If you looked up ‘rockstar’ in the dictionary, you’re likely to be greeted with an image of Keith Richards smirking. The Rolling Stones guitarist has written the book on rock ‘n’ roll cliches, which George Harrison is the antithesis of and never signed up to, but, despite their perceived differences, they became true friends who admired each other’s talent.
Richards paid his way by perfecting his craft, finely tuning his skills for riffing is one reason he has enjoyed a career of such remarkable longevity. Although he may come across as nonchalant in his approach, the guitar is something he eternally cherishes. Rock ‘n’ roll is his church and something that he has devoted his life to ever since he was a child. If anybody is equipped to give their opinion on guitarists, then it’s Richards. While he played in a contrasting style to that of George Harrison, he believes that The Beatle had all the capabilities to be whatever type of guitarist he wanted to be. Still, the production side of The Fab Four restricted him.
In a 2004 video Q&A with fans, Richards was asked about Harrison’s ‘thin guitar sound’ and proceeded to give his thoughts on not only George Harrison as a guitarist, but as a man too. “George was a great mate of mine, and I think as you say, George agreed with me that George Martin didn’t serve his guitar sound as well as it could have been done. But it was early days, and they were doing those things. They made an album in a night,” Richards says with a stunned look painted across his face.
“Listen to ‘Twist and Shout’ you can hear them barely,” Richards adds. “It’s purely a matter of the recording sound and nothing to do with George. He was a great friend of mine. This is another one, I met his son Dhan, just two, three weeks ago in the Islands, and there’s Dhan Harrison, who is the spitting image of George, and I kept calling him George.
“George, what a gentle soul. I used to call him farmer George because he likes gardening more than anything and another one sorely missed. I guess the good die young,” Richards says while menacingly puffing away on a cigarette.
On another occasion, Richards praisingly noted how “George was a band and a team player. People get carried away with lead guitars […] and feedbacks.”
Harrison was undoubtedly a different breed from the class of guitarist he rose up alongside with the likes of Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimi Hendrix. He approached the instrument with a gentile approach rather than a rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse or a master of the blues.
The Beatle realised that he needed to play the instrument distinctly to stand out from the crowd, considering that he couldn’t go pound for pound with his contemporaries when it came to licks. Still, he earned the respect of figures like Keith Richards by carving out his niche of playing rather than complying with the expectations of what a guitarist should be.