For George, His Guitar Did Simply Weep

Shy Beatle chafed at his songs not getting the prominence he thought they deserved; nonetheless, he wrote the seminal 'Something.'

A makeshift memorial of flowers, candles and pictures, in tribute to former Beatle lead guitarist George Harrison, on the Beatles star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame Nov. 30, 2001 in California.
By + More

He was the youngest Beatle, the mystical Beatle, the Beatle who lived in the shadow of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership and whose only A-side single was the smash hit "Something." Yet he was the first former Beatle to have a No. 1 hit in the U.S. with "My Sweet Lord."

The sense of feeling unloved by his songwriting colleagues, despite having written such songs as "Taxman," "If I Needed Someone," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Within You Without You" and "Here Comes The Sun," prompted George Harrison to briefly quit the Beatles during the recording session that would eventually yield "Let It Be," a time when the band was already falling apart. John Lennon reportedly said legendary guitarist (and Harrison's best friend) Eric Clapton could take his place. Clapton addressed this in 1998, saying, "Lennon would use my name every now and then for clout, as if I was the fastest gun. So, I don't think I could have been brought into the whole thing because I was too much a mate of George's."

[READ: What the Beatles Meant to America]

Born in Liverpool in 1943, Harrison met McCartney on the bus to school. Inspired by the music of jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and bluesman Big Bill Broonzy, Harrison bonded with McCartney and joined Lennon's band, The Quarrymen. Harrison shunned the kind of superstar limelight that propelled Lennon and, to a lesser degree, McCartney. After the demise of the Beatles, Harrison launched a highly successful solo career starting with the ambitious though somewhat self-indulgent three-record set "All Things Must Pass." The album, actually Harrison's third solo effort (the others had been instrumentals), contained hits such as the title track and "Isn't It A Pity," both of which had been turned down for inclusion on Beatles albums.

Hewing to legal and musical conventions of the time, some of those who played on the album were not acknowledged, chief among them Clapton, whose own history interwines with Harrison's to such a degree that Clapton's hit "Layla" is written about his unrequited love for Harrison's then-wife Pattie Boyd. Boyd divorced Harrison to marry Clapton but their marriage, too, ended in divorce. Both marriages, she has said, fell victim to alcohol and drug abuse by her husbands. In her autobiography, "Wonderful Tonight: Geroge Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me," Boyd reflected on the relationships with two of rocks' superstars and captured the essence of the life of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll. "I regret allowing myself to be seduced by Eric," she writes. "And I wish I'd known I didn't have to be a doormat and allow both husbands to be so flagrantly faithless. But if I had resisted Eric, I would never have known that incredible passion. I would never have been the inspiration for those beautiful songs, 'Layla' and 'Wonderful Tonight.'"

[MORE: The Beatles, Album by Album]

The album "All Things Must Pass" grew out of Harrison's respect for another path-breaking effort by the group of musicians who had backed Bob Dylan on his tours at the time, an act simply called The Band. The group had released the well-received "Big Pink," an album recorded in Woodstock, N.Y., where Dylan was living in semi-retirement. Harrison suggested to Clapton and others that they record with The Band and several jam sessions ensued. But the actual album was recorded at the famed Abbey Road studios in London.

"All Things Must Pass" reflected the increasing influence of Harrison's search for spirituality and a return to the guitar, which he had largely abandoned during a three-year period studying the sitar following the Beatles highly-publicized trip to visit the Maharishi in India. It also introduced what would become Harrison's signature slide guitar. But it also foreshadowed Harrison's increasing involvement in many other musical--and even non-musical--projects in which he proved deft at collaborating with artists whose egos were as outsized as their talents. Although perhaps never revered for his innate musical ability, Rolling Stone nevertheless ranked him No. 11 on the all-time rock guitar list.