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Tom Petty’s thoughts on John Lennon and George Harrison’s relationship

Despite Paul McCartney’s domination musically in the latter years of The Beatles’ reign in the 1960s, the band’s father figure was always John Lennon. It had been Lennon who conceived the earliest incarnation of the group back in 1956, aged just 16 when they were known as The Quarrymen. About a year later, in 1957, Lennon met 15-year-old McCartney at St Peter’s Church Hall fête in Woolton. The pair got on like a house on fire, and it wasn’t long before McCartney joined The Quarrymen, and they began bouncing ideas off of each other in the early rumblings of the Lennon-McCartney songwriting partnership. 

In early 1958, McCartney invited his younger friend George Harrison, a keen guitarist, to watch the band play. Harrison subsequently auditioned for Lennon, and although impressed by the young lad’s talent, he had reservations about the guitarist’s age. Harrison was nearly three years younger than Lennon, and while it seems odd that such a trivial detail should have an impact on the dynamic between the pair, it remained in Harrison’s consciousness even after Lennon’s death. 

Lennon treated Harrison as an inferior younger brother throughout their time together in The Beatles, especially in the early years. Harrison would hold his own against Lennon’s unfairly placed critique and goading, as any younger brother learns to, but the dynamic left a permanent impression on the quiet Beatle.

Many years later, Harrison befriended Tom Petty, and they formed The Travelling Wilburys alongside Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison. Petty was among those who saw this lasting influence Lennon had over Harrison. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Petty explained that Harrison “really, really admired John”. Detailing further, Petty continued, “He probably wanted John’s acceptance pretty bad, you know?”

In a special edition of Rolling Stone titled Remembering George, Petty said Harrison loved the other Beatles deep down despite obvious differences during and after the band’s 1970 break-up. “I just know what I’ve heard from George as the years went by. But he was very funny, like, ‘The Beatles, they weren’t all that they were cracked up to be [laughs],’” Petty said.

Adding: “He loved the Beatles. He used to bitch sometimes about individual Beatles who got on his nerves. But he really loved them down deep, and I knew this. I think that a lot of George’s personality was formed by John.”

Petty concluded on the point: “This is just a guess, but that was the way it appeared to me. He looked up to John so much. He said, ‘Oh, John would be a Wilbury in a second.’ He’d say about Paul, ‘Paul is a year older than me, and he still is.’ But he really loved Paul, too. And he really loved Ringo.”

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