Frequent contributor Harvey Kubernik also wrote a piece celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The Concert For Bangla Desh that is currently running in Music Connection ... but he gave us permission to share some excerpts here in Forgotten Hits, too, in tandem with our own anniversary piece.
Thanks, Harvey ... enjoy, readers!
The Concert for Bangladesh 50th Anniversary August 1, 2021
by Harvey Kubernik Copyright © 2021
(You can read the whole thing in Music Connection ... and you'll find quite a bit more of Harvey's Bangla Desh commentary in his"Docs That Rock" book.)
August 1, 2021, marks the 50th anniversary of The Concert for Bangladesh, a pair of benefit shows organized by Ravi Shankar and George Harrison in New York City at Madison Square Garden that raised awareness and fund relief for East Pakistan refugees, after the Bangladesh Liberation War-related genocide.
It was in Los Angeles, California, that summer of ’71 when George Harrison was alerted to the scale of suffering his friend and sitar teacher Ravi Shankar was feeling about the struggle for independence from the ten million East Pakistani refugees who fled over the border from West Pakistan to neighboring India to escape mass starvation, hunger, and death.
Nearly three million people were killed. The crisis and dilemma was deepened when the Bhola cyclone and floods in 1970 devastated the region. At that period only small funds and help were made available from foreign governments.
Ringo Starr, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Eric Clapton, Jim Keltner,
Jesse Ed Davis, Klaus Voorman, Badfinger, Don Nix, Delores Hall, Claudia
Lennear, Don Preston, Jim Horn, Jackie Kelso, Lou McCreary, Ollie Mitchell, Ravi
Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, Kamala Chakravarty, and Ustad Alla Rakha were among
recording artists donating their services to the fund-raising concert event.
During 1971, Shankar partnered with Harrison to produce The Concert for Bangladesh and raised funds for UNICEF. The live recording of the concert ultimately won the Grammy for Album of The Year.
A news announcement should be forthcoming in 2021 from The Bicycle Music Company, a subsidiary of Concord Bicycle Music who entered into worldwide publishing agreements with the estate of George Harrison about a 50th anniversary edition of The Concert for Bangladesh .
In 1966 Ravi Shankar initially met George Harrison who had first heard the sitar in April, 1965, on the set of the Beatles’ movie Help! Later in ‘65, he would record with the instrument on John Lennon’s “Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown).”
In September, 1966, George traveled to Bombay to become one of Shankar’s students. Harrison had earlier integrated the sitar into his own composition “Love You To” on the Beatles’ Revolver album, and implemented sitar on his selection “Within You Without You,” heard on their Sgt. Pepper Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and “The Inner Light,” the B-side to the “Lady Madonna” single.
In 1997, I interviewed George Harrison and Ravi Shankar in Southern California. Portions were first published in HITS magazine.
Harrison met Shankar at a dinner party for the North London Asian Music Circle decades earlier.
“His music was the reason I wanted to meet him,” praised Harrison.
“I liked it immediately, it intrigued me. I don’t know why I was so into it -- I heard it, I liked it, and I had a gut feeling that I would meet him. Eventually a man from the Asian Music Circle in London arranged a meeting between Ravi and myself. Our meeting has made all the difference in my life.”
Harrison commented on his own sitar playing.
“I’m not a very good one, I’m afraid. The sitar is an instrument I’ve loved for a long time. For three or four years I practiced on it every day. But it’s a very difficult instrument, and one that takes a toll on you physically. It even takes a year to just learn how to properly hold it. But I enjoyed playing it, even the punishing side of it, because it disciplined me so much, which was something I hadn’t really experienced to a great extent before.”
George went on to describe his earliest attempt at playing the sitar with the Beatles.
“Very rudimentary,” he revealed. “I didn’t know how to tune it properly, and it was a very cheap sitar to begin with. So ‘Norwegian Wood’ was very much an early experiment. By the time we recorded ‘Love You To,’ I had made some strides.”
Harrison put his sitar experiments with the Beatles in perspective.
“That was the environment in the band. Everybody was very open to bringing in new ideas. We were listening to all sorts of things, Stockhausen, avante-garde music, whatever, and most of it made its way onto our records.”
During the late fifties and sixties, Ravi Shankar was recording a mile from my parents’ Fairfax District house on 5th Street at Bock’s World Pacific Studios on 8715 W. 3rd Street. Shankar had a devoted following in the Los Angeles area before the Byrds and the Beatles were formally introduced to his catalog. Musician Chris Darrow remembers Ravi playing colleges around the Southern California basin and The Ash Grove club in the very late fifties. The Lakshami Indian restaurant near Irving Pl. and Melrose Ave. presented Ravi’s debut Los Angeles recital.
In 1965, Shankar was booked at a jazz club one afternoon in Hollywood ... The Manne-Hole ... owned by drummer Shelley Manne on Cahuenga Ave. Shelley invited drummers to the bandstand to play with Ravi and his ensemble who burned out the stickmen by the evening.
