George Harrison: On the Record, February ’79

A complete transcript of Harrison’s comments from his February, 1979, Los Angeles press conference for his “George Harrison” album. This transcript originally was published in Beatlefan #3, April 1979.

George Harrison meeting the press in February, 1979.

Sporting a shaggy Beatle haircut and moustache, 36-year-old George Harrison not only has emerged from a two-year period of career inactivity with a new album and hit single in the past couple of months, he also has submitted to his first press interviews in a long time.

In fact, Harrison — always a reluctant interviewee — has been positively loquacious (for him) of late, with major interviews appearing in Melody Maker, Rolling Stone and Warner Bros. Records’ Wax Paper publication, in addition to a major press conference providing Los Angeles area reporters an opportunity to question him.

What follows is an exclusive Beatlefan transcript of Harrison’s comments at the L.A. press conference prepared by our staff from a tape of the proceedings.

HARRISON’S OPENING REMARKS

First of all, let me say I’m sorry about that to all of you who were supposed to be here on Monday. I ran over my foot on Saturday in a tractor and I had to go and X-ray it to make sure I hadn’t broken anything. I was a bit dizzy, you see, hopping about, trying to pack and I just couldn’t make it. I was driving a tractor along the road in the garden down a path and couldn’t find the accelerator to go faster so I knocked it out of gear and the thing just started rolling down this hill and I put my foot on the brake and the brakes weren’t working so I drove up a little bank to try and slow down a bit and put my foot in the road, ’cause it was only a small one of those things and ran over my foot with the back wheel and just — crash! It was just a bad sprain. I just couldn’t put my weight on it at all. I had to have a wheelchair for a few days. But I got a bit of sympathy.

• On the new album:

The “George Harrison” album.

I feel good about it. I feel happy about it. It seems, you know, the response to it is really nice. I mean, sometimes it’s like you can do something and it’s like swimming against the tide. You know, no matter what you do, it just doesn’t have that natural flavor with it, whereas with this one, it just feels like — I don’t particularly know the reason — the timing, everything, the songs, whatever, but it’s all as if it’s just being supported by positive reaction, which is very nice.

• On changes since “33 1/3”:

I think what happened between this album and the last album is that everything has been happening nice for me. My life is getting better all the time, and I’m happy, and I think that it’s reflected in the music. Also, on this one I decided that — the last couple of albums it became really difficult making these records because if you’re writing the tunes, you’re singing on them, you produce them and mix them, you know, you go crazy, or I do. I don’t know if everybody does. But usually, like in a group situation, you have a few people who all pull together and bounce off ideas together, whereas in my situation, I have musicians who come in to do the basic tracks, then they all split, and so all the decisions would be for me, and there’s a point where you can get at a loss, so I decided out front I would work with somebody else. So I prayed to the Lord that he would send me a co-producer, and I got a co-producer and that helped a lot, you know, just having somebody else out front even before the record was started, that helps to have some other opinions so that at least when you know you’re going crackers, you got somebody to tell you.

• On how he allowed himself to go hoarse during the “Dark Horse” sessions:

Actually, the album — there was only the one cut called “Dark Horse” that I was singing with a hoarse voice, and that was because at the time I was rehearsing to go on the road and I was losing my voice very quickly, and I hadn’t completed the studio version of “Dark Horse”. I had almost finished, so I decided, well, as I’m gonna do this live with the band, I’ll rehearse the band and also then we’ll just do it like a live take of the song and use that as the album cut, but actually I just listened to it the other day and I think it’s great. I love it. I wish I could sing like that more often … like Louis Armstrong.

• On his involvement in the new Monty Python film [“Life of Brian”]:

Harrison made a cameo appearance in “Life of Brian.”

