On November 23rd 1971, George Harrison made a welcome stop by the legendary studios of the Dick Cavett Show. It may have begun as an open and frank conversation but it soon got very serious as the Quiet Beatle began to open his mouth.
Harrison was a year or so away from the break-up of The Beatles and the furore surrounding the Fab Four had not yet subsided. It must have baffled the newly emerging songwriting powerhouse, Harrison has shown himself to be.
The singer and guitarist had stepped out of the shadow of the group which had changed music so irrevocably. His debut solo record All Things Must Pass is arguably one of the best solo Beatles albums and his recent benefit the Concert For Bangladesh had seen him use his fame for good. But he still couldn’t avoid questions about The Beatles.
The episode has been restored and uploaded in segments which you can find below as well as the full clip, we’d suggest the latter. The full clip may lose a little in picture quality but it does allow Harrison’s sometimes gruff, sometimes sharp, answers to land fully. Harrison may have shared the stage with his friend Ravi Shankar and the rock singer Gary Wright, but on that night it was all about George Harrison, the Beatle.
The great Dick Cavett has interviewed some of the twentieth century’s greatest icons. From Bruce Lee to Muhammad Ali to Jimi Hendrix and back again. He was often famed for his warm and welcoming demeanour, including a particularly lovely chat he shared with Janis Joplin, but welcoming Harrison he clearly knew he had an opportunity.
The host offers at first some small talk about the state of American television—Harrison was not a fan—and then some shared smiles. Everything’s going well. But soon enough, Cavett is on to more salacious material as he asks about The Beatles responsibility when taking drugs, specifically LSD.
It’s clearly a sore subject for Harrison. The Beatle, having likely found this pressure amount to something unbearable over the last decade or so, snaps back and cites his bandmate, Paul McCartney’s 1967 interview about the matter. He does, however, offer the first time he and John Lennon ever took LSD, saying his dentist at the time dosed he and John.
Cavett is undeterred and pushes about the responsibility once more, now concerning heroin. Something clearly tells Harrison that this is likely to be a lot more serious than anticipated but he still provides clear and authentic answers. On the heroin use in the music scene, he says, “I’m really unqualified to talk about heroin because I’ve never taken it and I really don’t intend to.”
“I’m sure it’s probably just the best high, that’s what it’s down to. It’s the one that gets them the highest the quickest, but it just happens to kill you faster as well. I mean they all sort of kill you in one way or another.” It’s an answer which not only highlights Harrison’s honesty and candid personality but also his intelligence in dealing with each question on its merit.
Later Cavett asks about whether Yoko Ono broke up the band, reflecting on his solo success, he then asks whether the other members of the band held him back. The barrage continues with more reference to drugs and rock and roll and even suggesting the reason Harrison found the healing power of Indian music was because of its connection with drugs.
It’s a clip which sees the Quiet Beatle George Harrison open his mouth and the normally warm and friendly Cavett turn into an interrogator. It’s these juxtaposing values makes it one of the most revealing interviews of the decade. Watch it in full below and in restored segments.