Interview with Louise Harrison,
Sister of George Harrison of The Beatles
Oh, and they happened to change the face of music history when they played The Ed Sullivan show some 52 years ago, on a fateful Sunday night, February 9, 1964.
The Beatles will forever be an institution in music. And a particular lead guitarist by the name of George Harrison was lucky: he was the only Beatle to have an older sister.
And without her, the world would likely never have heard the music of The Beatles. For a long time her significant place in The Beatles history has been unknown, but that is beginning to change.
After 80 years of living, Louise Harrison has been kind enough — even after all these years of Beatlemania enthusiasts — to invite us into her world and give us a glimpse from her point of view about, as she puts it, “Her Kid Brother’s Band aka The Beatles,” the title of her new book.
A true page turner, this book gives you a glimpse into the personal side of George Harrison’s life from one who knew him better than most. Louise has spent her life loving and adoring her family — and that included her other “family,” The Beatles. In fact, she was one of the individuals responsible for getting her brother into the United States to play his first gig — the first Beatle to play in the US. And she worked tirelessly to get The Beatles on the airwaves in their early years, which eventually got them invited across the pond to sweep our nation (and the rest of the world) away.
She is a passionate environmentalist, she survived some tumultuous experiences during WWII, she had a budding radio broadcasting career in which she kept the record straight by reporting accurate details in the news about her “kid brother’s band,” and she now shares her famous “Harrison Hug” with people across the world. She also endorses a Beatles tribute band, The Liverpool Legends. I am not going to give away any more details about the book because it is truly worth the read, not just for a Beatles fan, but for anyone who is concerned about the human condition. The book is an inspiration. (Give it a read. Trust me, it is worth every minute.)
You can find it on Amazon here and anywhere else books are sold.
I didn’t get a chance to tell her this during our interview, but immediately after I learned that I would get to speak with her, I heard, on three different occasions, music by George Harrison (one of his solo songs and a Beatles song in which he sung lead vocals) playing in public places. It was uncanny. While waiting on the phone for a receptionist, “Here Comes The Sun” played as the hold music. At the pharmacy, “I Got My Mind Set on You” played over the loudspeaker. And at work, “I’m Happy Just To Dance With You” by The Beatles played. Were these mere coincidences or were they George’s way of letting me know that he approved of my speaking with his sister?
I can’t help but believe that it was the latter.
[In a darling British accent] Well, mainly because I didn’t want to write a book at all, and people have been going at me now for the last 40 years saying that I have a more personal perspective about The Beatles than all other people who have written all of these other books — you know, people who have maybe never even met The Beatles and who make up stories about them. And I said maybe I will just write a pamphlet to tell you which books you should and shouldn’t read.
Your band, The Liverpool Legends, not only captures The Beatles sound, but they also have the favor of the surviving band members of The Beatles, and they can say they were handpicked by the only big sister of any Beatle. Is that a fair assessment?
That is true. You know, the thing is I would not have my name on them if I didn’t know they were really really exceptional as performers and really great musicians, and not only that but they write their own music as well. They are the kind of guys, to me, that I thought would be very very important people who, if George was still here, they would be the kind of lads that he would have as his friends. They are really good and decent citizens, basically.
You mentioned The Beatles manager Brian Epstein. There is a movie in the works about his life [The Fifth Beatle]. Who do you think should play your character in the movie?
[Laughs] I don’t think anyone is going to mention me in the movie. And that’s the thing, you know, nobody knows everything about what I did. So, you
know, how is anybody going to mention me? Even when I was with them, in New York, and people were all taking photographs of The Beatles at the time, I was cropped out of most of the photographs, so I am basically like the invisible lady in The Beatles history. So if anybody ever writes the movie they should call me the invisible lady. [laughs] People where taking lots of photographs all the time, but actually there were only a few that I remained in when they actually published the photographs. But that’s okay, I wasn’t there for my own glory. I was there for my kid brother.
Well, either way, in your wonderful book I was amazed to learn that without you The Beatles wouldn’t be here. And, on a personal note, I have enjoyed them for many years: I am a drummer and the first song I ever played live, when I was 12, was The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” at my local middle school talent show. Nothing — not even middle school talent shows in small town America — has escaped their influence, it seems. Do you think The Beatles will live in music forever just like Mozart or Beethoven?
Oh, [laughs], well, they didn’t actually write that song [“Twist and Shout”], of course, they covered it. And it seems to be that way [in regards to The Beatles living forever in music history] because certainly from my own experience, it is now going on 52 years since they did the Ed Sullivan Show, and even the people who come to our shows (The Liverpool Legends) who were 16 when The Beatles started, and even kids that are 4-years-old, they know all the words to all the songs. So it looks to me that it has had a strong enough impact, as far as the quality of the music. And the message that The Beatles are all about is love and peace, and we could do with a little bit more of that on the planet right now. Hopefully, it will keep on going because it is a positive influence on the planet.
Speaking of positivity, in the book you write that your parents encouraged you to give thanks to the Creator for your gifts and abilities that you had been endowed with. By mentioning the Creator, did you mean God from a Christian perspective?
Well, Dad wasn’t specifically into any particular sect or religion. He just believed that there is a Creator and the life-force within us is a little drop of that Creator, that the Creator is a massive intelligent energy — the thing that gives us a force of life is having a drop of the Creator. So he wasn’t into, you know, my God is better than your God. It was more like anybody has a drop of God in them.
Could you discuss in further detail the “Harrison Hug?”
Actually, I sort of created the name for that just after George had died because one of the last times we hugged each other — we always would hug each other when we see each other after a while — and one of the last times, George said to me, “Pass it on,” when he hugged me. So after he died when I would give people hugs I would say, “This comes from George, and I am passing it on, so if you would pass it on as well now.” And I started this whole thing about George’s hug going around the world. Then I had an email from somebody from South America saying she had received a Harrison Hug for her birthday recently, from somebody I had given it to in 2003. And lots of people are keeping that hug going around the world. But the hug didn’t actually start with me and George. It actually started with my parents, with the warmth and compassion and love that they just gave to everybody that came in their path. And it is something that everybody can manifest if they just show love and kindness to the other people around them.
You mentioned in the book that when George first played in the US he was impressed with a guitarist named Kenny Welsh who played in Nashville at the Grand Ole Opry. Did the Beatles admire the music that came from Nashville?
Oh, yes, very much so. In fact, George had heard of the Grand Ole Opry, and was very very impressed when this guy came along to our house and said that is where he had played. George was very thrilled to be able to get some music lessons from somebody that played at the Grand Ole Opry.
Of all you have been through in your life — your book, your radio career, promoting your brother’s band, your environmental endeavors — what accomplishment are you most proud of?
I haven’t really accomplished anything yet, I don’t think [laughs]. I still would like to get people more interested in the plight of our planet’s health. Recently, I am living in California right now, and there is a very very severe drought here — not just here but drinkable water is becoming more limited everywhere. But the thing that people don’t seem to recognize is that we have made such a terrible, appalling mess of the health of our planet. We really need to do something about the bad health of the planet, otherwise we are basically indulging ourselves to self-extinction. I hope to get people to take notice and to say, “Hey, it is about time we did something to make things right.”