They set up the movie. They were going to make this movie and I read the script that some friends of mine gave me, the script, but the producer, who is EMI Films in England, suddenly backed out of that after they had already gotten into it, before they were shooting it but they got into production and they were just left with no backing. So, a friend of mine just suggested — he said to me, “Can’t you think of a way of helping them raise the money?” And so, I said to my business manager, “Can we think of a way of raising the money?” And he said to me, “Oh, let me think for a minute, son. I think it can be easily done. Send a man to Highway 61.” So he thought of a way of getting the money and so really that’s my only involvement is that we — you know, ’cause I’m a fan of Monty Python and I would like to go to the movies and see the film — so we figured out a way of getting them the money to make the film, and that’s it, really. I’ve just dropped in the film for like ten seconds.

• On rumors he’s inviting “three old friends” to be in the film:

In the Python film? … Well, they’ve already finished making it, in fact. They’ve almost finished the complete edit. Maybe within the next couple of weeks they’ll have the final edit, so it’s a bit late for that.

• On an alleged lack of humor in his latest works:

At his February, 1979, press conference.

Well, it depends on which side of your face you smile, really. That’s been a problem for a while is that people always felt I was the “serious one,” but people don’t get concepts about people or they put a tag on somebody and no matter what you do, they seem to think that’s what you are, but if you go back through all those albums or even with The Beatles, it’s more like tongue in cheek. If you say a joke and you don’t smile, it doesn’t mean to say it’s not a joke. But this album, for example, “Not Guilty,” the whole lyric of that is kind of comedy.

  • On whether the song is about Paul McCartney:

No, it’s just about that period in 1968. It’s a complete joke, the lyric, in fact, if you go back on all the records, there’s a lot of comedy in it. You just have to look for it.

  • On his reaction to Robert Stigwood’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” film: 

Well, that got a bit out of hand. On a TV interview in England, they said to me, “What do you think of Sgt. Pepper, the Stigwood film?” I said, “Well, I don’t know. Everybody tells me it’s awful, but I haven’t seen it.” And then they said, “Are they allowed to do all that?” Referring to all the Beatles and side effects. You know, the people who do these stage productions. And I said, “I don’t think so.” You know, there are certain laws that protect individuals’ rights or name and likeness or whatever they call it in legal terms, and this is what I said on the TV show, that the problem is that The Beatles were all so spaced out over the last few years that nobody would ever get together again. But finally it’s all been unraveled and we’ve all agreed that what we’d do is we’d have a company — somebody in America — and it would be their job to license people if there’s any merchandising or if there’s any licensing to be done for these sort of things. And it would be that company’s job so they don’t have to bother us all the time. And at the same time, if anybody is doing anything illegally, it’d be that company’s job to also go out and get ’em. So that’s what I said, but the Daily Mail turned it into, “Oh, George is suing Robert Stigwood …” He’s cool. I’m sure they made up the script. It’s their own and they paid their performance right so, you know, it’s OK.

• On what he thought of the film:

I didn’t see it.

• On whether he will:

This was Harrison’s first major press availability in years.

Not tonight. Well, I mean, sure. I’m going to have to see it. I’ll probably catch it on an airplane somewhere. Everyone keeps telling me it’s awful, so why do you want me to see it? I’d rather see the Fab Four

• On Allen Klein’s New York tax trial:

I didn’t even know he was still up there [in New York]. I feel sorry for the man, really . . . he looks miserable always. But maybe, for him, he likes it. For me, it’s miserable if you’re always in court.

  • On the degree to which Klein resembles John Belushi’s take-off of him in the Rutles film:

Quite a lot, actually. I mean, that line was wonderful. “You ask me where the money is. I don’t know where the money is. But if you want some, I’ll give it to you.” I mean, that sort of summed it up.

• On how he selects his material:

Getting back to the music. That was what I was saying, that it was a great help to have someone to work with as another objective point of view. A lot of different musicians say, “Well, I like that.” Generally, they play on whatever tunes you give ’em. And they don’t have that much involvement, whereas if you’re in a band, it’s a livelihood or if you have a co-producer, that way you get much more of an idea if you’re going off the rails. So, in that respect, I wanted a co-producer — somebody to give me a hand for years. It’s very important to the selection of somebody because I’m sure a lot of people would come and produce me, but you have to live with someone for a long time. It’s important not only that musically you see eye to eye [but] as personalities you get on.