Following his triumphant performance at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival, a non-profit endeavor produced by Lou Adler and John Phillips, Shankar established the Kinnara School of Indian Music at 1619 S. Robertson Blvd. in Los Angeles where Little Feat’s Lowell George, songwriter / record producer Russ Titelman, Robby Krieger and John Densmore studied.
“When you’re students at the Kinnara School of Music, you get to sit on stage with the master at UCLA’s Royce Hall,” Densmore mentioned in a 2007 interview we conducted.
“Ravi didn’t teach at the school, but he’d drop in and give a little lecture on Sublimating Your Sexual Drive Into Your Instrument.
“In 1965 we were making a demo at the World Pacific studio. Ravi Shankar is leaving with Alla Rakha, my idol, who I didn’t know was going to be my idol yet, with these little tabla drums, which I find out are the most sophisticated drums in the world. I’m in awe of them.
“So maybe, 1966, ‘67, I was noticing in the traditional Indian ragas you gotta wait for your climax. It’s not a quickie, you know. So that was the influence. Robby and I go see Ravi later play at the Hollywood Bowl, and George Harrison is on stage.
“In 1968 George came to one of our recording sessions for The Soft Parade. You hear the Indian thing in techno stuff now. That came in and it was deep and it’s still around. We need the East.”
“I first heard of Ravi Shankar when the Doors played in Berkeley at a theater,” Krieger recollected in a 2008 conversation. “That was probably 1966. John and I met these Indian guys and they suggested we check out this record by Ravi Shankar. I had never heard of him. It was a white album on the World Pacific label called Ravi Shankar In London. I just fell in love with it. I would go to sleep every night playing it and getting it into my brain. It really did affect my guitar playing quite a bit. There was an influence of Ravi on ‘Light My Fire’ and ‘The End.’
“John and I went to the Kinnara School of Music when it opened. Harihar Rao was the instructor. I took sitar lessons and John took tabla. I bought a sitar in New York at a little Indian store where you could get them. I had seen Ravi play many times, including San Francisco and the Hollywood Bowl. He was always amazing. I loved seeing Ravi in the films Monterey Pop and The Concert for Bangladesh.”
“Ravi Shankar,” emphasized Manzarek, “is the master. He opened the door to the East, the vibrations, the inner spirit of music.”
Ravi and I dialogued about the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival.
“Dick called Lou Adler when I was recording for World Pacific about a booking at Monterey, which was, to me, like a revelation, completely new. I had met George before that, which started the whole big hullaballoo, as you know. And, I saw the whole folk movement that started in England. That’s when I started seeing all the strange dress and the smell of patchouli oil, the hash and LSD. To me, it was a new world.
“Anyway, I had been performing in the United States since 1956. Carnegie Hall. My first fans were jazz buffs, jazz musicians and average American people. So, a decade later, I arrive in Monterey and see butterflies, colors and flowers with peace and love. It was fantastic. I was impressed, but everyone was stoned.
“But that was all right and I was meeting all these beautiful people. Fine. It was one day before my concert and I went to hear the whole thing. That to me was the real experience. One night, I really heard Otis Redding. He was fantastic. One of the best, I remember. I really like the Mamas and The Papas. Lyrical, harmony and good choruses and harpsichord. Then, you know, came the hard rock. Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead. To me it was difficult in a very loud, hurtful in-my-ear way. And Janis Joplin, I had heard of her, but there was something so gutsy about her. Like some of those fantastic jazz ladies like Billie Holliday, that sort of feeling, so I was very impressed by her.
Then, some others and what really disturbed me was the hard rock,” accentuated Ravi. “The worst was to come. The Who started kicking the drums and breaking their instruments. I had heard so much about Jimi Hendrix. Everyone was talking about him. When he started playing ... I was amazed ... the dexterity in his guitar playing. But after two, three items, he started his antics. Making love to the guitar, I felt that was quite enough. Then, all of a sudden he puts petrol on his guitar and burns it. That was the leaving point. Sacrilegious. I knew it was a gimmick.
“I was very hurt and ran away from there along with the others who play with me. My feelings were hurt deeply, as well as my respect for music and the instruments. We ran away from the festival. I said at the time, ‘Please. There is a contract and whatever you want to fine me, I won’t play. I definitely will not play in-between any of these items tomorrow.’ So, there were talks and meetings between Dick Bock and the festival people. The next day, in the afternoon, we set up a special section between 1:00 - 3:00 p.m. where there would be no one in front of me and after me.
“It was cloudy, cool, it had rained a little and that’s when I played and it was like magic. Jimi Hendrix was sitting there. Jerry Garcia was there. I remember a few names. All of them were there and you can see on the film what magic it had. I was so impressed and it is one of my memorable performances. I didn’t plan for this. I was grateful to God that I was sitting in the atmosphere without anyone disturbing me. It drizzled for a few minutes and then it stopped. So, it was cloudy and there were flowers from Hawaii and what atmosphere!
“After my set, it was crazy. I have never felt such a commotion of this sort. I was so pure, in spite of the fact that there were many people who were also strong. But it didn’t matter, because the whole atmosphere was so clean and beautiful and I could give my best. That’s all I can say.”
