As part of The Beatles, George Harrison’s talented guitar playing is often overlooked. Though we’ve done our best to highlight his subtle genius, Harrison’s playing comes in second to his songwriting but that didn’t mean he was a player at heart. Like most players who grew up in the fifties and sixties, Harrison loved the blues and his choice of ample players was huge in London’s swinging scene.
While guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page are rightly thought of as foundational to rock as we know it and bluesmen like B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters are equally as integral to their own beginnings, Harrison discovered his favourite guitarist much later in life.
You can likely trace back Harrison’s musical beginnings quite some way. The guitarist has been a known lover of classic rock acts like Chuck Berry, who doubtless influenced his style, as well as jazz greats like Chet Atkins whose technical skill likely impressed the Beatle. Hey, there’s even room for the suggestion of Harrison’s favourite guitarist being George Formby, if you’ll let your imagination stretch a little with Harrison being an avid fan of the ukelele. Instead, the accolade can go to the late, great Gary Moore.
In comparison to some of the names mentioned already in this list, Moore is an unknown. Born in 1952, the Northern Irish musician is one of the finest players to ever come out of the country and begun his career as a teenager in the late ”60s when he joined Skid Row later joining Phil Lynott in Thin Lizzy for a brief stint before rejoining the band some years later.
If Moore was known for any kind of guitar playing it was the heavy rock noise he had created during the early years, not the technical brilliance he had in his locker. Moore was widely described as a virtuoso player, heavily influenced by Fleetwood Mac’s Peter Green and Eric Clapton and often featuring in the list of great players. Bob Geldof said that “without question, [Moore] was one of the great Irish bluesmen”.
Harrison didn’t have a bad career himself and has also been cited as one of Moore’s favourite players with the Northern Irishman having a particular fondness for his slide playing. Harrison had long since left The Beatles when he drafted Moore in for a supreme session as part of the biggest supergroup of all time, The Travelling Wilburys, featuring Harrison, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lyne.
When George Harrison was working with The Traveling Wilburys on the song ‘She’s My Baby’, despite being surrounded by huge talent, he found himself stuck with a guitar solo he just couldn’t reach. Much like he had done when struggling with The Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, Harrison drafted in a friend, the brilliant Gary Moore, to take on the moniker ‘Ken Wilbury’.
Harrison was taking part in an interview when he was asked about the song and let slip his love for Moore. Asked who played the solo on the record Harrison replied: “That’s Ken Wilbury, I hope he’s listening in. Now, Ken Wilbury, you’re a very naughty boy, you didn’t play on the video, but we love him anyway—he’s an excellent guitar player.” Moore’s alias doesn’t hide Harrison’s admiration, from the Quiet Beatle, this is as good as a badge of honour.
Moore once recounted the first time he met Harrison, “I was at a party at Alvin Lee’s house. I was playing and he walked up to me and said ‘That’s the way you should play, if you wanna impress me.’ I was playing blues stuff, very tidy, not the heavy rock stuff I was known for. I got to know George and went to his house on occasion. He said he had a song for me, ‘That Kind of Woman’. I recorded the vocal at his house and he played the guitar and did some backing vocals.” The track would go on to feature on par of the CD release of Still Got The Blues.
Born in 1952, Moore experienced The Beatles like any fan would have. By the time they had broken up in 1970, he was only 18-years-old, so the idea of working with Harrison must have meant a great deal to him. He speaks about being surrounded by the Beatles memorabilia in Harrison’s studio: “He’d let me get them down. He had everything y’know, the painted strat from Magical Mystery Tour, the Gibson acoustics, the Rickenbacker he played on ‘Hard Day’s Night’. It was an amazing room. It was sort of like meeting all your old friends that you saw in the movies when you were a kid.”
After Moore worked with Harrison and the Wilburys, George stated that Moore was one of “the world’s best guitar players” a famed speed demon on the fretboard, it wasn’t speed that impressed Harrison but his keen sense of improvisation and underlined melody. “He doesn’t flap around the note like a lot of players,” said Harrison.
The duo actually performed together on one occasion, Harrison’s final full concert in 1992. It was on that stage, footage of which you can see below, where the duo would share a cover fo The Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, with more adding his own flourish to Clapton’s iconic solo. In the footage, you can see how happy Harrison is to have his friend and a man he greatly admired, Garry Moore by his side.