• On why he doesn’t collaborate more with people like Gary Wright:

One of my problems as a songwriter has been that John and Paul were always the songwriters and they started out writing together, or later when they had their partnership as songwriters. When John wrote it or Paul wrote it, it always said like Lennon-McCartney. But basically two people — again it’s like in production, you can bounce off each other. I’ve always only written on my own except in situations where I’ve been forced into writing with somebody else like, say, for example I wrote some tunes with Ringo because he started the tunes and then got stuck, so I had to come and help him finish the tunes, or like I did with somebody called Doris Troy, and that was because I was producing her album and we got to the session and she didn’t have any tunes, so we had to make them up on the spot. But, generally, there’s been very few cases where I’ve sat with somebody and tried to write … I’d love to do it if I could get over the initial problem. I’m sure if I sat with somebody like it was suggested, that I try writing some tunes with other people …  but if you don’t already have a relationship with somebody and just to go into a room and sit with them and say, “Hello, jinga, jinga, jinga …” — not too wise. I’m sure that will happen maybe for an hour or three or a week or something, and then once you get into some sort of communication there, it may work out. Or you may end up with a load of rubbish wishing that you’d just stayed on your own. I don’t know, but I’d like to do that.

• On whether he’ll tour again:

Onstage during his 1974 tour.

Come back on the road? I don’t know. This continual question is always asked. The honest way of saying it, the answer to it honestly at this moment, is no. But there’s always a 50-50 chance. There’s always a part of me that has enjoyed that once you get through all the barriers and all this and that. You get a band and there’s always great moments when you want to do less of a thing. But, basically, I’m not into touring like Eric Clapton, say, a close friend of mine, and he’s always on the road. And it’s like it becomes a sacred thing. “Hey, man, I’m on the road.” But on the road for a lot of musicians is a way out. It’s a way of escaping from the income tax and the bill collectors and the telephone … your mother-in-law. And it is. And in another way, it is good, too. It’s entertainment, and people need entertainment, but at the same time, it becomes or is like being an alcoholic, being on the road. It’s like a workaholic. It has its problems, too. So I’m not a great fan of touring, although at the same time, to try and think of a way to do it, controlled, sanely, because you find the madness overpowers you until it sucks you into it and until in the end you just become like a demon on this rolling mad tour while everybody else is sitting around, crackers, and you got pulled into it. Like in ’74, I was ready for the broom after that.

• On whether he’s entered a new phase in his musical evolution:

I don’t know. I’m always entering new phases each day as far as trying to enjoy the moment now. Just to experience the experience deeper. That’s the main thing, is just to remember that we’re all here now and that we’re all happy, and if we’re not, to try and be happier. And that’s the most important thing, no matter what you’re doing. I don’t think you get happy by going on tour or by coming off tour. I don’t see it as this phase or that phase. The phase is to try to manifest love in your life. And that’s all — that’s really all I can try to do.

• On deeper meanings in his music:

Sleeve for Harrison’s “Blow Away” single.

I think there has always been that element — music has not been just a beat to it. But it’s the same with art. There are paintings for you to sit and enjoy as well as to go into deep and understand the meaning and all that. And I think it’s the same with all types of situations. And I think there’s a time when you do this and a time when you don’t do it. In the early ’70s or ’60s, The Beatles had a lot to say and tell everybody else and me, too, as a solo artist in the early ’70s, and now it’s a recurring thing, but what I’m trying to say is that try and be happier, that’s all, you know. And that’s the only thing I’m trying to say. If you push “My Sweet Lord” down people’s throats too much, they jump back and try to bite you. And, in a way, that message has become a bit more subtle. “Your Love Is Forever” on the new album is just really saying the same old story. It’s “My Sweet Lord,” really. It’s just done in a way which maybe is less offensive to people or through me getting a bit older. And you know, just being a bit more laid back.

