When the world lost George Harrison to brain cancer on November 29, 2001, it lost the rarest of things: a rock superstar who believed in what he sang about – love, God, peace. I often bemoan the void created by the absence of his music and spirit in these trying times. It was a brisk March day in 1987 when I sat down with “The Quiet One” on a frigid wrought iron chair beside a lake, his Friar Park manse looming behind us. George was enthusiastic about Cloud Nine, his first album in five years. It was an unforgettable afternoon and my journalistic integrity was cast aside. I was a fan, nothing more, nothing less. It was all I could do not to scream.
JK: Can I ask you about Dark Horse?
GH: That’s going back a bit. Not sure what I could tell you about it now.
JK: I’ve wanted to ask you this for years. Did you ever think of redoing that whole album? Your voice was pretty ragged and the critics savaged you for it – Dark “Hoarse,” for one.
GH: Do you like those songs?
JK: Very much. I always thought they didn’t get their due because of the vocals.
GH: I was quite surprised by the savagery of the rock press at the time, but I was a target fit to be brought down, I suppose. We did make an alternate once my voice had healed, but it was too late. The songs had passed, like all things, as someone once said. (laughs)
JK: I’d love to hear it. Tell me about Cloud Nine. You’ve been gone for a while.
GH: For the last few years I’ve been writing, playing, occasionally dropping in on a concert or two. I haven’t really been gone, I just haven’t been recording. Didn’t have the desire to make product.
JK: And now?
GH: Well, two years ago I started thinking I needed to get the songs out of my head and out on an album. I began thinking of producers and Jeff immediately came to mind.
JK: Jeff Lynne.
GH: Right, Jeff Lynne. Not Jeff Beck. Good to clear that up. I knew Jeff from his days with The Move and it was clear from his ELO records that he’s something of a Beatlemaniac. I figured he would relate to me pretty well. I had Dave Edmunds, a friend of both of ours who was working with Jeff at the time, pass the word on. Which he did, and Jeff called me right away and took me up on it.
JK: Did it work out the way you hoped?
GH: Yeah, it was quite relaxed and Jeff gets the credit for that. It didn’t hurt to have some friends play on it as well – Eric Clapton, Elton, Ringo.
JK: Sounds like a pretty good band.
GH: It felt very much like a band and made me, for the first time in 20 years, remember the joy of being in a group, sharing ideas, sharing responsibilities.
JK: I figured I wouldn’t ask any Beatles questions, but, clearly, the last few years of The Beatles were pretty unpleasant for you.
GH: Definitely, and it soured me on the whole band thing. But Cloud Nine was very different in that it felt like a band, but wasn’t. Having Ringo around helped for sure. Plus, no one really cares whether I make a record or not anymore, which removes the “mania.” We just played music, had fun – no pressure on our nervous system at all.
JK: Would you be up for a group again?
GH: Ah, funny you should mention that. I was at a Dave Edmunds concert in Hollywood last month. Dave’s great. I loved his playing in Love Sculpture and am quite partial to rock and roll, which he does beautifully. Dave and I played together on Carl Perkins’ television special and we hit it off well. Singing harmonies on “Your True Love” with Dave was very enjoyable. And he produced my version of Dylan’s “I Don’t Want to Do It.” So I know Dave quite well.
JK: So you and Dave are thinking of working together.
GH: Yeah, but, wait, there’s more. After the show, I went backstage with Jeff, Lynne, not Beck. We had gone together and sat in the balcony. Well, it was like a guitar convention back there.
JK: Who else?
GH: Brian Setzer of The Stray Cats was there, who Dave had produced. Brian had joined Dave for the encore. He’s a great player, the kind of guy, like Carl, that I would have idolized back in the day. I didn’t know Brian, but I have a weakness for that rockabilly sound.
JK: Wait, wait. Are you hinting that a group may include you, Dave Edmunds, Jeff Lynne and Brian Setzer?
GH: Sort of. Do you remember Duane Eddy?
JK: Of course. Wasn’t he a big influence on you?
GH: Huge. Do you know the story of “Raunchy”? No? It was a Duane tune that Paul made me play for John on the bus. That got me in, you know, because I knew the whole thing. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” is filled with Duane Eddy riffs in the verses. Give it another listen. Jeff and I worked with Duane on his new album.
JK: That is an unbelievable lineup. Five of the greatest guitarists in one band.
GH: Six, actually.
JK: Dave, Brian, Jeff, Duane and you. Did I miss someone?
GH: Dylan was there too.
GH: True. Bob and I have always been friends; at least I think we are. Bob is tough to read sometimes. We were hanging out in Hollywood together last month, even joined Jesse Ed Davis on stage at The Palomino Club about a week before Dave’s show.
JK: I’m almost speechless. Bob has never really played in a group, though obviously with a group, The Band.
GH: True, but he’s quite keen on it. It all fun, laid back, no hassles. I think we’ll do it well.
JK: Do you have a name?
GH: I was thinking “The Dinosaurs” or maybe “The Grandfathers.” We’re all very clean. How about “The Relics?”
JK: (laughs) All good. Will you tour?
GH: The difficult part is going to get everyone together in one room to record, let alone tour. I’m not keen on touring. Traveling will bury you.
Cloud Nine, released in November 1987, was a towering return to form by George Harrison. The sessions, produced by Jeff Lynne, sparked George’s interest in playing with a group. George, and the ersatz Traveling Wilburys above, met after a February 27, 1987 Dave Edmunds show, in which Brian Setzer appeared during the encore. A CREEM magazine photographer suggested a band of all guitar players and George seemed interested. The real Traveling Wilburys (George, Bob, Jeff, Tom Petty, and Roy Orbison) would come together a few months later to record a B-Side for George. That song was “Handle with Care.”
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