Ravi and I then discussed the genesis of The Concert for Bangladesh endeavor.
“The Concert for Bangladesh came about when I told George and George wanted to help me,” volunteered Ravi.
“The film Raga was ready and it needed some finishing, in which George helped. It was released, I believe, in 1972. At the time, I lived in Los Angeles and had a house on Highland Ave. A beautiful Spanish villa and at that time, George was in town, and at that time I was planning to do a benefit concert for Bangla Desh, because I was very hurt that this whole thing was going on.
“To help this refugee problem, I wanted to raise some money. Everybody, every Indian, was thinking about doing that. And then, when I thought about it, I knew I could do more than any other Indian musician. Still, how much can you send? $20,000? $25,000, at the most? At this time of turmoil I was having, George was there.
“He came to meet me and I was sitting. He saw me. From 1966, whenever he came to town, we would meet. At that time, he was staying in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks. I told him what I was planning. You know, it’s like a drop in the ocean. At the same time, I never wanted to take advantage of him. I did not want to say, ‘Would you help me?’ But, somehow, it came very naturally. He was so sympathetic. ‘Well ... let’s do something.’ And you know, that made me feel so happy. What he did, he immediately started phoning and booking things up.
“He phoned and got Madison Square Garden (in New York),” said Shankar. “Later he contacted Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Billy Preston, and a few of his friends. Somehow, it was done (snaps his fingers), like that.
“Within three weeks or so, we gave a performance and it was sold out. So, they had to schedule a matinee. As you know, the first half was me. I called my guru’s son Ali Akbar Khan who plays the sarod, and who now has a college in the Bay Area. Alla Rakha, now lives in Bombay, and he’s running a school for himself. We were the first part. I composed the first lines for the items played as we always do and we improvised and then intermission.
“There was no clapping when we were tuning, which is seen in the film and the people were so well-behaved, a lot of matches. It went beautifully. It was a young audience, especially because I had this existing audience already, who were mature listeners and who had come to Carnegie Hall. This audience was the same type of audience as Monterey International Pop Festival, but they were very attentive and there was no problem at all.
“After our segment, I went to see the second half. Their program was very complimentary, because they chose the numbers that were very soulful in the sense that they weren’t hard rock. ‘My Sweet Lord,’ ‘That’s The Way God Planned It.’ Bob Dylan had his harmonica and did ballads. George sang ‘Here Comes The Sun,’ and the song he composed, ‘Bangla Desh.’ There was harmony and it wasn’t so different. It went off beautifully.
The Concert for Bangladesh, (originally titled The Concert for Bangla Desh) was a live, triple album, commercially released just before Christmas in 1971 in the US and after New Year’s Day 1972 in the UK.
Richard Williams in the January 1, 1972 issue of Melody Maker proclaimed “If you buy one LP in 1972, make it this one.”
It immediately became a bestseller, landing at #2 for several weeks in the US charts and becoming George Harrison’s second #1 UK album. The multi-disc soundtrack set won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year of 1972 for music producers Harrison and Phil Spector.
“When the Beatles started hanging out in Hollywood and Los Angeles with David Crosby, Peter Fonda, and the ‘Benedict Canyon’ type of people, George went a little further and began wishing he was in a band like Delaney & Bonnie and Friends,” suggested songwriter / record producer Kim Fowley, “who became the blue print and the template for The Concert for Bangladesh: Leon Russell, Carl Radle, Jim Keltner and Eric Clapton.
“Eric was more American emotionally than he ever was English. George was the most American of all the Beatles. He had been to America and St. Louis before the band came to New York in 1964. George Harrison wrote ‘Blue Jay Way.’ So he was the first Beatle to write a song about America.”
“The Beatles performed ‘Youngblood’ in their Cavern Club residency, and a radio recording is heard on their Live at the BBC album featuring George Harrison as the lead vocalist. Leon Russell sang it at the Bangladesh shows.
“The Concert for Bangladesh symbolizes a pan-national version of Mad Dogs & Englishmen.
“Go back to a point and it’s another extension of Delaney & Bonnie and Friends. It was George Harrison thinking of himself possibly in a telethon context. George saw that idea and he took it to the next level, because he was a Beatle who could think.
“So Leon was used to playing on Frank Sinatra and Gary Lewis & The Playboys session dates. He was always around multiple famous people because they all made records together. So he was able to deal with a revolving door again policy of famous people. Because that’s what his day job was as a studio musician.
“Well, Leon was also a singer. But he wasn’t called on to be a singer when he was a studio musician on all those hit records. When it came time for Mad Dogs & Englishmen, he was better on camera than Joe Cocker. And Leon used that as his launch pad to be a white Ray Charles What no one had ever seen or heard of that idea before.
"He stole the Mad Dogs & Englishmen movie because the camera loved the bone-like structure of Leon. Like Fred Astaire and Michael Jackson on celluloid. Joe Cocker sweated and shut his eyes. But Leon was more mysterious in the Leon cool and sinister skeletal profile translated to mystery,” concluded Kim.
