George Harrison was a fine guitarist, songwriter and composer, but another aspect of the former Beatle’s talents was his eye for talent, which, according to most musical historians, played a pivotal role in helping The Rolling Stones secure their first-ever record deal. That deal, of course, would go on to set the foundations for Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Brian Jones and the rest of the band to become one of the biggest groups of all time.
Bob Spitz’s acclaimed biography of The Beatles details how Harrison came to act as the broker for such an illustrious contract and the landmark role in transforming The Rolling Stones. Harrison’s nose for a tune would transform the Stones from one of London’s hottest unsigned bands to The Beatles’ high-profile rivals after he recommended them to the president of Decca Records.
Harrison’s intervention occurred around the time The Beatles released their seminal debut album Please Please Me which, of course, went straight to number one in the charts and catapulted the Merseysiders to icon status so early on in their career. The meteoric rise also saw demand for the Fab Four rise dramatically, with requests to make personal appearances at events going through the roof. With limited time, the group decided that individual members would appear at different events to fulfil their duties and also add further credence to manager Brian Epstein’s plan.
Epstein was always keen on marketing the four sides of the band to different sets of fans. John Lennon was the rocker, Paul McCartney the boy next door, George Harrison operated as the shy boy, and Ringo Starr just smiled from ear to ear as the joker. But splitting the group into factions had practical advantages, too, as they could spread a little thinner than other groups.
For example, when Harrison made an appearance as a judge in a ‘Beat Group’ talent show, which was made up of local Liverpool bands hoping to replicate the Fab Four’s success. A fellow judge at the contest alongside Harrison was Dick Rowe, the president of Decca Records. The winner of the talent show would go on to secure a deal with the label and hope to emulate the pop music stardom that was now becoming a regular occurrence.
For all those twitching eyebrows out there, yes, it is that Dick Rowe, the record executive who was most famous for being “the man that turned down the Beatles” when they auditioned for Decca before going to EMI. Under an undue amount of stress considering the Fab Four’s imposing record sales, Rowe was adamant that he wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
After some of the bands came out to perform for both Harrison and Rowe during the show, the two began discussing the competition so far. Harrison, unimpressed by what he had seen on the day, explained that none of the groups performing in the talent show were on the same level as a band from London called The Rolling Stones who he had seen a few days prior.
Later, Harrison recalled the moment The Beatles witnessed the band performing for the first time. “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,” recalled the guitarist. “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.” It was the exact sentiment Harrison had spoken to Rowe about The Rolling Stones with. Simply put, this band were the guys.
With his ears pricked by Harrison’s suggestion, Rowe instantly leapt out of his judge’s chair and began making plans to find and sign The Rolling Stones. Picking up his coat, Rowe headed straight to London and immediately arranged a meeting to see Rolling Stones perform that night. Rowe recalled: “I pushed my chair back, and I basically ran to my car and got myself down to Richmond to make sure I was there for that Rolling Stones gig.” The rest, as they say, is history.
Check out this footage below from when Mick Jagger would repay the favour by joining George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and many more for an all-star performance of ‘I Saw Her Standing There’ to mark The Beatles entering the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.