Apart from his fellow Beatles, there are a number of people with whom George Harrison was closely associated during his lifetime, including Eric Clapton, Ravi Shankar and Jeff Lynne. George Harrison also had a surprisingly strong connection to comedy – particularly the famed British Monty Python troop – and movies in general, after co-founding the production company HandMade Films in 1978.
However, George Harrison had quite a few personal and professional relationships with noted people which might not be as well known. Now, we imagine that in his decades as a public figure, George Harrison met many, many people, so we’re not talking about those he might have just happened upon once or twice. Rather, these are some of the professional collaborations and/or friendships which George Harrison had that many rock fans might not be aware of (the list includes someone he did meet only once, briefly, but it’s safe to say this was a fairly important figure).
#10 – JON LORD
Jon Lord was best known for playing keyboards in Deep Purple from the band’s founding in 1968 until 1976 (and then again from 1984 to 2002). He had been friends and neighbors with George Harrison, and plays keyboards on the track “Circles” from Harrison’s 1982 album Gone Troppo (it’s interested to note that “Circles” was first composed in 1968 and was originally considered for the Beatles’ The White Album). While this was the only known collaboration on record between the two musicians, Lord did later appear alongside George Harrison in a movie, one which happened to star…
#9 – MICHAEL CAINE
Did you see the movie Water? No? Have you heard of the movie Water? Still “no?” This comedy, originally released in 1985, starred seminal British film actor Michael Caine and was produced by Harrison’s production company HandMade Films. Harrison, along with Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton and the aforementioned Jon Lord even appear in the film playing in a band together. Still, after first hitting theaters, Water evaporated quickly (the filmography on Caine’s Wikipedia page doesn’t even list it).
#8 – PETER FRAMPTON
In the late Seventies, Peter Frampton would become the biggest solo star in rock following the release of his double live album Frampton Comes Alive. However, he had an extensive musical career leading up to that point, which included not just the bands the Herd and Humble Pie but also some studio work for other artists. This included George Harrison, who invited the young guitarist to perform on some sessions on the ex-Beatles massive 1970 solo release All Thing Must Past. But while Frampton would later become famous for making his electric guitar “talk,” here he only plays acoustic (and was also uncredited on the record).
#7 – PETER SELLERS
The brilliant British comedic actor, best known for his Oscar-nominated performances in Dr. Strangelove (1964) and Being There (1979) as well as his most popular role as Inspector Clouseau in the original Pink Panther series, had become good friends with George Harrison after they met through a surprising mutual friend, Ravi Shankar. In 1973 Sellers introduced Harrison to Denis O’Brien, originally because Harrison was looking for a new business manager. However, George Harrison and O’Brien would soon partner in the founding of HandMade Films (Sellers and George Harrison also share another interesting connection: the script for Help! Was originally intended as a vehicle for Sellers before being re-written for the Fab Four).
#6 – PHIL COLLINS
In the Eighties, Phil Collins played with everyone from Robert Plant to Phillip Bailey to Adam Ant, but well before his star rose (and he was still in his teens) Collins played a very small roll among the many established superstars who contributed to George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album. Collins played congas on the track “Art of Dying,” but the part ended up in the final mix too low to be heard. George Harrison wasn’t even in the studio at the time, and though the two would become friendly over the years, he would say decades later that he never even knew that the young Collins had been anywhere near the All Things Must Pass sessions in 1970 (fortunately, that same year Collins would successfully pass the audition for Genesis).
# 5 – PRESIDENT GERALD FORD
George Harrison became the first member of the Beatles to come face-to-face with a US president. While touring in the US, Harrison was invited to the White House by Jack Ford, the son of Gerald R. Ford, who had just recently been sworn in as the thirty-eighth president. Ford was a conservative Republican at a time when music like Harrison’s was still considered at best iffy, but by most accounts the meeting between the two was cordial and pleasant. George Harrison had brought along an entourage (which included his father Harry), and during his twenty-minute meeting with Ford supposedly discussed among other things the attempted deportation from the US of his former bandmate John Lennon.
# 4 – PAUL SIMON
George Harrison had been close friends with Paul Simon, although this isn’t nearly as well known as Harrison’s friendships with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan or Tom Petty (among others). Probably the reason for this is because George Harrison and Paul Simon are never known to have collaborated on record. They did, however, make a memorable and historical joint appearance on Saturday Night Live in November 1976 where they performed “Here Comes the Sun” and “Homeward Bound” (Harrison’s segments on the program were actually pre-recorded, but they did include references to the show’s running gag about trying to get the Beatles to reunite… as long as they were willing be paid scale).
# 3 – BELINDA CARLISLE
The Go-Go’s were among the countless bands inspired by the Beatles, and the two worlds converged in 1989 when George Harrison contributed to two tracks on lead singer Belinda Carlisle’s third solo album, Runaway Horses. Harrison plays the slide guitar solo on the first single “Leave a Light on For Me” (which went to #11 in the US and #4 in the UK) as well as guitar and bass on the cut “Deep Deep Ocean.” The latter was not among the six songs from the record that were eventually released as singles, and it’s difficult to imagine why at the time more attention wasn’t called to Harrison’s involvement (particularly since he’d only recently staged a comeback with his Cloud Nine album).
#2 – CHEECH & CHONG
Okay, this is technically two people… It turns out Monty Python wasn’t the only classic comedy team that George Harrison was involved with: in 1973 the stoner comedy duo Cheech (Marin) and (Tommy) Chong shot and scored with “Basketball Jones,” a mostly spoken-word record which Marin performs in a falsetto voice as the character Tyrone Shoelaces. Seemingly George Harrison just happened to be working in another room in the same recording studio at the time, and producer Lou Adler supposedly convinced him on the spur-of-the-moment to come and play guitar on the comedy record. Imagine getting an ex-Beatle to play on your record by sheer luck! (and Cheech & Chong’s luck didn’t end there: “Basketball Jones” got all the way up to #15 on the singles chart).
#1 – MADONNA
No, George Harrison never played on a Madonna record. Rather, he was executive producer for the 1986 movie Shanghai Surprise, the only co-starring vehicle for Madonna and her husband at the time, Sean Penn. George Harrison also has a small role as a nightclub singer and even recorded a couple of new songs for them movie. However, upon its release Shanghai Surprise was not just an immediate critical and commercial flop but instantly become one of those notorious film failures a la Heaven’s Gate. The whole debacle added to HandMade Film’s mounting financial difficulties, and George Harrison would call the entire experience “a pain in the ass.” Luckily, he would shift more of his focus to music in the next few years, resulting in both his comeback album Cloud Nine as well as the Traveling Wilburys project (the couple at the center of Shanghai Surprise got divorced in 1989 but otherwise both their professional careers also turned out fine).
10 People You Didn’t Know Had Connections to George Harrison article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2021