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George Harrison once named the "best rock 'n' roll" guitarist of all time

George Harrison understood the ingredients it required to become an outstanding guitarist, and for the former Beatle, you didn’t need to be a flamboyant showman to reach iconic status. Instead, Harrison believed that nuance was the crucial component, a reason why he held Keith Richards in such prodigious esteem.

While The Beatles and The Rolling Stones played up to the pantomime rivalry between them in the public eye, behind closed doors, the band’s two guitarists only held respect for each other. Both admired one another as people, but more so the technical ability that the other possessed. Moreover, their personal tales overlapped significantly. Harrison and Richarda were both born in 1943, and both fell in love with the same rock ‘n’ roll records during their youth, the very same albums that they used as fuel to spark the British invasion.

In fact, Harrison was the person that recommended The Rolling Stones to Decca Records after witnessing an early performance by the group in Richmond-upon-Thames. He later remembered, “We’d been at Teddington taping Thank Your Lucky Stars, miming to ‘From Me To You’, and we went to Richmond afterwards and met them”.

Adding: “They were still on the club scene, stomping about, doing R&B tunes. The music they were playing was more like we’d been doing before we’d got out of our leather suits to try and get onto record labels and television. We’d calmed down by then”.

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The Stones reminded him of his own band, and there was something particular about Keith Richards that Harrison found particularly endearing. While stylistically they were different, their ranking in the hierarchy of their respective groups was comparable, according to Richards, who later said this is what “formed a special knowing bond between us”.

While they could relate to one another professionally, Harrison felt like there was nobody better than Richards as a rhythm guitarist, and he would be a valuable asset to every group. The book George Harrison on George Harrison quotes the Beatle, saying: “I think he’s a great rhythm guitar player, Keith. You know, really, I think he’s probably one of the best rock ‘n’ roll rhythm guitar players”.

Harrison felt like Richards reached his pinnacle with explosive talents such as Brian Jones or Mick Taylor alongside him. He believed being the lead was never Keef’s speciality, but that doesn’t take anything away from his celestial skillset. Harrison continued: “I don’t think he’s very good at lead, but he’s played … this is the thing you see, what I feel about Keith and myself too, it’s not a comparison, but in some ways what we do is we make records, and the records have some good guitar parts on them, or have some good songs, or good lyrics or whatever, but basically you make records”.

The nuanced approach to the artistry both Harrison and Richards undertook might not have been the overbearing feature of those seminal Stones and Beatles records, but their mercurial touches can’t be understated. It set a foundation for their bandmates to build upon and made those bands what they were, even if Richards and Harrison didn’t receive their fair share of acclaim.

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