Treasure trove of George Harrison music unwrapped

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George Harrison

George Harrison (April 20, 2012)

OH: There was no plan. It was very ambitious just to do the documentary, dealing with an archive of ephemera, all these images, and the music. Marty was very interested in George’s creative process. When you hear “My Sweet Lord” take one, Marty wanted to know where did it go from there? To hear that is very revealing, aside from being an intimate experience for the listener. You can imagine George sitting on a chair singing and playing that song. It’s very intimate and it’s also revealing about the creative process.

GM: He sings beautifully. There is something different about a take that wasn’t designed to be the master take that has an excitement about it. When you think about “My Sweet Lord” or “All Things Must Pass,” that was the first time he was playing those songs with a band. It was just a three-piece band, but you get an energy that doesn’t come when things are more considered down the line. It’s like falling in love for the first time. You can’t duplicate that in subsequent takes.

Q: How did you winnow down all the material for this CD?

OH: I was just overwhelmed with tapes. I still am (laughs). There was a huge amount of material we listened to for the director to decide what we could offer. We had reel-to-reel tapes of people up all night talking, hanging out, business meetings, demos, George and John (Lennon) working together, George’s mother singing. For a year, Giles and (recording engineer) Paul Hicks were here at George’s studio plowing through all these things that we thought Marty could use or might use. Marty was very specific about what drives the narrative. My goal was to make an archive parallel to the film.

GM: We were talking at the Beatles’ “Love” show (in Las Vegas a few years ago), and Olivia said, “We’ve got this project coming up. We have all these tapes, and a lot hasn’t been listened to.” So the task was working through it all. You get very excited when you see a tape box marked, “George, Eric (Clapton), Ringo (Starr) and Klaus (Voorman),” and then you listen and realize it’s just hours of them chatting in the studio. But other times you stumble across something really great. You are digging for gold, and there was a lot there.

Q: How did you focus the material for the CD?

GM: This collection reflects where we are at the moment. There is more we discovered. But we wanted to link this disc to the documentary. The feel of it has a nice timeline that reflects the work Marty did. Olivia’s mission and therefore my mission was to steer or inspire people away from the records and open a door to George’s creative process. We didn’t want to jump around too much. The key with this disc is to show his acoustic guitar playing and voice, as a singer-songwriter, essentially. He loved singer-songwriters, people like Bob Dylan. That’s where he took his inspiration. But people don’t often think of him like that, so it’s pretty exciting to present him this way.

Q: Did you think of broadening the scope?

OH: Initially I thought it could be a two-disc thing, but some things don’t go together. He sang a lot of songs during this time, some very obscure, by people like Nina Simone and this local girl Charlie Dore. But they didn’t really mesh, didn’t fit. We didn’t want a nine-CD set. We settled on these very intimate songs, that were so important to him at the beginning of his solo career, his emergence as a solo artist. That’s what we’re trying to present here, that particular period of his life.

Q: Did George consider putting out some of these more stripped-down recordings in his lifetime?

OH: Yeah, but he didn’t have time. He was gathering up all the bootlegs. At one time he had his engineer, Ken Scott, putting together all his bootlegs. They were piled high. He was well aware that there were people who wanted to hear some of them. But he wouldn’t ever do it to compete in the marketplace. He wouldn’t just throw it out there. He might have been a little shy about some of these demos, even from later in the ‘80s and ‘90s. … (The acoustic demo for) “Run of the Mill” was one of my favorite things. I would always say that to him. “Just play and sing and put it out because it’s beautiful.” “Really?” he’d say. “Yeah.” I think we could’ve talked him into it if we’d had more time.

Q: Will there be subsequent volumes of rarities?

OH: It would be nice. That’s why we called it “Volume One.” George wouldn’t have put just anything out, he didn’t like to scrape the bottom of the barrel. But there are things far from the bottom that we’ll put out later down the line.

greg@gregkot.com

Twitter: @gregkot.com

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