“When you are thin you can never be too thin. And the camera agrees with you and then suddenly there you are. There was no MTV then and everybody went to see The Concert for Bangladesh movie. And there was a new star,” recognized Fowley, who in 1978 co-wrote seven tunes with Russell on Leon’s Americana album.
“As The Concert for Bangladesh shows and the CD / DVD retail products and re-releases hit age 40 and then 50, it’s like fine wine in a billionaire’s wine cellar who brings it up for the important guests. It’s the vintage element.
“The Concert for Bangladesh is now appreciated because it stood the test of time. As opposed to the latest phenomena on YouTube or Face Book that will be forgotten by dinnertime. And that’s why it’s good, because it is based on tradition and tradition is something the new cycle is missing. And that’s why it’s worth checking out.
“If you were young and weren’t there the first time you get to see where it all comes from and it has a richness and depth of culture. And secondly, if you were there, it reminds you how much better things were yesterday because tomorrow is fast food entertainment.”
Chris O’Dell of Apple Records was instrumental in helping George Harrison contact the musical talent for The Concert for Bangladesh in a Nichols Canyon house George rented with wife Pattie Boyd in the summer of 1971.
“The first line of thinking from George was ‘Ravi has asked me to do something for him,’” recalled O’Dell in a 2011 interview we did.
“That’s about friendship. That was more important than where it was gonna go. Even in the lyric to the song ‘Miss O’Dell,’ George had mentioned ‘the rice (that never made it) to Bombay.’ George had told me about that situation earlier that summer.
“George was learning a lot from Ravi as time went by. So the idea of a concert didn’t come up right off the bat. It came up later. Then it was, ’Would you help me?’ And it was little things. Don Nix came into town. George didn’t know him. We all went to Catalina Island together. I knew him from Leon. From that came the background singers.
“I don’t think we had any idea of what it could be. I mean, it was fairly apparent that if you put a Beatle on stage, with a successful album behind him, All Things Must Pass, that it would probably draw people especially. John and Yoko did their things, but George hadn’t, and you make an assumption that with George involved it’s gonna draw people.
“George said, ‘I can’t believe this is all coming together.’ The whole thing just grew right before our eyes.”
O’Dell also described Harrison’s mission in securing Bob Dylan to the superstar summit.
“That was part of the territory with him for a long time. And, you know, honestly, if George had an idol musically, that was it. So I think just having that piece there. George looked up to Bob in a way that there was that kind of esteem, and then the asking him to do something like that, and not wanting to let him down. George was really frightened by all this.”
It’s well documented that George, Pattie and Chris all had concerns about Bob Dylan even showing up at the Bangladesh gig, although all were immediately relieved when Dylan arrived at the rehearsal. O’Dell and Boyd were backstage for all the action and caught the second show in center-stage second row seats.
Nearly 40,000 people attended the two August, 1971, benefit concerts at Madison Square Garden. It was coordinated by Allen Klein and ABKCO. The date was booked by Steve Leber who headed the musical division of the William Morris Agency.
“Really, it was Ravi Shankar’s idea,” answered Harrison in a press conference in July, 1971. “He wanted to do something like this and was telling me about his concern and asking me if I had any suggestions. Then, after an hour, he talked me into being on the show. It was a question really of phoning the friends that I knew and seeing who was available to turn up. I spent one month, the month of June and half of July just telephoning people.”
Harrison subsequently organized two refugee relief charity concerts while composing, recording and releasing a studio single, “Bangla Desh,” that was available before the heralded affair.
At Madison Square Garden, Harrison and his pals offered stellar renditions of ‘Wah-Wah,’ ‘Here Comes The Sun,’ ‘Something,’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ ‘My Sweet Lord,’ ‘Just Like A Woman,’ ‘Blowin’ In The Wind” and ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’
The two concerts generated proceeds for $243,418.50 eventually donated to UNICEF while also raising awareness and visibility for the organization around the world.
The shows were recorded by Phil Spector and engineer Gary Kellgren, with the music produced by Spector and George Harrison.
American documentary film director and producer Saul Swimmer directed the movie produced by Harrison and Allen Klein, which was distributed by 20th Century Fox in March, 1972.
Swimmer had served as co-producer of the Neil Aspinall produced Beatles documentary Let It Be in 1970. Swimmer, a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1967 directed and produced the TV movie Around the World of Mike Todd narrated by Orson Welles, and previously directed the pop and rock musical 1968 comedy Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter starring Herman’s Hermits.
“I was at the Bangladesh sound check,” reminisced photographer Henry Diltz, whose portrait of George Harrison graces the most recent Concert for Bangladesh CD box and DVD.
“I did not leave the perch, but walked around with a crew pass, so I was golden. I could not have a camera in my hand. I noticed Allen Klein of ABKCO sitting in the audience just up the side in the bleachers with couple of chauffeur goon type guys. He had a cane and I saw him point his cane to someone on the floor. ‘Who is that guy? Get him out!’ And these goons went down and escorted whoever that was out. It was someone with a camera. They had very tight security. I could not get kicked out. I watched the rehearsal.
“I already had been at Woodstock and Monterey. I got the sense something monumental was being brewed up by important people in the music industry. Not the people I was hanging out with. Sound check was kind of boring.
