither] on Strawberry Fields Forever, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, and Across the Universe.  He played the droning tambura on Getting Better and Tomorrow Never Knows.  The sitar is prominent in the songs Within You Without You, Love You To and The Inner Light.

Acoustic.  Here Comes the Sun, All Things Must Pass, While My Guitar Gently Weeps [Take 1], And I Love Her, For You Blue, Be Here Now, Norwegian Wood [This Bird has Flown], If Not For You, Long Long Long. ‘Nuff said.

Rhythm.  George was a pretty fair rhythm guitarist.  The Beatles had a very good rhythm guitarist in John Lennon [check out All My Loving for proof], but there are quite a few songs in the Beatles’ catalog where John either plays the rare lead [Get Back] or doesn’t play guitar at all.  In those cases, George can be heard to play rhythm on Taxman [giving the lead to Paul], Oh! Darling, Get Back, and I’m Happy Just To Dance With You.  That’s him playing the rhythm guitar on Cream’s Badge.  In his own solo work, he was content to play mostly rhythm on the All Things Must Pass album because he had a pretty good lead guitar player [Eric Clapton].  He was the only guitarist on his Living in the Material World album, and there’s plenty of good rhythm playing, especially on Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth), the title track, and The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord). 

The Slide – George didn’t start playing the slide in earnest until he was an ex-Beatle.  Once he did, it became his trademark.  He would play the slide not only on his own work, but that of others too. His slide playing can be found lots of places.  Here are but a few of them:

Day After Day [Badfinger, Straight Up – 1972]
Back Off Boogaloo [Ringo Starr single, 1972]
Gimme Some Truth [John Lennon, Imagine - 1971]
How Do You Sleep [John Lennon, Imagine - 1971]
Crippled Inside – Dobro [John Lennon, Imagine - 1971]
I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier [John Lennon, Imagine - 1971]
My Sweet Lord [All Things Must Pass, 1970]
Isn’t It a Pity [All Things Must Pass, 1970]
If Not For You [All Things Must Pass, 1970] – one of my favorite Dylan covers ever…
Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) [Living in the Material World, 1973]
Sue Me, Sue You Blues [Living in the Material World, 1973]
Woman Don’t You Cry For Me [33 1/3, 1976]
Crackerbox Palace [33 1/3, 1976]
Blow Away [George Harrison, 1979]
Faster [George Harrison, 1979]
That’s the Way It Goes [Gone Troppo, 1982]
Mystical One [Gone Troppo, 1982]
Cloud 9 [Cloud 9, 1987]
Handle With Care [Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, 1988]
Tweeter and the Monkey Man [Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1, 1988] – slide on a twelve-string!
Free as a Bird [Beatles Anthology 1, 1995]
Any Road [Brainwashed, 2002]
Cheer Down [Let It Roll: The Songs of George Harrison, 2009]

Favorite Guitar Solos – George didn’t play long guitar solos - he didn’t have to.  Beatles songs weren’t long enough for anybody to stretch out.  The Beatles weren’t known for their instrumental virtuosity.  They were known for their songs and their singing.  But George usually got to do a solo.  When George didn’t do it, John or Paul did.  Except for the first two solos I listed, the rest appear in a somewhat chronological order.

Nowhere Man [Rubber Soul, 1965] – This solo is at the top of my list.  This is what a Stratocaster with no effects sounds like.  I still have no idea how he got that “ping” at the end of the solo. 

A Hard Day’s Night [A Hard Day’s Night, 1964] – George proves it is possible to play a solo on a twelve-string.  There’s a piano matching the twelve-string note for note on the solo, giving the sound a very unique character.

I Saw Here Standing There [Please Please Me, 1963] – By Beatles standards this is a long solo.  Fifty years after this track was cut, you can still feel the excitement bursting from your stereo speakers.

Everybody’s Trying to be My Baby [Beatles For Sale, 1964] – George channels Carl Perkins, and why not – this is a Carl Perkins song.  Many English guitar players were influenced by the blues.  George was influenced by rockabilly.  George plays two solos, the second of which is another long one [by Beatles standards].

I’m Only Sleeping [Revolver, 1966] – This is John Lennon’s song, but he wanted a backwards guitar solo.  How do you play a guitar solo backwards?  According to Geoff Emerick, it took George six hours to figure out how the notes he would play could be transposed backwards to give the solo a “yawning” feeling.  And he did it a year before Hendrix did it on Are You Experienced? 

It’s All Too Much [Yellow Submarine, 1969] –On this six minute-plus feedback freakout from Yellow Submarine, George plays a nifty 15-second solo.

Hey Bulldog [Yellow Submarine, 1969] – This one is the nastiest solos George recorded with the Beatles.  After spending almost a year NOT playing guitar, he laid down this.

One After 909 [Let It Be, 1970] – This one is live from the Apple rooftop recorded in 1969.  It sounds like the guys are having fun.  This is proof that the Beatles could cut it live.  George’s lead playing is flawless.

One After 909

Old Brown Shoe [single B-side, 1969] – This was the B-side to The Ballad of John and Yoko.  I think it’s the first time one can hear George playing a slide on a Beatles song.  But the solo is a very nimble little exercise played on a Telecaster through a Leslie speaker.

Something [Abbey Road, 1969] – George cut this one live with an orchestra in one take.

Octopus’s Garden [Abbey Road, 1969] – George played the opening riff, and he played another solo in the middle.  This sounds like George’s Chet Atkins influence coming to the fore.

You Never Give Me Your Money [Abbey Road, 1969] -  The bit where John and Paul are singing “one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, all good children go to heaven” features some tasty playing from George that sounds loosely like a riff from his own Here Comes the Sun.  He played this same riff at the end of Carry That Weight.  The difference between the two is he played through a Leslie on Carry That Weight.  

You Never Give Me Your Money

Let It Be [single, 1970] – I have three versions of Let It Be – the single, the album version from the original album, and the Let It Be…Naked version.   The version I grew up to like was the single version – a Fender telecaster played through a Leslie speaker.  The Let It Be…Naked version is also played like the single version [a Telecaster through a Leslie], but the album version is a gritty, dirty version that was probably done on a Les Paul.

The End [Abbey Road, 1969] – Paul, George and John each play three little two-bar solos, in that order.  John has a raunchy, distorted guitar tone on his Epiphone Casino, Paul also plays a Casino but his style is more stinging and a bit frantic [think Taxman and Sgt Pepper]. George is more melodic and polished, and plays a Les Paul.  According to engineer Geoff Emerick, they did the soling in one take.

Gimme Some Truth and How Do You Sleep [John Lennon – Imagine, 1971] – I have to mention both of these because when you first hear them, you have to do a double take.  That’s George?  No way!  But it is George, and his solos are especially vicious.

Gimme Some Truth

George Harrison was more than just a guitar player – he was a musician!  When he came on the scene with The Beatles, the early 1960s wasn’t exactly a place for guitar groups.  There was Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound productions, Motown, Brill Building songs by Lieber-Stoller, Goffin-King, Mann-Weil, and Doc Pomus (just to name but a few) for many people who just sang.  Guitar players like Hank Marvin, Dick Dale and Link Wray were instrumentalists – they didn’t sing [much].  The Beatles played and they sang.  They blazed the trail for other groups to follow.  George Harrison and his guitar playing were a not insignificant part of that trailblazing.

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