George Harrison is being celebrated with a couple of 50th anniversary milestones this week — and a group of Oklahomans were right in the middle of both events.
Both musical events came in the wake of the breakup of The Beatles — leaving Harrison free to work with other musicians.
This week marks the "50th anniversary" rerelease of Harrison's groundbreaking triple album, "All Things Must Pass," as well as the 50th anniversary of the "The Concert for Bangladesh," the 1971 all-star benefit fundraiser Harrison put together for the beleaguered nation at the behest of his friend, master sitarist Ravi Shankar.
To get technical, the original release of "All Things Must Pass" came in November 1970, but since November 2021 is still a few months away, I guess the album can still slide in under the wire at 50 years-plus.
It proved to be the most impressive solo album of its time by a former Beatle, and could still hold that distinction, certainly more impressive than McCartney's first solo outing, the home-recorded "McCartney" and John Lennon's album "Plastic Ono Band" — though they both had some fine moments well.
Interestingly, McCartney and Lennon scaled back their sounds, with McCartney playing and overdubbing every instrument himself on his first solo outing, and Lennon mainly relying on bassist Klaus Voorman and fellow former Beatles Ringo Starr for his initial post-Beatles solo flight.
Harrison though, brought in a veritable army of musicians to accompany him on "All Things Must Pass" — which is where the Oklahoma connections come in to play.
Among the many musicians Harrison invited to join him on "All Things Must Pass" were some he'd already performed with onstage while touring as an unofficial member of Delaney & Bonne and Friends, that American soul-blues-country configuration who so impressed British rock musicians with the loose but funky style of playing.
Harrison's pal Eric Clapton also toured with the band founded by Delaney Bramlett and his wife, Bonnie, with both Harrison and Clapton trying none too successfully to blend in as a simple backing musician and just another member of the group. That didn't work out too well when savvy promoters, knowing a surefire ticket-seller when they saw it, began booking the group as "Delaney & Bonnie and Friends, with George Harrison and Eric Clapton."
Even so, they both liked playing with the band, so Harrison invited Clapton and other Delaney and Bonnie's band members to join him in the studio for his upcoming album sessions, including keyboardist-vocalist Bobby Whitlock, drummer Jim Gordon and bassist Carl Radle — who hailed from Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Producer Phil Spector put together another of his Wall of Sound recordings on "All Things Must Pass" on songs such as "My Sweet Lord," "What Is Life" and "Wah-Wah," along with more subdued, but crystalline takes on songs such as "Isn't It A "Behind That Locked Door" and Bob Dylan's "If Not For You."
Radle wasn't the only bassist on "All Things Must Pass." Harrison's old pal Klaus Voorman, whose friendship with Harrison goes back to the pre-fame Beatles' days in Hamburg, Germany, also plays bass on the record, but Radle had a hand in it as well — especially for the third disc of the triple album, which consists of instrumental jams,
During the sessions for Harrison's "All Things Must Pass," Clapton, Whitlock Radle and Gordon liked playing together so much they continued as a band of their own, called Derek and the Dominoes, and went on to record one of the greatest blues-rock albums ever — with an assist from none other than Duane Allman — the double LP "Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs."
"All Things Must Pass" hit #1 on both sides of the Atlantic and won a 1972 Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. It didn't win; that honor went to Carole King's "Tapestry," but hold on George, things would change in the next year.
That's when Harrison's friend, master sitarist Ravi Shankar, asked him to put together a benefit concert for his native nation of Bangladesh, with refugees suffering from political fighting to the ravages of floods and a cyclone.
Shankar had oped to raise at least $25,000, but Harrison had bigger things in mind. What if he put together an all-star concert with some of his musical friends?
Harrison asked and they agreed, although not without some complications. The two-show concert at New York's Madison Square Garden had been billed only as George Harrison and Friends, so no was sure exactly who would show up, including Harrison.
Of his former fellow former Beatles, Ringo Starr joined Harrison for the concert. Harrison invited Clapton, Bob Dylan, Billy Preston and Tulsa rocker Leon Russell to perform solo sets at the concert. Russell also played piano in the backing band for most of the
Dylan, who hadn't been performing much, initially agreed then had misgivings, leaving Harrison wondering if he would show up for the concert.
Clapton, it was later revealed, was dealing with some drug-related issues at the time, leaving Harrison wondering if Clapton would be able to handle lead guitar duties not covered by Harrison himself.
Who else might they call on who could play with a rock, blues and country flair, who could even add some jazz flourishes, if needed? None other than native Oklahoman and Native American, Jesse Ed Davis.
With Ringo not wanting to handle the drumming duties alone, where might they find a skillful drummer who could cover the different types of music onstage? This time they turned to Tulsan Jim Keltner to share the sticks with Ringo. They can be seen in the film of the concert having a good ol' time, drumming in tandem on many of the songs.
Klaus Voorman handled most of the bass-playing duties, but Russell summoned fellow-Tulsan Carl Radle to play bass when Russell performed his "Jumpin' Jack Flash/Youngblood medley. Russell himself left the piano to play bass for Dylan during his performance.
So while Harrison's work is being justly celebrated this month for "All Things Must Pass" and "The Concert for Bangladesh," let's also remember that some Oklahomans contributed to those musical milestones as well.
Oh yeah, "The Concert for Bangladesh," which featured the first live performances of many songs from "All Things Must Pass," won the 1973 Grammy for Album of the Year, giving Harrison some vindication for the loss to "Tapestry" the year before,
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.