“The show was amazing. I was in the wings. Not lost with me was George Harrison introducing Ravi Shankar. I saw Ravi at Monterey and Woodstock. I was very familiar with him and his music and loved it.
(this photo courtesy of Ron Lando)
“The high point at The Concert for Bangladesh was when Dylan came out and played with George. And I took pictures. I was in the wings and took pictures from the side. I waited for that moment because I didn’t want to get kicked out until the best possible moment and then Dylan and George at the microphone from the side of the stage. Barry Feinstein or someone out front was shooting. And if I would have showed my face out there with my camera I would have been kicked out immediately. They did two shows and I somehow got to the front of the stage. One roll of color and one roll of black and white with my Nikon. Walked through and found an empty seat.
“In 2010 I went to India. One of the things I liked about Ravi Shankar was that he was from India, and India was a sacred place that I longed to see. Because of Paramahansa Yogananda, his Autobiography of a Yogi, and Self Realization Fellowship,” confided Diltz.
“My pictures sat around and never got seen or used for any Bangladesh album packages, videos, or DVD’s until the 35th anniversary occurred,” revealed Diltz
“My friend Rona Elliot knew George’s wife Olivia. Somehow she mentioned to Olivia that, ‘Henry Diltz has some photos.’ ‘Oh, I’d love to see them.’ So she came by my studio and we pulled out my little box of slides and she said, ‘My God. These are beautiful and better than the stuff we got.’
“So she picked one out. George in his white shirt and coat, and his hair blended into the black and I never used it for anything. ‘Can we use it?’ ‘Certainly,’ and they very carefully made the background orange around his hair so it looks a lot better than the actual naked slide looked. So they made that into the cover of the 35th anniversary DVD. That picture of George and a couple of photos of Dylan and Harrison in black and white.”
George Harrison would set up his own charity foundation, The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF, after he became frustrated with red tape and bureaucracies that had slowed down the process of spreading monies intended for recipients. The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF is a joint undertaking between the Harrison family and the U.S. Fund for UNICEF to support UNICEF programs that provide lifesaving assistance to children, including health, education, nutrition and emergency relief. In the tradition established by George Harrison and Ravi Shankar, The George Harrison Fund for UNICEF continues to support UNICEF programs in Bangladesh while expanding its influence to include other countries where children are in need.
Apple Corps / Capitol in October, 2005, re-released The Concert for Bangladesh-George Harrison and Friends on CD and DVD celebrating the 35th anniversary.
The DVD includes the original 99-minute film restored and remixed in 5.1, as well as 72-minutes of extras. There is also previously unseen footage: “If Not for You,” with George and Bob Dylan from rehearsals, “Come On In My Kitchen,” featuring George, Eric Clapton and Leon Russell at the sound check and a Bob Dylan performance from the afternoon show of “Love Minus Zero / No Limit,” not included in the original film.
The extras feature a 45-minute documentary directed by Claire Ferguson and co-produced by Olivia Harrison. The Concert for Bangladesh Revisited with George Harrison and friends, with exclusive interviews and contributions from Sir Bob Geldof, and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who stated, “George and his friends were pioneers.”
“I first heard Ravi at age 19,” volunteered drummer / percussionist Jim Keltner in our 2020 interview.
“We used to sit around and listen to Ravi and Stravinsky in the days when we were trying to expand our consciousness. When Ralph J. Gleason wrote about Miles Davis he’d sometimes mention Ravi. I became well aware of him.
“Over the decades I got to see George and Ravi a lot together. It was a father and son relationship in a way. He brought Ravi to the rest of the world in a very big way.”
I previously talked to Jim in 2002 about Bangladesh at his home in Los Angeles for Goldmine magazine.
“After the earthquake in February of 1971 in Los Angeles, I told my wife, ‘Get the kids together and get on over here.’ We were there at a flat in Chelsea for a couple of months. During that time, George introduced me to Ringo and I played maracas on the single he produced for Ringo Starr at Trident Studio, ‘It Don’t Come Easy.’
“I was staying at Eric Clapton’s and the phone rang early one morning I picked it up since I was the only one awake. It was Phil Spector. He asked if I wanted to come down and play. So I said ‘Sure.’ I borrowed a drum set from Colin Allen who was in a band, Stone the Crows. We became good friends and he helped me out a lot in those days,” recounted Jim.
“The first song we did that night was ‘Jealous Guy.’ George was there as well. We next did ‘Don’t Want To Be A Soldier.’ Playing on ‘Jealous Guy’ was one of those moments when you feel you are in a dream, especially later during playback in a room with John, Yoko, George, Phil Spector, Klaus Voormann and Nicky Hopkins all listening.”
“George and John [Lennon] both loved Phil. They loved his previous work. And they wanted a little piece of that. They wanted to see what it would be like working with him.
“George was on top of it during that time. He was very clean and he was meditating and doing the worry beads and all that. He was probably at his physical best at that time. He was always talking music. I learned a lot from George about the American rock scene. He introduced me to my own scene.
