While The Beatles and The Rolling Stones didn’t always see eye to eye, there was never a grain of animosity between Keith Richards and George Harrison. The two artists were kindred spirits. While they may originate from opposite ends of the country, they had a scarily amount of crossover in their lives that saw both emerge as the poster boys of the British invasion.
Both men were born in 1943, and rock ‘n’ roll seemed out of reach to the duo when they were growing up daydreaming of America while listening to Chuck Berry records in their bedrooms. Neither knew the other one existed, but they were both plotting the same plan in their minds. Eventually, their paths would cross in a sliding doors moment, and they never looked back.
The Beatles rose to fame before The Stones, but it didn’t take long for their talent to be sniffed out for Harrison, who had a stellar nose for a tune. “They came to see us play,” Richards later remembered about the first biblical encounter. “It was at The Station Hotel, Richmond — that was our gig, it was the only one we really had. We’re whacking our show out, and everybody is having a good time y’know then I suddenly turn around, and there is these four guys in black leather overcoats standing there.”
He added: “I’m thinking ‘fuck me, look who’s here’,” Richards comically recalled about his rush of nerves that suddenly kicked in. This was just after ‘Love Me Do ‘like this was really early on, and it was late ’62. I was like, ‘Oh god, they’ve come to check us out man’ (laughs) and there they were.”
Harrison was clearly impressed with what he had just witnessed, as he then recommended The Rolling Stones to Decca Records, a lavel who famously missed out on The Fab Four’s signature and weren’t prepared to repeat the calamitous error. He later remembered that night in Richmond, “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 Harrison. “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.”
The two bands later shared material when The Fab Four handed the track ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ over to their new friends, material that later became a hit for the relatively unknown group. It was a favour that The Stones were never quite able to repay. Despite the barbs between one another in public, in the sanctum of privacy, there was nothing but gratuity.
On a stylistic level, both Harrison and Richards were sons of the blues and inhabited a shared school of thought that helped them become Britain’s first guitar heroes, but that’s where the comparisons end. While Richards is your archetypal rock ‘n’ roll axeman, Harrison’s reputation defied conventions.
The ‘Quiet Beatle’ never needed to unleash devilish solos for endless minutes or control a song to show off his skill. Instead, he worked his magic in the shadows while his bandmates took the plaudits. However, that’ is no slight on his importance as, without him, there is no Beatles without his intricate touch. It was a perfect mixture of egos that blended to create something that we’ll never see again.
Richards has nothing but awe for the way that Harrison played, commenting after his death, “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.”
“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.”
On another occasion, Richards opened up about their friendship and gave away the one factor that made them get on so handsomely. He said, “We both felt we held similar positions in our respective bands, which formed a special knowing bond between us. Let’s hope he’s jamming with John.”
They had known each other for close to 40 years before Harrison’s death in 2001, and their friendship was one that never titled throughout that time. Both men were never front and centre, but they were lynchpins who at the time didn’t quite get the recognition they deserved.
Without Richards and Harrison, then the history of British music looks bleak. They are the ingredient that took their respective groups to a celestial level and saw the world through a shared lens. For them, it was all about music, even though Keith Richards likes to play the rebellious card, in truth, he’s as obsessive as they come, and George Harrison was precisely the same. In truth, they are just two working-class English boys who loved music and made the world a kaleidoscopic place with the ethereal tones of their guitars.