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Harrison had small revival with Japan tour
This article first appeared in the Chicago Tribune on July 13, 1992 .
Like many rock stars, George Harrison has an ego problem.
Unlike most of them, he could use more ego, not less.
His distaste for the spotlight may have had something to do with the fact that he stopped touring for 17 years. Then, last December, the former Beatles guitarist played 13 concerts in Japan with his old friend Eric Clapton.
On Tuesday, Warner Brothers will release ``Live in Japan,`` a two-CD document of those concerts, in which Harrison dipped back to his Beatles days for ``Taxman,`` ``Piggies`` and ``Something,`` on through recent solo hits such as ``Got My Mind Set on You`` and ``Devil`s Radio.``
Harrison says he was elated to be back on stage for the first time since 1974, but not for the reasons one might think.
``The only regret I have about not touring more is that it`s fun playing with a band, that`s all,`` he says, calling from his home outside London, where he lives with his wife, Olivia, and son, Dhani.
``After three or four nights of doing the concerts, my ego was satisfied. I`m the kind of person who would love to play whenever I felt like, with a band, and it might as well be the Holiday Inn in Nebraska -- somewhere where no one knows you and you`re in a band situation just playing music.
``The adulation or the superstardom is something I could leave out quite happily. Playing in the band in a live situation, you really become a better musician.
``I wasted years at home where I basically just wrote tunes. I played some decent solos (on the tour), but I`m not as fluent on the instrument as I`d like to be.``
Harrison, who turns 50 in February, says that instead of capping his brief comeback to live performing, ``Live in Japan`` is just a prelude. He`s contemplating a world tour that would include a swing through America in the next year.
``I`m torn, because part of me doesn`t want to tour for months on end, which seems to be the only way people do it because of the expenses involved,`` he says. ``I`m just toying with the best way to do it so I won`t overdo it.``
If Harrison does tour again, he says he would like to hook up with drummer Jim Keltner, now playing with the group Little Village, or he may use Clapton`s band again.
Clapton and Harrison have been friends since the `60s, when they performed together on such classics as the Beatles` ``While My Guitar Gently Weeps`` and Cream`s ``Badge.`` At the same time, they were in love with the same woman, Patti Boyd.
While Harrison was married to her, Clapton wrote the tortured ``Layla`` for her, with its refrain of ``Layla, you`ve got me on my knees.``
In 1977, Harrison and Boyd were divorced, and she married Clapton in 1979. In 1988, they, too, were divorced.
But the Harrison-Clapton friendship endured.
``I finished with the wife and he married her, then he finished with her,`` Harrison says. ``I mean, we`ve been through a lot of similar things, similar wives. It`s just the way it is.
``He`s kind of like a brother. I think we`ve both had our own success so that I don`t ever feel competition with Eric. He`s a great guitar player and maybe I`d be in competition with him if I`d have stayed on the road all those years, but my life went a different way. So if I want some guitar playing in that style, I can get my friend Eric to play. If I played the exact same style of guitar as him then maybe we wouldn`t be as friendly.``
Warming up for Japan
Harrison says that were it not for Clapton, he might not have toured at all.
``He`d been everywhere-Latin America, Australia, the Far East-a year or two ago, and he`d say to me that people would always ask him: `Where`s George?` What`s going on? Why isn`t he doing anything?` `` he says.
``Then in London during the making of Clapton`s `24 Nights` album at the Royal Albert Hall, I saw him quite a bit and he said, `Look, we`re not doing anything after this, and if you`d like, you could use my band and I`d come with you, and it`d be simple for you.` ``
Harrison says the toughest concert of the Japan tour was the final rehearsal, before a roomful of VIP guests.
``It was a very cold concert,`` he says. ``They were clapping, but it was more difficult than we thought. That warmed us up, though. The first real show I had some nerves, but it was just the right balance of nerves and adrenaline, and it proved to be one of the best performances.``
It was in sharp contrast to his 1974 tour, when, overworked, Harrison says, he felt at times like ``a raving lunatic.``
Harrison produced three albums that year, including his own, then hustled to recruit 20 musicians from India and the West to play with him on tour. The crowning blow came when he blew out his voice in rehearsals.
Big boost from the Wilburys
The guitarist justifiably notes that his blend of Eastern rhythms with rock ``was ahead of its time,`` but many critics at the time didn`t agree. A scathing review in Rolling Stone magazine remains a sore point.
``The writer sent me a copy of what he actually wrote, which was really rather favorable,`` Harrison says. ``But the editorial department did a hatchet job on me. That ticked me off a bit.``
He also found himself at odds with the music industry. After releasing ``Gone Troppo`` in 1982 to massive commercial indifference, he quit recording for five years.
``I remember doing one album in the late `70s, and one of the guys from the record company was telling me how they did marketing research,`` Harrison says. ``They`d ask all these kids what constitutes a hit record and I thought, `Christ, what chance have I got with that?`
``I wrote a song called `Blood From a Clone` about how everyone wanted this clone music, all the same. I didn`t know where I fit, so I thought I`d give it a break.``
In 1987, however, he scored a hit with the ``Cloud 9`` album. After working without a producer for a number of albums, Harrison sought out Jeff Lynne for the project. The former Beatle admired the way Lynne took ``the `Eleanor Rigby` thing to some other level`` during his years with the Electric Light Orchestra.
``We hung out for 18 months before we did the album, and I thought, `This is gonna be perfect: He likes my music, and I`m gonna be able to control him.` I mean I didn`t want to sound like ELO,`` Harrison says with a laugh. ``We both got a lot out of that. We wrote songs together that were noticeably fab,`` a reference to the ``Fab Four`` Beatles.
``He got out of his system the need to be fabulous for a moment, and I got out of my system the need to make it sound like the old days.``
The collaboration led to the formation of the Traveling Wilburys, with Lynne, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison joining Harrison, and his career has been on the upswing ever since.
Yet Harrison never gives the impression of being too impressed with himself. Part of the reason may be his ongoing interest in Eastern religion.
``I`m not studying it,`` he says. ``Practicing it is what counts. I believe that we`re a mirror, and so much dust accumulates that we can`t see in or out. We have to clean off the dust and reveal to ourselves what we are. And the key to doing that is not to become too attached to this world.``
Harrison says he spends many of his days ``pretending I`m on vacation, seeing if I can let the pond settle with barely a ripple.``
``Sometimes I think I haven`t toured for so long because I`m just basically lazy,`` he says with a laugh.
Yet the Japan experience invigorated him in more ways than one.
``I quit smoking so I could sing on the tour,`` he says. ``I feel better than I have in 20 years. I`m very straight. I don`t even drink.
``I remember John (Lennon) saying, `Don`t trust anyone over 30,` but now we`ve got Ray Charles, Fats Domino and Chuck Berry still doing it,`` he says. ``Rock isn`t just teenybopper music anymore. You`ve got audiences now from three generations. And as the music has gotten worse and worse over the years, it`s made us start looking good again.``
Not good enough, however, to tempt Harrison into reuniting with the surviving Beatles.
``Personally, I`d stay as far away as possible from that,`` he says. ``It wouldn`t be what people expect. They`d show up, and it would just be three old men on the stage.``