“That happened because I wasn’t familiar with it. I wasn’t into rock ‘n’ roll. I came out of jazz in the sixties.
“George was a very important teacher to me at that time,” reinforced Keltner. “Georgie, my friend and my beautiful and wonderful brother. And I read these things about him being kind of anti-celebrity and all that. I guess he had enough of that with the Beatles, so that the Bangladesh event seems like a warm and wonderful cause that everyone turned out for.
“The Concert for Bangladesh concerts were in August, and during March, I did a few songs with Leon, Carl Radle, Don Preston, and Jesse Ed Davis for Bob Dylan, ‘Watching the River Flow,’ ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ and ‘Spanish is the Loving Tongue.’
“George called and said, ‘Let’s do a single.’ So we went into Wally Heider’s studio 4 on Cahuenga in Hollywood and did ‘Bangla Desh’ with George and Phil Spector. Leon played and he helped arrange the song. The birth of the concert sort of started with this single. I loved the song.”
For the epic Bangladesh booking, Keltner is double drumming with Ringo Starr, who was asked by George to play and accepted on the condition “but only if Keltner will do it with me.”
“Ringo was a little unsure, about playing live with a big band. He hadn’t played live in a while, either. So, when they asked me I said ‘Of course, but I want to stay out of his way.’
“I didn’t want to destroy anything of that great feel or his sound. When we actually sat down to play, I asked them to set me up in such a way that I could see his hi-hat hand. And after we played together at the sound check I had to decide on a few things. And one of the first decisions I made was to not play the hi-hat much. So I played the hi-hat like I had seen Levon (Helm) of The Band do, which was to pull the hand off the hi-hat for the two and four, so that it didn’t come down with the backbeat at the same time. And that helped me stay out of Ringo’s way.
“Ringo was a little on edge,” admitted Jim. “He didn’t fancy playing alone and was kind of unsure about his playing, which is amazing if you think about it. Ringo is one of rock’s all-time great drummers.
“All you have to do is listen to the Beatles records, especially, the Live at the BBC. Rock ‘n’ roll drumming doesn’t get any better than that. Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine, Gary Chester, Fred Below, and David ‘Panama’ Francis, great early rock and R&B drummers, and Ringo fit right in there with those guys. Listen to the Live at the BBC tapes and you’ll hear what I’m saying.
“Playing on Bangladesh was a really big deal for me. I made sure to stay completely out of Ringo’s way and just played the bare minimum. For Bangladesh there was only one rehearsal,” reaffirmed Jim.
“The rehearsal was in a basement of a hotel, or near the hotel. George was beside himself trying to put together a set list and trying to find out if Eric was going to be able to make it, and if Bob was gonna make it. Plus, George was nervous because he hadn’t played live for a long time. He was absolutely focused and fantastic as a leader. Of course, he had Leon in the band. And Leon helped with the arranging and all. I remember that everything seemed to be fine at the sound check and that I didn’t have too many concerns. When we started playing with the audience in the room it really did come alive,” Keltner marveled.
“When George introduced Bob, I stood backstage and Dylan walked on. Jean jacket, kind of quiet the way Bob always is. Bob walked by me on his way to the stage. I had already recorded with him a couple of months earlier, and I sort of knew him.
“He walks out there on the stage and puts the harp up to his mouth and starts singing and playing and chills up and down my arms. His voice and the command, it was awesome. And Leon decides to go up with his bass for ‘Just Like A Woman,’ and play with him. It was a tremendous moment. It was real dark on stage with a little light for them. Dylan was incredible. Standing in the back in the dark, it was great to see Leon have the guts to get up there with the bass and perform with him on ‘Just Like A Woman.’
“George seemed very powerful that night. And the songs: ‘My Sweet Lord,’ ‘Awaiting On You All,’ ‘Beware of Darkness,’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps,’ ‘Wah-Wah,’ and ‘Bangla Desh.’ Great stuff. And very appropriate for the suffering going on over there, and don’t forget Billy Preston with ‘That’s The Way God Planned It.’
“I loved being a part of that with George. Bangladesh was a great little reunion. They loved playing with Ringo and me. Klaus Voormann was the principal bass player on Bangladesh. Phil loved the way Klaus played. He had a great way of stretching the time. Klaus is one of the greatest bass players I’ve ever played with.
“Leon Russell made it great to be there. Leon played on a lot of Phil’s great records. I had played with Leon on quite a lot of stuff: Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Joe Cocker and Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and Delaney & Bonnie and Friends’ Accept No Substitute. Leon is all over that,” reiterates Keltner. “His piano playing on ‘The Ghetto’ is the greatest. No one else can do that. George had tried to sign Delaney & Bonnie to Apple Records in the UK. When I got to know John [Lennon], he told me he liked Accept No Substitute.
“Carl Radle was one of my closest friends. James Jamerson, Paul McCartney and Carl Radle- I always thought were the Guv’nors. Carl was the first bass player I started playing rock and roll with. How about the good fortune and luck of that? Jesse Ed Davis was the only guitar player who ever made me cry,” Keltner sighed.
