“He loved to record, he was always doing more and more demos at night,” says his widow, Olivia Harrison. “But he’d always say, ‘I’ll never finish them. I’ll have to give them to (producer) Jeff Lynne (to finish).’ He knew he was going to be in his garden in the daytime, so they wouldn’t get done. But he was discovering the singer-songwriter thing again and really doing a lot of recording. He was just getting to the point of getting some sessions together. Sadly, time ran out.”
Now, Olivia Harrison and a few trusted collaborators, including Giles Martin, the son of Beatles producer George Martin, are going through the guitarist’s massive archive and bringing the best of it to the public. The first in what is projected to be a series of recordings is due out May 1, “Early Takes: Volume 1” (UMe), a collection of mostly acoustic demos documenting the early days of Harrison’s solo career. It will accompany the release on DVD and Blu-Ray of Martin Scorsese’s 2011 Harrison documentary, “Living in the Material World.”
“Early Takes” focuses on the era around the guitarist’s 1970 solo debut, “All Things Must Pass,” including demos or early takes of the title song, “My Sweet Lord,” “Behind That Locked Door,” “Awaiting On You All,” “Run of the Mill” and “I’d Have You Any Time” (cowritten with Bob Dylan). Another gem is an acoustic version of the then-decade-old Everly Brothers hit “Let It Be Me.”
In the documentary, producer Phil Spector says he was stunned to find Harrison had “hundreds” of unreleased tracks when the two began working on “All Things Must Pass.” And perfectionist that he was, Harrison left behind alternate versions of countless songs. Among the documentary’s bonus footage is a scene showing Giles and George Martin seated in front of a mixing board with Harrison’s son, Dhani. They pull up a version of Harrison’s Beatles hit “Here Comes the Sun” and play a previously unheard guitar solo by the songwriter.
“I never even knew about that,” Dhani Harrison remarks as he hears his father’s guitar-playing pour through the speakers.
There’s plenty more where that came from, as Olivia Harrison and Giles Martin describe in an interview:
Q: Did the Scorsese documentary meet your expectations?
Olivia Harrison: It’s so rich, it so captured a deep part of George. Maybe some years from now I may think of something I wish was in it. But for now, as Dhani said, ‘You’re off the hook, mom.’ I do feel like that. I was doubtful, before I met Marty, that anyone would be able to capture this part of George that was so unique, so different, the deep part of him. I thought that side was too private, too personal, but Marty managed to bring it out. So I’m grateful he did.
Q: Did you have the final say on what went into the documentary?
OH: No, not really. Marty thought really long and hard before even accepting to do this, because he needed to express what he thought all this material meant, what the story was. There were times when I was emotionally not ready to put things out into the public. We’d have conversations about it, and he’d say why it needed to be in there. It always made sense. He never wanted to do anything that would hurt anyone. We didn’t want to be flinching about something 10 years down the line over this. It was a good balance. But Marty pretty much got to do what he wanted to do.
Q: George said after the “Beatles Anthology” came out in the ‘90s that he wanted to do his own documentary one day, right?
OH: He did say, “I want to do my anthology.” When you have four people you have four different perceptions. All of them were interested in different things, and George had a different attitude toward some subjects. He was into Indian classical music, meditation, things he thought were important in life to help you get through the madness. Those things he wanted to express. He had a list of things that he wanted to do. This was one of them. In fact, he had a note -- I shouldn’t say this, but I will – he had this piece of paper saying, “Exploring my own twisted mind, Part One.” That would’ve been his title for the first half of the documentary. He wanted to share certain things with people. So I felt pretty free to follow through on this project.
Q: Did any of the material in the documentary surprise you?
OH: It surprised me that Marty chose a certain body of music that would be a narrative for George’s entire life. It wasn’t just linear, we didn’t go through the music of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Outside of maybe one or two things, he didn’t use any music beyond 1973, and that was a surprise.
Q: Do you feel some more of George’s later music should’ve been in there?
OH: No, because it was really rich what Marty did. He uses the music to take you out to sea, and then he leaves you there in this very deep water. He takes you to a place you don’t expect, and not everybody wants to go there. But that’s what he does. I respect him for that, and I think it was the right thing to do. The most surprising thing about the documentary was that it doesn’t end where you expect. It’s about life, but it’s also about death. Living and dying. It doesn’t leave you where you expected.
Giles Martin: Musically, it’s not chronological. The music reflects George’s personality and what he was thinking at the time, which is more interesting and makes it more timeless in a way.
Q: How did the CD of rarities come together?