George Harrison is a name seldom heard in the same breath as the likes of Jimi Hendrix or Jimmy Page. The Beatle played in his distinct manner and could do delicately beautiful things on a six-string, skills which make the mind boggle in a way that nobody else could.
Keith Richards is a similar spirit. The duo were both sons of the blues, and this shared a school of thought helped them become Britain’s first superstar guitarists. While Richards is the archetypal rock ‘n’ roll axeman, Harrison’s reputation defies conventions and shows there is no right or wrong way to play the instrument.
Harrison never needed to unleash devilish solos for endless minutes or control a song to show off his skill. His playing worked fittingly as the seasoning to the meal rather than as the centrepiece dominating the plate. While Harrison’s work may not be forceful or grab listeners in an immediate sense like more powerful players, without Harrison’s sweet fingertips, The Beatles lose their intricate and graceful sound.
The guitarist also never cared about being the centre of attention. It’s impossible to measure how much his unselfish nature helped during his spell in The Fab Four alongside John Lennon and Paul McCartney, artists who were both more than happy to vie for the attention while the ‘Quiet Beatle’ worked his magic in the background. It was a perfect mixture of egos that blended to create something that we’ll never see again.
Keith Richards understands more than most the difference between a guitarist who needed to be a focal point and somebody like Harrison, a creative more than comfortable outside of the spotlight. “The thing is, you’ve got your Jimi Hendrix, you’ve got your Eric Clapton, and then you’ve got guys who can play with bands,” Richards once mused.
“George was a band and a team player. People get carried away with lead guitars and feedbacks,” he added. “And it’s all histrionics, when it comes down to it.”
Harrison didn’t require anything else apart from his precious Telecaster, and there was no need for smoke and mirrors when you could create such ornate sounds through guile alone. “George was an artist, but he was also a fucking craftsman,” Richards added. “When you listen to his songs, you’re aware of how much went into it. He didn’t flip anything off. George crafted his stuff very, very carefully, and it all had its own feel.”
Harrison was a thinking man’s guitarist, his melodic brain was his finest asset, and he meticulously considered every move he made. While he didn’t use the brute force of a Hendrix, the Beatle more than made up for that in other areas.
While Harrison changed many aspects of his artistry as he became a solo creative, his approach to guitar playing never faltered. He didn’t try to emulate the new stars of the day who, in truth, were all attempting to be like Jimmy Page. Instead, Harrison stuck to his delicious methods, which continued to serve him well.
Harrison knew that he couldn’t go toe to toe with the bright new lights of the guitar world, and he was also all-too-aware that Page was a different kind of artist to him, and while he admired him greatly, there was room for their methods to co-exist in the same musical pool. Greatness arrives in all different shapes and sizes, and originality remains the only ingredient that needs to draw breath to achieve it.