George Harrison: Music and Spirituality

Almost everybody in this planet know about John Lennon, with his philosophical lyrics about politics and humanity. In a song titled "Imagine", part of the lyric encourage the listener to imagine a world at peace without the barrier of religion. 

In contrast, Lennon's bandmate George Harrison embrace the spirituality and religion. Especially Hinduism. His spirituality affects his musical career.

Harrison's talent in creating some progressive and psychedelic tunes with his guitars is one of the keys to the Beatles’ success in music industry. Harrison and Lennon's musical innovations make the Beatles music superior. Because it can bring the listeners to the other side of life. The Beatles music can be enjoyed without understanding the lyrics.

Harrison almost dead in the same way as Lennon.

George Harrison born in Liverpool, England, on 25 February 1943. He was the youngest of four children of Harold Harrison and his wife Louise. His mother was a shop assistant from a Catholic family with Irish roots, and his father was a bus conductor.

While pregnant with George, his mother often listened to the weekly broadcast Radio India. Harrison's biographer Joshua Greene wrote, "Every Sunday she tuned into mystical sounds evoked by sitars and tablas, hoping that the exotic music would bring peace and calm to the baby in the womb."

Harrison attended Liverpool Institute High School for Boys from 1954 to 1959. Though the institute did offer a music course, Harrison was disappointed with the absence of guitars. He often sat at the back of the class drawing guitars in his schoolbooks, and later commented, "I was totally into guitars." Harrison cited Slim Whitman as one of his influences.

In late 1956 Harrison's father bought him a Dutch Egmond flat top acoustic guitar. A friend of his father's taught Harrison how to play some songs. Harrison formed a skiffle group called the Rebels with his brother Peter and a friend, Arthur Kelly.

On the bus to school, Harrison met Paul McCartney and then became friends. At that time, McCartney and John Lennon were members of a skiffle group called the Quarrymen. McCartney told Lennon about his friend George Harrison, who could play "Raunchy" on his guitar. In March 1958, Harrison auditioned for the Quarrymen at Rory Storm's Morgue Skiffle Club, playing Arthur Smith's "Guitar Boogie". But, Lennon felt that Harrison, having just turned 15, was too young to join the band. 

During a second meeting, arranged by McCartney, he performed the lead guitar part for the instrumental "Raunchy" on the upper deck of a Liverpool bus. He began socialising with the group, filling in on guitar as needed, and became accepted as a member.

Although his father wanted him to continue his education, Harrison left school at 16 and worked for several months as an apprentice electrician at Blacklers, a local department store.

By August 1960, The Quarrymen changed their name to the Beatles. Harrison laid the foundations of his sound and of his quiet, professional role within the group; he was later known as "the quiet Beatle". "Don't Bother Me" from the Beatles second album is Harrison's first solo writing credit.

By the Beatles sixth album, Harrison had begun to lead the other Beatles towards Indian classical music through his use of the sitar on "Norwegian Wood". Although it was not the first song to feature an Eastern-inspired sound in a rock composition, it is credited as influential in the development in raga rock and psychedelic rock as well as fundamental in the early evolution of the genre later regarded as world music.

By the Beatles seventh album, Harrison's introduction of the drone-like tambura part on Lennon's "Tomorrow Never Knows" exemplified the band's ongoing exploration of non-Western instruments. The tabla-driven "Love You To" was the Beatles' first genuine foray into Indian music.

By late 1966 Harrison's interests had moved away from the Beatles, as reflected in his choice of Eastern gurus and religious leaders for inclusion on the album cover for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. His sole composition on the album was the Indian-inspired "Within You Without You" to which no other Beatle contributed. He played sitar and tambura on the track, backed by musicians from the London Asian Music Circle on dilruba, swarmandal and tabla. He also playing swarmandal on "Strawberry Fields Forever"

In 1968, Harrison song "The Inner Light" was recorded at EMI's studio in Bombay, featuring a group of local musicians playing traditional Indian instruments. It was the first Harrison composition to appear on a Beatles single. Derived from a quotation from the Tao Te Ching, the song's lyric reflected Harrison's deepening interest in Hinduism and meditation, while musically it embraced the Karnatak discipline of Indian music, rather than the Hindustani style of his previous work in the genre.

