He was a guitarist, singer-songwriter and film producer born in Liverpool, England, whose primary school was just off Penny Lane which has since been made famous in The Beatles song of the same name.
He went on to the Liverpool Institute of Boys which is now the Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts and studied there from 1954 to 1959. Regarded as a poor student, he left without attaining any qualifications. He knew Paul McCartney from school and they both lived in the same area and traveled the same bus, often smoking on the top deck, as was later featured on “A Day in the Life”. After he left school he became an apprentice electrician.
Paul introduced him to John Lennon and he began to play lead guitar for The Quarrymen while his father helped them get local social club bookings for gigs. The band became the Silver Beetles and then The Beatles and although he played many of the guitar solos they were done under the direction of Paul McCartney and some others were modified or directed by George Martin, who later said “I was always rather beastly to George”. His talent grew and by the end of the 1960s he was an accomplished guitarist and in the 1970s he was known for his signature sound of slide work.
He was known as the “Quiet Beatle” as he wasn’t as outspoken and extrovert as the others, although he did have a good sense of humour. He was the lead vocalist on all The Beatles songs that he wrote himself including the widely performed song “Something”.
David Crosby introduced him to the work of Ravi Shankar and he became fascinated with the sitar, being the first Western pop musician to play one on the song “Norwegian Wood”. As his interest in Indian culture grew he immersed himself in Hinduism and he and his wife, Patti Boyd, took a pilgrimage to visit holy places and meet gurus. He became involved with the Hare Krishna traditions and remained associated with them until his death.
Eric Clapton became a close friend, and later the husband of Patti Boyd, and they co-wrote “Badge” for the group Cream, and the bridge on it was the basis for The Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun”.
After the disbandment of the group in 1970 he released the first triple album by a rock artist which was All Things Must Pass. He organized the Concert for Bangladesh in 1971 which is now seen as the first major charity concert featuring many top performers. He started the record company Dark Horse in Los Angeles, where he met his second wife Olivia, and played as a guitarist for other bands that recorded on the label under the pseudonym Hari Georgeson.
In the late 1980s he became part of the Traveling Wilburys with Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty. As a fan of the Monty Python team and The Goons he started the film production company Handmade Films which saw success with The Life of Brian, Withnail and I and Time Bandits among others.
An intruder entered into his home in December 1999 and although he and Olivia managed to fight him off he sustained multiple stab wounds and a punctured lung. He recovered from this but his battle from recurring cancer ended in his death in December 2001 at the age of 58. His final months included working on albums with Jools Holland and the Electric Light Orchestra’s album Zoom on which he was a guest guitarist. After his death a memorial concert was held at the Royal Albert Hall in London with his son Dhani performing on vocals and guitar. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004 and the planet 4149 discovered in 1984 was named in his honour.
If I Fell (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)
Got to Get You into My Life (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)
And I Love Her (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)
Helter Skelter (John Lennon/Paul McCartney)
The Beatles with Tony Sheridan recordings
Cry for a Shadow (George Harrison/John Lennon)
Why (Tony Sheridan/Bill Crompton)
Here he is performing his chart-topping “My Sweet Lord”…