“I was right in the back watching Ravi Shankar’s set. The whole thing and being amazed and just how powerful it was. I had been listening to Ravi, George Harrison, Bob Dylan and Alla Rahka for years, and here I was seeing them up so close I could reach out and touch them.
“Alla Rakha and Ravi Shankar were telepathic. They played together for so many years and it was awesome to watch it. Ravi was at his peak in terms of technical proficiency. Alla Rakha was as well. It was dazzling. It is something that will always be with me. Between shows the hotel had an incredible hospitality room set up with delicious Indian food.
“Years later the cameraman on the Bangladesh movie told me, ‘You really caused me some problems when I was editing that film because your hand coming up like that I could never tell whether I was on the cut.’
“In fact, one night at the Record Plant studio when somebody asked John [Lennon] did he see The Concert for Bangladesh movie, John said he went to the premiere and when he saw my face on the screen for the first time he stood up and yelled ‘Hey - that’s me drummer!’
Dr. John Cushing: “At Bangladesh, George Harrison is a voice of caution and fragility, a very interior kind of voice. We can tell and hear he is still a little nervous about the way this is going to go, like forgetting to introduce Billy Preston. It caused attention to how blissed out he’s not. George, we love you.
“There is also a degree of humility here, essentially with Ravi Shankar and Alla Akbar Kahn, two of the greatest virtuosos in the history of playing stringed instruments opening up for Ringo and Leon Russell.
“In other words the old world having an ambivalent place in the new world. This music is a little bit more serious than our music.
“What Skankar and Ala Akbar do is very smart. Instead of doing a full raga performance, 35 minutes of just droning sitar and sarod. They start off with something with a bright, snappy tempo and they go. In other words, all the things that Americans who don’t know much about Indian music they love about it they emphasize.
“Shankar is treated as a kind of invocation of India. And the concert at one level is about India, but on another level is not about India because Ringo Starr is singing ‘It Don’t Come Easy’ and Bob Dylan singing ‘Mr. Tambourine Man,’ and George Harrison doing ‘Something’ have nothing to do with India, really, but the concert has to do with India. So how to you assemble a concert of non-Indian music and make it relevant to India? There is only one way to get some authentic serious Indian stuff on the bill. Everybody knew who he was already.
“George Harrison’s Bangladesh tour takes its white suburban audience to Bangladesh and then it takes us up to Watts for a while with Billy Preston with ‘That’s The Way God Planned It.’ His authentic mastery of the gospel idiom and his willingness to find ways to to work that gospel idiom into secular music. Billy also made the Beatles be on their best behavior when George invited him on the ‘Get Back’ recording sessions.
“Beware of Darkness’ with Leon Russell and Jim Horn playing sax becomes more of a blessing. We have essentially an African-American gospel group with a British lead singer trying to get us into Hindu religious mythology. And this longhaired Oklahoma boy, Leon, drawls a country western take on the whole verse. So, we have India, plus England, plus religious devotion, plus Hari Krishna, plus rock super stardom.
“The fact that Leon Russell’s second LP has ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’ and ‘It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry’ in that order, and the Bangladesh set does those songs in that order in similar arrangements, needs to be pointed out.
“Russell’s musicality anchors the ‘superstar’ vibe of Dylan and two Beatles; they are the steak, potatoes and peas, but Russell is the plate and the table. “Because two actual Beatles and a number of Beatles auxiliary members, Bob Dylan in the flesh, we don’t have the Rolling Stones, but a very good instancing of Rolling Stones Dyanosian sexual rock energy with Leon doing ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash.’ All three of the ‘60s royalties and two of the forces that the ‘60s generation most bow down too.
“This is the first time since 1965 that Dylan is singing his own material in New York and given how central the city is to his career, the surprises that it represented because no one at the arena or record business expected to hear or see him do something like this. Only in a sense is there a link to him performing at The March on Washington in 1963, where Dylan shows up to support an event for the larger good of a humanitarian cause. The March on Washington was much more explicitly political than The Concert for Bangladesh.
“The fact that we get to hear George and Ringo and Bob, Bob Dylan and the Beatles singing together for the first time ever, kind of a thrill of uniqueness.
"All of the Dylan songs come from 1963-1966. Dylan had just turned age 30. He didn’t perform any compositions from his recent albums of the time, Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning. He was distancing people from the notion of Bob Dylan as the voice of his generation. So the gesture he makes in Bangladesh and this is a very voice of a generation kind of move. Maybe because it is a special thing for Harrison and a special thing for Bangladesh, he’d be willing to do it just one more time.
“Plus, later in 1971, Dylan and Columbia Records release his Greatest Hits Vol. 2 that has a cover photo and other pictures from his Bangladesh appearance.
“But let’s not forget the next time Bob Dylan emerges he is a very different kind of performer with a different voice, a different haircut, a different set of arrangements for his Before the Flood tour.”
In a 1971 radio interview on Los Angeles AM radio station KDAY, Phil Spector previewed selections from his personal master tape acetate of The Concert for Bangladesh.
Phil and the deejay aired Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” from the concert as well as Dylan’s non-released “Love Minus Zero / No Limit,” left off the package due to vinyl space limitations of the period.
