Sunday, August 1, 2021

August 1st, 1971

On August 1st, 1971, George Harrison and Friends staged two benefit concerts for The People of Bangla Desh.

Responding to the sadness expressed by his good friend and sitar mentor, Ravi Shankar, at the suffering going on his his country, Harrison quickly assembled a stellar group of musicians to raise funds for this cause.

And his friends indeed turned out:  Ringo Starr, Eric Clapton, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Badfinger, Klaus Voorman, Jim Keltner, Jim Horn, Carl Radle, Jesse Ed Davis and, to the surprise of many, Bob Dylan all took part in this fund-raising event, really the first of its kind and the template for all that would follow in the way of Live Aid and Farm Aid, etc.  That "The Quiet Beatle" could hands-on organize such an event was truly remarkable in itself!  (Stories going 'round at the time said that John and Paul were also asked to participate ... John wasn't available and Paul tried to use the situation as leverage ... something along the lines of "Now if you'll only sign this document dissolving The Beatles ..."  I can't say with any certainty that any of that is true ... although NONE of it would surprise me.)

Quite honestly, a Beatles reunion this quickly after the break-up of the band might have changed history forever ... but I've gotta believe that John and Paul were just as shocked as the rest of the world that George had pulled this off!  Perhaps this was a precursor of things to come ... decades later, he formed The Traveling Wilburys ... with Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne no less!!!)

George was the first ex-Beatle to have a solo #1 Hit.  (To date, he is also the last!)  "My Sweet Lord" shot straight to #1 when it was released in November ... and his album "All Things Must Pass" also went right to the top of the chart.

Material from this new LP made up a good portion of George's set list:  "Wah-Wah," "My Sweet Lord," "Awaiting On Your All," "Beware Of Darkness" and George's brand new single, "Bangla Desh" were all performed that night, along with the latter day Beatles classics "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes The Sun" and "Something."  (For The Beatle who MOST wanted to stop touring, George seemed to feel right at home, center stage.)

Ringo sang his new hit, "It Don't Come Easy" (also a #1 single on both The Cash Box and The Record World Charts ... it only made it to #4 in Billboard, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense in hindsight!) and Dylan performed "A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall," "It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry," "Blowin' In The Wind," "Mr. Tambourine Man" and "Just Like A Woman."  (When George first asked Bob to participate, he requested that Dylan sing "Blowin' In The Wind" ... to which Bob reportedly replied, "Why, what are YOU going to do ... "I Want To Hold Your Hand"???  I love it!)  Harrison covered two Dylan songs on his "All Things Must Pass" album, but they didn't perform either of them.

Billy Preston momentarily stole the spotlight with his rousing rendition of "That's The Way God Planned It," an otherwise unsuccessful Apple single that got the whole crowd up on its feet.  Funnily enough, George would skip over Billy when it came time to introduce the rest of the band!  ("We've forgotten Billy Preston!!!")

When Harrison did his only U.S. Tour a few years later (dubbed "The Dark Hoarse Tour" because George's voice was shot after only a few shows), Preston again accompanied him as part of the band, this time stealing the thunder with his OWN hits, "Nothing From Nothing" and "Will It Go Round In Circles."

The Madison Square Garden shows were a MASSIVE success ... and a 3-LP Set was released soon afterwards.  (Collecting the money and getting it into the right hands was another story all-together.  George himself had to get personally involved to make sure the donations received were funneling through the proper channels.)  Album sales led to the release of a concert film the following year ... and a very special George Harrison UNICEF Fund was also established.

Initially, $250,000 was raised ... and funds continued to come in over the next several decades, to the tune of about $17 Million.  (A 40th Anniversary reissue campaign reportedly earned another $1.2 Million.)  
The album also won The Grammy for Album Of The Year ... and it holds up very well as a star-studded affair.

In hindsight, the entire concept is viewed as revolutionary ... it showed that rock musicians could come together and unite for a cause and the precedent has been followed numerous times since.

But it all happened for the very first time, fifty years ago today.