The Quiet Beatle's Long Shadow: Dhani Harrison On Sharing His Dad With The World "The studio was directly below my bedroom, so my floor has rattled my whole life." Dhani Harrison speaks with Eric Westervelt about George Fest, an all-star tribute to his father's music.

The Quiet Beatle's Long Shadow: Dhani Harrison On Sharing His Dad With The World

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/468132551/468483936" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ERIC WESTERVELT, HOST:

When you're in a band with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, it's got to be a little tough to convince them you should get to write songs, too. But some of the Beatles' most memorable tracks were actually penned by the quiet one.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING")

BEATLES: (Singing) Something in the way she moves.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HERE COMES THE SUN")

BEATLES: (Singing) Here comes the sun, and I say it's all right.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHILE MY GUITAR GENTLY WEEPS")

BEATLES: (Singing) While my guitar gently weeps.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAXMAN")

BEATLES: (Singing) Yeah, I'm the taxman.

WESTERVELT: Those are all George Harrison tunes. Harrison died of cancer nearly 15 years ago. And since then, his son Dhani has kept his father's spirit alive in many ways. In 2014, Dhani helped organize a charity tribute concert, just like his dad used to do. It featured an eclectic mix of heavy-hitters, including Norah Jones, The Flaming Lips, Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. Here's one by Cold War Kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAXMAN")

COLD WAR KIDS: 'Cause I'm the taxman, yeah, I'm the taxman.

WESTERVELT: The concert has just been released on CD, DVD, Blu-ray - and yes, on vinyl, too. It's called "George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison." Back in 2002, Dhani Harrison mounted his first tribute to his dad, the Concert For George in London, featuring Paul, Ringo, Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty and many others. This concert, George Fest, also features many stars. But it's different. These are his peers. And Dhani says they had more freedom to rework those classic tunes.

DHANI HARRISON: We never really got to do a tribute beach concert in America per se. And we wanted to do a small club show, something where we could, you know, really get inside the songs and not have to be so rigid with the sticking to the plan of how the original recordings were done. It's sort of the anti-Concert for George. It's a lot of deep tracks and a lot of young artists who've, you know, got really great different takes on the songs themselves.

WESTERVELT: Do the different interpretations of your dad's music ever help you find any new insights into his work? I mean, was there ever a moment when a song sort of revealed itself as something different than what you'd considered?

HARRISON: You know, I was - specifically liked Black Rebel Motorcycle Club's version of "The Art Of Dying." I didn't realize that was, like, grunge, you know...

WESTERVELT: Yeah.

HARRISON: ...Until I saw BRMC play it. And I was like oh, this is like a shoe-gazey grunge song.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE ART OF DYING")

BLACK REBEL MOTORCYCLE CLUB: (Singing, unintelligible) ...Could equal or surpass the art of dying.

HARRISON: They, like, unlocked that song for me. Or the thing that was really great was having female vocalists.

WESTERVELT: Yeah, I like those. And I really like Norah Jones take on "Something." Let's hear a little bit of Norah Jones' "Something."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SOMETHING")

NORAH JONES: (Singing) Something in the way she moves attracts me like no other lover. Something in the way she moves me. I don't want to leave her now. You know I believe and how.

WESTERVELT: And there's some deep tracks on this. You reserved a few for yourself. You did "Let It Down" and "Savoy Truffle" - a ginger sling with a pineapple heart. What do you love about that song?

HARRISON: Apparently, it was all about a box of chocolates. Good news was the box of chocolates. So, you know, coffee dessert, yes, you know it's good news.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVOY TRUFFLE")

BEATLES: (Singing) Coffee dessert, you know it's good news. But you'll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy truffle.

HARRISON: So it's basically just my dad rattling off the names in there.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVOY TRUFFLE")

BEATLES: (Singing) Cool cherry cream, nice apple tart.

HARRISON: Someone actually made as Savoy truffles in a really nice box, which I've got sitting on my desk at my office.

WESTERVELT: Nice. Dhani, I imagine as the child of a famous musician who's also his own musician, you're relationship to your dad's music could be complicated. But you seem to have embraced his musical legacy. I mean, what has that journey to his music been like for you?

HARRISON: I mean, I guess I got lucky because I got George Harrison, you know? And it's good music. I'm - you know, I'm honored to be a part of his legacy. And also, we've made so much music together and spent much time in the studio in my house in Friar Park in Henley, where I grew up. The student was directly below my bedroom. So my floors rattled, you know, my whole life. So I would always go downstairs and just see what was going on. I remember the Traveling Wilburys there. And so I'm very comfortable in the studio, and I kind of grew up learning how to produce and play. And, you know, for me it was facilitated very much by my dad. And we were best friends, so spending a lot of time in the studio with him was very natural. And we were finishing a record together. And after he passed away, I got to - I got to work with Jeff Lynne. And I ended up finishing it with Jeff and kind of taking the role of my dad on because there was no artist then to answer questions. And that kind of left me in Los Angeles and left me in a studio thinking well, that was the most fun thing that I could be doing, I think. So it kind of just carried on from there. And making my own records and composing for film and TV. it just seemed like a logical step for me.

WESTERVELT: How great to grow up in an ecosystem where, you know, music is just naturally part of your everyday life. You'd come down for tea and maybe Jeff Lynne or Eric Clapton's, you know, in the kitchen or something. It's...

HARRISON: I'm very, very blessed, yeah, very blessed and also offered you a different perspective on life, I think, you know, to have these people around the house. It made going to school easier, you know, 'cause you kind of wouldn't take yourself so seriously. And you come home and Bob Dylan would be there or something, you know? It was - you can't...

WESTERVELT: I don't think I'd get any homework done, wow.

HARRISON: It was - yeah, it was quite hard to get yourself to then go and do homework.

WESTERVELT: The media image of your dad is of the - you know, the spiritual, quiet Beatle who loved gardening. But we know it's more nuanced and complicated than that. He also loved, you know, Monty Python and absurdity and helped fund "Life Of Brian." How do you keep his spirit alive for yourself while having to, I don't know, in effect share his legacy with the rest of the world?

HARRISON: That is an interesting thing actually because, you know, those times where you feel like that person's getting, like, taken away from you by - you know, maybe you see them on an Apple billboard or something and you think oh, that's like he belongs to everyone. But, you know, you've just got to be quiet and go in the garden and meditate. And then you remember lots of other stuff. And you have your own experience that's personal and deeper, you know? Yeah, but, you know, there is a time when - sometimes when we do releases and when we do - you know, when we release the Martin Scorsese documentary, there was a lot of press around and just a lot of clips of bits that people have edited together in their own sort of way, you know, to make a little George Harrison compilation. And that kind of weighs on your heart a little bit sometimes. I think that that makes you feel a little bit disconnected or you just feel like everyone else. And it's hard - it's a hard thing to understand unless you've had a parent who's passed away and who has been in the public eye. Sometimes you don't want to share them, you know?

WESTERVELT: That's Dhani Harrison. The new tribute album to his dad's work is just out. It's "George Fest: A Night To Celebrate The Music Of George Harrison." Dhani, it was a pleasure.

HARRISON: It was a pleasure talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY SWEET LORD")

BRIAN WILSON AND AL JARDINE: (Singing) Really want to see you. Really want to see you, Lord. Really want to see you, Lord, but it takes so long, my Lord.

WESTERVELT: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Eric Westervelt. You can follow us on Twitter @npratc. Follow me - @Ericnpr. Michel Martin's back next weekend. Thanks for listening, and have a great week.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.