Remembering George Harrison
Ten years ago today, the world lost George Harrison–the Beatles’ “quiet” lead guitarist and spiritual explorer who added both rock ‘n’ roll flash and a touch of the mystic to the band’s timeless magic.
Harrison died on November 29, 2001 in Los Angeles following a battle with cancer. “He left this world as he lived in it, conscious of God, fearless of death, and at peace, surrounded by family and friends,” the Harrison family said in a statement shortly after his passing. “He often said, ‘Everything else can wait but the search for God cannot wait, and love one another.’”
George accomplished much during his life. He was a guitarist, singer-songwriter, actor, film producer, humanitarian, and avid gardener. In the early 70s he grew “tired of people saying, ‘But what can I do?’” and organized hugely successful benefit concerts for Bangladesh. George also had a keen sense of humor, as could be seen when he made a cameo appearance as the Interviewer in Eric Idle’s 1978 film, All You Need Is Cash, about a rock band called “The Rutles”. According to George, the parody told the Beatles’ story “much better than the usual boring documentary.” Of course, at millennium’s end George–along with Paul and Ringo–took part in one of the biggest documentary projects ever with the Anthology film/disc/book series.
Among George’s other accomplishments was the formation of the successful group the Traveling Wilburys in 1988 with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison. In 2001, he also oversaw the reissue of his great solo work, All Things Must Pass, marking its 30th anniversary. The double-disc included a new version of the classic “My Sweet Lord”, which remains a masterpiece today.
Earlier this year, Gretsch proudly introduced a special limited-edition instrument—the Gretsch Custom Shop G6128T-GH George Harrison “Tribute” Duo Jet—in his honor. Producing the replica of George’s prized Duo Jet, the guitar he often referred to as his first truly good guitar, was a labor of love for those involved. With only 60 pieces produced, the guitar meticulously replicated the all-black 6128 Duo Jet George purchased in the summer of 1961 and used with the Beatles through the spring of 1963. Every scratch, ding, and rust spot of George’s guitar can be found on the tribute model including a black Phillips head pivot bolt on the Bigsby® B6C tailpiece arm and the offset strap button on the lower bout relocated to accommodate the Bigsby.
George and his Duo Jet can be heard on many early Beatles’ recordings. And although George used other guitars during his career including a Gretsch Country Gentleman and Tennessean, when it came to deciding on a guitar to be pictured with on the cover of his 1987 album Cloud Nine, George selected his beloved Duo Jet.
George earned an Academy Award with the Beatles in 1970 and received the first Billboard Century Award given out in 1992. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and also given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2009. His impact on music and the world will not soon be forgotten.
Upon learning of George’s passing ten years ago, the Gretsch family had this to say:
We sadly mourn the tragic loss of our good friend and brother. Thanks for making our world a better place, George. We love you.
Cover of the new LIFE magazine commemorative book about George Harrison. Credit: LIFE Magazine