“Bob just came in right from bicycle riding on the day of the show. Bob just got up there and sang. It was probably the best performance he’s ever done. In my opinion the album is worth buying just for Bob Dylan. And I’m not just trying to sell the album but it’s such an extraordinary performance.”
“The Concert for Bangladesh recording and film capture one of the ‘purest’ incarnations of Dylan as a performer and mark a really interesting inflection point, one of so many, in Dylan’s long and winding career,” indicated Michael Hacker, creator, A Bob Dylan Primer Podcast www.abobdylanprimer.com
“Dylan’s vocals, to my ears, represent some of the least mediated singing he’s ever done, in that he wasn’t using a folkie voice or a stoned voice or a country voice, he was just singing as a favor to his dear friend, George, and I think the personal relationship between Dylan and George Harrison is key to the warmth and depth of Dylan’s performance.
“Dylan’s version here of ‘Just Like A Woman’ might be his finest rendition of the song, possibly surpassing even the 1966 version, the 1974 Before The Flood version, or numerous other standout performances of the song. August, 1971, feels to me like a dividing line, again one of so many in Dylan’s work.
“After this performance Dylan pretty much went silent for almost two years, but this is our chance to see him in some ways wrapping up the first ten years of his career and wiping the slate clean to begin the work that would follow. All I can say is, thank god for Dylan at The Concert for Bangladesh.”
George Harrison’s multi-tasking efforts on The Concert for Bangladesh also had a life-altering directive on guitarist, singer / songwriter / producer / actor and SiriusXM deejay, Steven Van Zandt, a member of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
“Sun City,” a 1985 protest song written by Van Zandt and produced by Van Zandt and Arthur Baker was recorded by Artists United Against Apartheid to convey opposition to the existing South African policy of apartheid which ended in 1994.
“Well, it was directly related to George Harrison, of course,” Van Zandt conceded in a 2002 interview. “The Concert for Bangladesh. No question about it.
“That was the first time where we connected those things together, man. Social concern and rock ‘n’ roll were two different things, man. And, that was big, and it stayed with me. That permanently affected me, and then when I had a chance to do it I did it.”
In 1974, George Harrison gave a press conference in everly Hills at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel that I attended when he was preparing for a United States solo tour with Ravi Shankar.
George was asked about the Beatles, his Dark Horse record label, and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The results were published in the November 2, 1974, issue of Melody Maker.
“Biggest break in my career was getting into the Beatles. In retrospect, biggest break since then was getting out of them.”
Was he amazed about how much the Beatles still mean to people?
“Not really. I mean it’s nice. I realize the Beatles did fill a space in the sixties. All the people the Beatles meant something to have grown up. It’s like anything you grow up with, you get attached to things.
“I understand the Beatles in many ways did nice things and it’s appreciated the people still like them. They want to hold on to something. People are afraid of change. You can’t live in the past.”
Harrison was questioned about his goals of Dark Horse Records.
“There isn’t really a concept or goal. The goal in life is to manifest our divinity. Because each one of us is potentially divine. All we can do is try and do that, and hope that influences our work.”
Harrison touted the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He visited India with the Beatles in 1967.
“I have a lot of respect for him. He gave me help and plugged me in to a method of being able to contact that reservoir of energy which is within us all, pure consciousness. I experienced it. He showed me how to reach that. Everything else is just words, beyond the intellect is to have an experience you have to have in order to know.”
How did George see the role of entertainer working with causes and charities?
“I don’t think it’s an entertainer’s job. He does what he can. And I do it through music. It’s not isolated to musicians.”
The last time I spoke with George Harrison was in 1998 one afternoon in Los Angeles at the home of a mutual friend. George was reviewing tapes in his studio. When I arrived, Harrison greeted me warmly, “Well, at least here you don’t have to take your shoes off like at Ravi’s house!”
George had just seen Eddie Izzard’s show at The Tiffany Theater on the Sunset Strip and provided a recommendation of an Indian restaurant, Taste of India, on Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood that he frequented. He’d just dined there with his wife Olivia and Jim Capaldi.
I went to Taste of India the next day.
[Portions of this text were published in my 2020 book, Docs That Rock, Music That Matters.]
NOTE: All photos by and used courtesy of Henry Diltz
(Special thanks to our old friend and Henry's archivist, Gary Strobl)
The Concert For Bangla Desh was the ground-breaking event that inspired future fund-raising concerts to help those in need such as Live Aid and Farm Aid and Aids Awareness ... and recorded events like "We Are The World" and the Band-Aid single "Do They Know It's Christmas."
It was all started by "The Quiet Beatle," looking to help out a friend whose people were dying in a foreign land.
Happy 50th Anniversary to a very good cause ... and a pause for celebration for all that has come since it in our way of showing people helping people. (kk)
Some more of Henry Diltz's incredible photos ...
Running exclusively in Forgotten Hits!
And, a final smile ...
An oldie but goodie from Mike Wolstein ...
On this date (August 2nd) in 1974 ... "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" peaks at #4 on Billboard's Hot 100 Pop Singles Chart