For our George Harrison commemorative issue, MOJO's Michael Simmons spoke to Harrison's former bandmate Paul McCartney about their musical life together. While quotes from it form part of the enormo George profile in the MOJO magazine that hits US stores shortly, this is the director's cut of their interview.
MOJO: Louise Harrison [George's sister] told me that their parents taught them to be trusting and that when George was young, he was a very trusting person. She implied that it made him vulnerable. Does that ring true?
PAUL McCARTNEY: I would think of it more like loyal. Trusting? Mmm, I don't know. His elder sister would see him differently than his contemporary mates on the street would. So it depends what you're talking about. If it was charlatans, he would definitely not be trusting and he was quick to spot them. But he was a very loyal guy; anybody he liked he was very loyal to. [laughs] But there were a lot of things he didn't trust. He was super-canny. He had an eye out for the fakes.
PAUL: It probably lasted a couple of years. Just because of his age, in a group of men who've grown up together, particularly round about their teenage years - age matters. In John's case, who was three years older than George - that meant a lot. John was probably a bit embarrassed at having sort of 'a young kid' around, just 'cos that happens in a bunch of guys. It lasted for a little while. It was particularly noticeable when George got deported from Hamburg [in November 1960] for being underage. Otherwise, when he first joined the group, he was a very fresh-faced looking kid. I remember introducing him to John and thinking, Wow, there's a little bit of an age difference. It wasn't so much for me 'cos I was kind of in the middle. But as we grew up it ceased to make a difference. And those kind of differences iron themselves out.
MOJO: I'm curious about George's process in the studio. Do you recall any stand-out moments where George brought something in or made a song click?
PAUL: Oh yeah, sure. There were quite a few. I would think immediately of my song 'And I Love Her' which I brought in pretty much as a finished song. But George put on do-do-do-do [sings the signature riff] which is very much a part of the song. Y'know, the opening riff. That, to me, made a stunning difference to the song and whenever I play the song now, I remember the moment George came up with it. That song would not be the same without it.
I think a lot of his solos were very distinctive and made the records. He didn't sound like any other guitarist. The very early days we were really kids and we didn't think at all professionally. We were just kids being led through this amazing wonderland of the music business. We didn't know how it went at all - a fact that I'm kind of glad of 'cos I think it meant that we made it up. So we ended up making things up that people then would later emulate rather than us emulating stuff that we'd been told.
In the very early days, it was pretty exciting. I remember going to auditions at Decca and each of us did pretty well, y'know. We were in a pub afterwards having a drink and kind of debriefing and coming down off the excitement, but we were still pretty high off it all. And I remember sitting at the bar with George and it became kind of a fun thing for us for years later. I would say, [adopts awed voice] When you sang [Goffin & King's] 'Take Good Care Of My Baby,' it was amazin' man!' I'm not sure we said 'man' or even 'amazing' in those days, but... That was a special little moment and it just became a thing between me and him: [awed voice again] 'When you sang Take Good Care Of My Baby...'
MOJO: George played a classical nylon-string guitar on And I Love Her. I recall George getting into Andrés Segovia for a bit. Does that ring a bell?
PAUL: I think 'for a bit' is the operative phase. We fell in love with the guitar and we didn't discriminate. It could be a Spanish guitar, a classical guitar. It could be a Gretsch, a Fender, a Gibson. We kind of loved them all. It was like a dream, it was like walking through Santa's grotto. There was a great sense of wonder for us. I remember so clearly being at Pete Best's mother's club - the Casbah in West Derby in Liverpool - and George came in and he opened up this long, rectangular box. It turned out to be a guitar case. We wouldn't have guessed there was a guitar in there 'cos till then you hadn't seen these long rectangular cases which are now perfectly normal; we'd seen guitar-shaped cases. And he opened up this long box and in there was... I'm not sure if it was a Fender. I think it might have been a look-alike, a cheaper copy. But man, it looked good. It looked so glorious. Moments like that were very special. We were in love with *guitar, of any kind.
George and I used to do this little thing, which is the J.S. Bach thing. I think it's called 'Fugue' or something. [sings Bach's 'Bourrée in E-Minor'] We didn't know it all but we learned the first little bit. We made the end up. What we liked about it was that it was harder than some of the stuff we were playing, it was part of our development, 'cos it was two lines working against each other. You've got the melody [sings] and then you get a sort of [sings] bass line working against it. I tell audiences now that that was what gave me the start of 'Blackbird.' It's not the same notes but I took the style of there being a bass melody and a treble melody in the same guitar piece and made up the song 'Blackbird' from that. I clearly remember George and I used to sit around doing our own version of this Bach thing. It was like a little party piece: it was a little something to show that we weren't just [adopts pompous voice] one-dimensional. It was a little show-off thing. The point I'm coming back to is that, Yeah, we were aware of classical guitar players. I was a big fan of Julian Bream - who was a British classical guitarist - and I think George was too.