Before the Beatles' break-up, Harrison had already recorded and released two solo albums: Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound. Wonderwall Music, which recorded in India, is a soundtrack to the 1968 film Wonderwall. It blends Indian and Western instrumentation. Electronic Sound is an experimental album that prominently features a Moog synthesizer. Wonderwall Music was the first solo album by a Beatle. Indian musicians Aashish Khan and Shivkumar Sharma performed on the album, which contains the experimental sound collage "Dream Scene".

Wonderwall Music recording session in Bombay, India, January 1968

After years of being restricted in his songwriting contributions to the Beatles' albums, in 1970 Harrison released a triple album, All Things Must Pass. The album produced the number-one hit single "My Sweet Lord". Harrison wrote "My Sweet Lord" in praise of the Hindu god Krishna, while at the same time intending the lyrics to serve as a call to abandon religious sectarianism through his deliberate blending of the Hebrew word hallelujah with chants of "Hare Krishna" and Vedic prayer. The recording heralded the arrival of Harrison's much-admired slide guitar technique.

In 1973, Harrison's next solo album, Living in the Material World, held the number one spot on the Billboard album chart for five weeks, and the album's single, "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)", also reached number one in the US. The album dominant message was Harrison's Hindu beliefs. His next albums earned him the least favourable reviews of his career. And then he retreat from the music business.

Harrison back to music business in November 1987. He released the platinum album Cloud Nine. Co-produced with Jeff Lynne of Electric Light Orchestra. It was recorded at his estate in Friar Park. The album included a single, "When We Was Fab", a retrospective of the Beatles' career. The lyrics serve as a nostalgic reflection by Harrison on the days of Beatlemania when the Beatles were first referred to as "the Fab Four." The recording references the psychedelic sound that the Beatles had helped popularise in 1967, through its use of sitar, cello, and backwards-relayed effects. Harrison's former Beatles bandmate Ringo Starr is among the other musicians on the track.

In the music video that accompanied the song, Ringo Starr appears first as Harrison's "assistant" and then as the drummer. Also making guest appearances in the video are Jeff Lynne, Elton John, Paul Simon, Ray Cooper, and Neil Aspinall (the Beatles' road manager and personal assistant, holding a copy of John Lennon's 1971 Imagine album). 

On 30 December 1999, Harrison and his wife, Olivia were attacked at their home, Friar Park. A 36-year-old, Michael Abram, broke in and attacked Harrison with a kitchen knife, puncturing a lung and causing head injuries before Olivia incapacitated the assailant by striking him repeatedly with apoker and a lamp. Following the attack, Harrison was hospitalised with more than forty stab wounds.

On 29 November 2001, Harrison died from lung cancer. He was cremated at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, his funeral was held at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine in the Pacific Palisades, California, and his ashes were scattered in the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers near Varanasi, India, by his close family in a private ceremony according to Hindu tradition.


When Harrison joined the Quarrymen in 1958, his main guitar was a Höfner President Acoustic, which he soon traded for a Höfner Club 40 model. His first solid-body electric guitar was a Czech-built JolanaFuturama/Grazioso. The guitars he used on early recordings were mainly Gretsch models, played through a Vox amplifier, including a Gretsch Duo Jet that he bought secondhand in 1961. He also bought a Gretsch Tennessean and a Gretsch Country Gentleman, which he played during the Beatles' 1964 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1963 he bought a Rickenbacker 425 Fireglo, and in 1964 he acquired a Rickenbacker 360/12 guitar, which was the second of its kind to be manufactured. Harrison obtained his first Fender Stratocaster in 1965 and used it in recording Rubber Soul.

