The First Person Who Really Got George Harrison Interested in Guitar

The first person who really got George Harrison interested in guitar wasn’t a rock musician. After hearing their music, George begged his mother, Louise, for a beginner’s guitar. Thankfully, she obliged.

George Harrison playing guitar on the set of 'A Hard Day's Night' in 1964.
George Harrison playing guitar | Max Scheler – K & K/Redferns

George Harrison became interested in guitar after hearing this musician

After school every day, George turned on the radio. He listened to tunes from Jimmie Rodgers, Big Bill Broonzy, Slim Whitman, and various English music-hall numbers. However, Rodgers made George interested in guitar.

In 1992, George told Timothy White (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters), “I think the first person who really got me interested in guitar was Jimmie Rodgers—’The Singing Brakeman.’

“And my father had some records, and he used to go away to sea, and he brought back this big wind-up gramophone and Jimmie Rodgers records. ‘Waiting for a Train,’ it was called, and ‘Blue Yodel.’ And so I always remember that from when I was a little kid of about eight or seven.

“Later, when I was a little bit older than that, there was this guy from Florida, and he was a huge success in England during the ’50s. He was called Slim Whitman. Again, there was a singer with a guitar. And then it turned into Bill Haley. And then in Britain we had this big craze called skiffle music, which came out of a traditional jazz, which is kind of Dixieland jazz.”

After hearing those tunes, George wanted a guitar.

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George bought his first guitar for three pounds, 10 shillings

A kid from school offered to sell George a beginner’s guitar for three pounds, 10 shillings (per Joshua M. Greene). George told White he bought it for three pounds, 50 pence. However much it cost, it was a lot of money back then, but his mother allowed him to buy it. She liked music and encouraged her son to play the instrument.

“It was a very cheap guitar, a little round-holed acoustic guitar that I bought from a guy who used to go to the school I went to. He was called Raymond Hughes,” George explained. “I must have been about thirteen years old, just thirteen.

“Then I played that and learned a little bit on that. And then, it was such a bad guitar, all the frets buzzed, and you couldn’t get certain notes out of it because of the action, where the strings were hitting the fingerboard. So the moment I realized that I was learning a few chords I thought, ‘I’ve got to get a decent guitar.’

“My mother, she was the sympathetic person in the family. I said to her, ‘I’ve got to get a better guitar!’ I think she might have helped me buy this next guitar, which again was a Hofner. It was an f-hole, down market version of this guy Len’s guitar called a Hofner President.

“It wasn’t electric but it was a cello-style, cutaway, f-hole guitar. And I used to chunk along on that for quite a while. That really made me improve my playing quite a lot, by having a decent instrument. And I traded that with a guy from a band in Liverpool that later became known as the Bluegenes.”

Len became a special person in George’s life. He showed George how to play guitar.

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The future Beatle’s guitar teacher was a huge influence on him

When George first got his guitar, his father arranged lessons for him with a guy he knew from work. Initially, George’s guitar teacher influenced him greatly.

“There was a very important man, actually, that I used to go to sea with my dad,” George explained. “And when I started playing guitar my father remembered this guy. He was called Len Horton, and he’s never, ever been mentioned in any interview. I often remember him and think, ‘Wow, that guy was very helpful to me.’

“My dad would call him up and say that I was trying to learn the guitar, and could he help me?… So I used to go to his house where he lived in a little apartment that was above the shop. And he had this guitar, and on that he would show me all this kind of old songs like from the ’20s and ’30s, mainly.

“Like ‘Whispering,’ ‘Stardust’—those kinds of songs. I don’t know how many times I actually did that, because I’d forgotten totally about it until just a couple years ago. Then I suddenly remembered. I’ve often thought, ‘I wonder if that guy is still alive?'”

George did discuss Len in an earlier interview with his former sister-in-law, Dr. Jenny Boyd (per George Harrison on George Harrison). He told her that Len had a massive influence on him.

“I’m sure that set a certain pattern in my music, because he taught me all those old songs,” George said. “He taught me all the chords to what you would call ‘dance band music.’ That stayed with me until this day.

“He was a great help to me, showing me where to put my fingers and how different chords follow each other, just by playing songs, really. In retrospect, I think he had an enormous influence on me.”

Thanks to Jimmie Rodgers and Len Horton, George became a great guitar player. He gave fans some of the best rock ‘n’ roll songs ever.

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