• On whether he’s heard of “Come Back Beatles” by The People on Zebra Records:

Nope, I haven’t. The last thing I heard was some guy in San Francisco who had this project to reunite John, Paul, George and Ringo. As I wrote to him — I don’t know what the others did — because he said if I don’t hear from any of you by such and such a date, I’ll take it it’s free to go ahead with it. And he had all the stationery and the letterhead and all that and all I could say to that was, “Look, that was then.” There is this thing that says one of the main problems in life comes from everybody encroaching upon other people’s lives. And that’s true. You see one country suddenly jump on another country’s territory and you have a big war. And I think that’s the problem, when somebody starts out, “Hey, you, I’m coming into your life now to tell you what you should do.” Well, the answer to that is, you know, he’s on a trip; this guy is on a trip about The Beatles. He’s built up this big fantasy about how The Beatles are the only thing that can save the world. And that is complete rubbish. You know, The Beatles can’t save the world. We’ll be lucky if we can save ourselves.

• On the possibility of a big new group escaping the tag of “the new Beatles”:

Somebody who is the New Beatles or the New Bob Dylan or the New Elvis Presley will be whoever he is. It’s all the people who don’t quite fulfill the public’s demands or desires or hopes. They’re the ones who get tagged with “they’re not the New Beatles or the New Bob Dylan.” Bob Dylan is Bob Dylan and The Beatles are The Beatles, and when the new one comes along, they’ll be whoever they are, and you’ll never have to ask the question, “When are they coming?” ‘Cause, The Beatles came when they came. You knew it. The same with Bob Dylan. They’ll answer the question just by being there.

• On whether he thinks music has become stagnant, sparking interest in a return to the ’60s:

Promoting his “George Harrison” album.

Yeah, although I hope that the ’80s would turn into or at least have the spirit that the ’60s created, because it was that desire musically to have more intrigue, deeper meanings, generate more love. And we went out of our way. That whole generation. That period. I was very disappointed when it got to like 1969 and suddenly everybody starts kicking each other and stabbing each other in the back again, after the whole Love Generation. Where did they go? Where are you? Suddenly it becomes all this hate and deceit and all that sort of thing, so I hope the ’80s — because the ’70s was a bit stagnant, and a bit lost the direction and it was this fad, that fad, and it was chopping and changing, and I don’t know what’s in store, but I hope, as your questions indicate, there is possibly that desire again to have some positive music.

• On whether The Beatles led the media in the ’60s:

Fifteen years earlier.

Well, I think the media, of course, you are the media, and you all know how much you will decide and go after a certain thing if it’s of news value. And also to the extent of how much you make a thing news value. That happened with The Beatles and it happens with anything. There is a point where they think, “Good, that’s a news tip for the papers” or “That’s something new and different to write about.” And they go after it and it gets to the point where, “OK, now what can we do, we’ve said everything about it. The only thing we can do is knock it,” and that’s what happened to The Beatles, too, because although everybody talks about The Beatles as being loved, we were loved for one minute and then they hated our guts, then they loved us again, then they hated us, and that was probably one reason why we all went into meditation, because as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said, it’s like you being a little cork — like being a ship on the ocean at the mercy of whatever chopping and changing occurs, unless you’re anchored to the bottom. And that’s what was happening to us. One minute they were patting us on the back. And the next minute, they were stabbing us in the back and so the point is that we learned you can’t rely upon this external change that’s happening just to realize that it is a change, and you have to then find some real point. I just had to. So I don’t know what the original question was, but the media, you know how much you create the interest. Maybe there’s nothing interesting, so you go out and say, “Ah, well, we’ll go talk to George Harrison. That’ll fill the gap until something good comes along.” You know how much everybody gets sucked into something they can’t help but write about. You know to what extent you yourselves, day by day, write an article because it demands that you do or because your editor demands that you do or because society demands that you do. I really can’t tell. But I think things have a snowballing effect. You know, once it gets to a certain point, you know someone else kicks in. It’s like what happened to Pete Frampton in the early ’70s or Fleetwood Mac or The Bee Gees. It’s like in the record business. You can struggle to sell maybe half a million records or a million. You get to a point where if you can get over that normal sales thing until, suddenly, they were selling six million. I just wish The Beatles had been selling records in the ’70s.