We used anything we could get our hands on for ideas. The other very influential piece was a piece by Chet Atkins that we tried to learn called 'Trambone.' That is a nice little bit of country picking. And that's the same thing - there's two things going on. You got a bass line and the treble line. None of us quite mastered that except a guy called Colin [Manley] out of [Merseybeat contemporaries] the Remo Four. For us that was the high spot of their act when Colin just did this instrumental. But the point I'm making is that all these lovely little things were little turn-ons and we assimilated them all into our music. So we definitely weren't snobs.
MOJO: There's something I've been curious about for 45 years. On 'And Your Bird Can Sing,' is that you or George playing the guitar riff?
PAUL: I think it's me and George playing in harmony. That was one of the things we used to do. It's a harmony riff. I remember talking to Rusty [Anderson], my guitar player. He'd go, Ahhh, that's how you do it! George and I would work out a melody line, then I would work out the harmony to it. So we'd do it as a piece. 'And Your Bird Can Sing' - that's what that is. That's me and George both playing electric guitars. It's just the two of us, live. It's a lot easier to do with two people, believe me. It's another one of our little tricks!
MOJO: Any other moments where George really brought something to the song?
PAUL: I think George always brought something to all the songs. Me, George and John originally had a little set-up with just the three of us on three guitars. That was our first kinda little incarnation. And we would go to talent shows and lose them with that line-up. [chuckles] So what I mean is, any of us could take the guitar parts. So, for instance, 'I Feel Fine' was John's riff and started off by him leaning the guitar inadvertently against an amp and it fed back so we used that into the... [sings the opening riff]. But often opening riffs - certainly solos - would be George. I could go through 'em all and just say, That's George, that's George, that's George. 'Cos I was there, you know. [chuckles]
MOJO: Of George's compositions, which was the first one that knocked you out?
PAUL: He never brought anything to the studio until 'Don't Bother Me' and we thought, Wow, that's really good. Later when he brought 'If I Needed Something...'
MOJO: 'If I Needed Someone?'
PAUL: 'If I Needed Someone.' Yeah, Something's another one. I've melded 'em. [laughs] I thought that was a landmark. I think then 'Something' and 'Here Comes The Sun' - he'd gone right up there and was now a top standard writer.
MOJO: Did George's increasing songwriting output by The White Album contribute to his unhappiness with the Beatles.
PAUL: Yeah, possibly. I remember him talking about All Things Must Pass as diarrhea. That was his own affectionate way of describing that he'd had a lot of stuff stored up and it had to come out. I mean, I don't think I'd describe it like that. [laughs] But I know what he meant. He now was writing furiously - great things - like 'Isn't It A Pity.' Some of them made it with us. 'Within You Without You' is, like, completely landmark, I would say, in Western recording. 'Norwegian Wood' - the sitar on that. They were definitely huge influences in Western music. 'Inner Light' is a beautiful song.
It probably did make George feel left out. But there was only so much room on an album. You gotta remember we made albums that were only 40 minutes long. And John and I were writin' some... [pauses]... good stuff. And Ringo had to have a track. So it didn't leave as much room for George as perhaps he would've liked. But you know, you can't have everything. It was the Beatles career and for each of us to have been in the Beatles was pretty amazing and pretty cool. If it didn't work out how each individual would've wanted it to, then it's... [pauses] ...it's just too bad really because what happened was so good. I think what George did within the Beatles was phenomenal, so I think you kinda have to leave it there.
MOJO: The bickering doesn't matter at the end of the day, does it?
PAUL: No. You know, I remember having an argument with a member of my family, one of my kids once, in front of someone. And it was a bit, Oh my God, what's going on here? It was embarrassing but we both had a fairly strong point of view about something. And I was brought down by it - we both were. A friend of mine said, 'Y'know what Paul, it proves you're a family.' It proves you're a real family. And that's the truth about the Beatles, y'know. You have to look at it like that. We each had very strong opinions. If you look at us individually, I mean y'know, c'mon - give it up. John Lennon. Paul McCartney. George Harrison, Ringo Starr. You look at us all individually - that's a bunch of talent in a room. And a bunch of egos. So they're not just gonna get on like apple pie. There is going to be the odd argument - and there were. Sometimes they were minor about, ya know, turning up guitars. [laughs] George and John were very cute because they both had their amps side by side and you'd see George just sort of sneak over to the amplifiers, just add one degree and then you'd see him walk back like nothing had happened. And then you'd see John had noticed and John would casually walk over and put his up two degrees. [laughs] 'You've fucking turned up man!' 'Wot, I never did!' 'Yeah you fucking did!' So there's all that and then there was more serious things towards the end which were basically business things, y'know. And of course I had the ultimate bad role of having to save everyone from the wolf. That led to all sorts of unpleasant arguments and things.
MOJO: I'm assuming that's Allen Klein.
PAUL: Yeah, yeah. He's not with us anymore so I try not to walk on the dead man's grave. But it was the truth and everyone knows it. We had to be saved and unfortunately it fell to me. But I think it was the right thing. I think the current success of the Beatles has proved that. We wouldn't have anywhere near the amount of control we have now. Rather like the Rolling Stones don't. On Hot Rocks. Which they don't own. [laughs] We were headed that way. So that caused a lot of unpleasantness. But as I say, in the end it proved we were a family.
Interview by: Michael Simmons