Dhani (George Harrison's son) with some of George's guitars

In early 1966 Harrison, Lennon, and McCartney each purchased Epiphone Casinos, which they used on Revolver. Harrison also used a Gibson J-160E and a Gibson SG Standard while recording the album. He later painted his Stratocaster in a psychedelic design that included the word "Bebopalula" above the pickguard and the guitar's nickname, "Rocky", on the headstock. He played this guitar in the Magical Mystery Tour film and throughout his solo career. In mid-1968 he acquired a Gibson Les Paul that he nicknamed "Lucy". Around this time, he obtained a Gibson Jumbo J-200. In late 1968, Fender Musical Instruments Corporation gave Harrison a custom-made Fender Telecaster Rosewood prototype, made especially for him by Philip Kubicki.


During the Beatles' American tour in August 1965, Harrison's friend David Crosby of the Byrds introduced him to Indian classical music and the work of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. Harrison described Shankar as "the first person who ever impressed me in my life ... and he was the only person who didn't try to impress me." Harrison became fascinated with the sitar and immersed himself in Indian music. 

George Harrison with Ravi Shankar

In June 1966 Harrison met Shankar at the home of Mrs Angadi of the Asian Music Circle, asked to be his student, and was accepted. On 6 July, Harrison travelled to India to buy a sitar from Rikhi Ram & Sons in New Delhi. In September, he returned to India to study sitar with Shankar. He initially stayed in Bombay, then moved to a houseboat on a remote lake where Shankar taught him for six weeks. After Shankar, he received tutelage from Shambu Das.

Responding to a request from Ravi Shankar, Harrison organised a charity event, the Concert for Bangladesh, which took place on 1 August 1971, drawing over 40,000 people to two shows in New York's Madison Square Garden. The goal of the event was to raise money to aid starving refugees during the Bangladesh Liberation War. It featured popular musicians. The event has been described as an innovative precursor for the large-scale charity rock shows that followed, including Live Aid.



By the mid-1960s, Harrison had become an admirer of Indian culture and mysticism, introducing it to the other Beatles. During the filming of Help! in the Bahamas, they met the founder of Sivananda Yoga, Swami Vishnu-devananda, who gave each of them a signed copy of his book, The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga.

Between the end of the last Beatles tour in 1966 and the beginning of the Sgt Pepper recording sessions, he made a pilgrimage to India with his wife Pattie Boyd; there, he studied sitar with Ravi Shankar, met several gurus, and visited various holy places. In 1968 he travelled to Rishikesh in northern India with the other Beatles to study meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Harrison's use of psychedelic drugs encouraged his path to meditation and Hinduism.

The Beatles and their girl with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India

In line with the Hindu yoga tradition, Harrison became a vegetarian in the late 1960s. After being given various religious texts by Shankar in 1966, he remained a lifelong advocate of the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and Paramahansa Yogananda – yogis and authors, respectively, of Raja Yoga and Autobiography of a Yogi. 

In mid-1969, he produced the single Hare Krishna Mantra, performed by members of the London Radha Krishna Temple. Having also helped the Temple devotees become established in Britain, Harrison then met their leader, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whom he described as "my friend … my master" and "a perfect example of everything he preached". Harrison embraced the Hare Krishna tradition, particularly japa-yoga chanting with beads, and became a lifelong devotee. Regarding other faiths he once remarked: "All religions are branches of one big tree. It doesn't matter what you call Him just as long as you call."

George Harrison with Mukunda Goswami and friends in Vrindavan, India, April 1996

He commented on his beliefs: Krishna actually was in a body as a person ... What makes it complicated is, if he's God, what's he doing fighting on a battlefield? It took me ages to try to figure that out, and again it was Yogananda's spiritual interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita that made me realise what it was. Our idea of Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield in the chariot. So this is the point – that we're in these bodies, which is like a kind of chariot, and we're going through this incarnation, this life, which is kind of a battlefield. The senses of the body ... are the horses pulling the chariot, and we have to get control over the chariot by getting control over the reins. And Arjuna in the end says, "Please Krishna, you drive the chariot" because unless we bring Christ or Krishna or Buddha or whichever of our spiritual guides ... we're going to crash our chariot, and we're going to turn over, and we're going to get killed in the battlefield. That's why we say "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna", asking Krishna to come and take over the chariot.