• On whether he was distraught when The Beatles broke up like Paul says he (Paul) was:

No, I thought, “Thank God.” Not completely. I understand what he means. It was the same like, say, when our business manager, Brian Epstein, died. It was suddenly being faced with the realization that, hey, nobody thought that we haven’t got that side covered. “What are we going to do?” The idea of The Beatles being like a job, getting off at 5 and then the factory burns down. For me, I was sort of glad we burned it down. It became too stifling. If you can imagine if any of you’ve got 10 brothers and sisters and you’ve grown up and you’re all 40 years old and you still haven’t moved out. It was like that. You need your space. We had to try to help break that Beatle madness in order to have space to breathe to become sort of human.

• On why he makes it sound so gloomy, and if he’d ever consider a reunion:

It’s not gloomy. It’s just that it wasn’t as much fun for us in the end as it was for all of you. I’ve said a hundred times what was happening was that we were four relatively sane people going on in the world and everybody else was going crackers. They were using us an an excuse to go mad. “Here come The Beatles! Crash! Let’s smash up windows. Rip up limosines. Just let’s have fun and go mad!” And we were in the middle of it all getting the blame.

• On whether he resents people expecting a Beatles reunion:

Well, I don’t know. I did resent it for a while, but not anymore. Now, I face it. I must admit — it was a privilege to have that experience, to have been one of the Fab Four, because there were only four of us who had that experience. Now, I don’t resent it. I look on it like Laurel and Hardy or the Marx Brothers or like anything like that and think it was funny. But it was that time — that period in history. It’ll always be there. You can always go and look at the Marx Brothers movies. You can get fed up with it, but at least now I can deal with it on a sort of happier level. There was a period of years when it drove me crackers. I would say, “Why don’t you shut up asking those dumb questions about The Beatles?” But now it’s like [OK].

• On whether they’ll get together in something less than a full reunion:

Just a cup of tea together? To get the four people together and just put them in a room and have tea and satellite it all over the world and charge $20 each to watch it. We could make a fortune. What we could do is just sit there. “Well, John, what have you been doing?” “Well, Ringo, I think … ” But that would be just as difficult because everybody’s left home and they’re living their own lives. I haven’t even seen John for two or three years.

• On whether they’ve grown past the bad feelings:

Oh, sure, everybody’s cool now. We could all hang out together and have a great time, but the only thing that would spoil it would be all of you with the cameras and microphones.

• On whether it will happen:

I doubt it, and if it does, we won’t tell you.

• On whether a reunion LP would end up a collection of songs by the individuals:

It finally happened … 15 years after this interview.

There’s a good chance of that. It’s all daydreams. Until it ever happens; if it did happen — and I’m telling you it won’t —- then you’ll never know what it would be like. If it did happen, there’s no way we’d do a mediocre record. It would be very, very good. Maybe that’s what people want. Maybe people all want them to get together and they all fall over and everyone can say, “Yeah, well, I told you they would.”

• On why he’s no longer interested in signing acts to the Dark Horse label:

Now all I’m interested in is having peace, ’cause all they ever do is ask for your money and phone you all night long, you know.

• On the Beatles reunion questions not bothering him now:

There’s a limit to how many times a day you ought to answer the question. It doesn’t bother me once every blue moon or once every time I put an album out, we go through it all again. That’s not bad. If it was every day, it would drive me crazy.

• On what he’s doing the rest of the year:

I would like to ride motorcycles and make another album.

Thank you all for coming. It’s been pleasant.

Transcript copyright 1979, The Goody Press

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