After jamming together in 1968 and 1970, George Harrison took the stage to perform with Bob Dylan for the first time at the Concert for Bangladesh. They didn’t perform together until 1987 when Dylan invited George to play with him and the blues musician Taj Mahal. Then, in early 1988, George and Dylan played together during the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductions, where they were both honorees.
However, George didn’t think he’d be able to perform with Dylan during his 1988 tour.
George Harrison almost didn’t perform with Bob Dylan at the Concert for Bangladesh
After a motorcycle accident in 1966, Dylan went into semi-retirement. Rolling Stone wrote that by the summer of 1971, he’d become “something of an apparition.”
By the time George planned the Concert for Bangladesh, Dylan had played only a hand full of shows since 1966 and none in the previous two years. George struggled to get Dylan to sign on to the benefit concert.
Finally, Dylan signed on and showed up for rehearsals. However, he started to get cold feet. Phil Spector, who co-produced the live album, said Dylan’s arrival was questionable.
“Dylan was a no-show up until the last minute,” Spector said in Martin Scorsese’s documentary, George Harrison: Living in the Material World. “I had to go down to his apartment and literally get him. It was chaos.”
“When I got to the point where Bob was going to come on, I had Bob with a question mark,” George told Rolling Stone. “I looked over my shoulder to see if he was around, because if he wasn’t, I would have to go on to do the next bit. And I looked around, and he was so nervous — he had his guitar and his shades — he was sort of coming on, coming [pumps his arms and shoulders]. So I just said, ‘My old friend, Bob Dylan!’ It was only at that moment that I knew for sure he was going to do it.”
Dylan blew the roof off of Madison Square Garden. He performed his biggest hits, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry,” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” and “Just Like a Woman.”
He enjoyed performing too. “After the second show, he picked me up and hugged me and said, ‘God! If only we’d done three shows,'” George said.
George was reluctant to perform with Dylan during his 1988 tour
George was just as hesitant to perform with Dylan as Dylan was to join George during the Concert for Bangladesh.
Dylan embarked on an extended tour in June 1988, shortly after work on The Traveling Wilburys’ debut album wrapped (George, Dylan, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Roy Orbison were members). In an interview with MTV that October, George said he was hoping to see one of Dylan’s shows, but there was no possibility of him performing.
“I don’t think so,” George replied to a question about him performing with Dylan. “There’s nothing much of Bob’s material that I can play on, really. You know, I mean OK, I can play rhythm guitar, but I mean he doesn’t need anybody. He just needs himself.”
Instead of performing together, George liked watching Dylan play.
The former Beatle defended the ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ singer when he first performed on the electric guitar
According to Joshua M. Greene’s Here Comes The Sun: The Spiritual And Musical Journey Of George Harrison, George saw Dylan perform many times.
George was present the night Dylan walked onstage with an electric guitar at London’s Royal Albert Hall in May 1965. The folk singer received boos from fans who believed the switch from acoustic to electric was a betrayal of his “folk purity.”
He defended his fellow musician and called those fans who’d walked out of the concert “idiots” and argued “it was all still pure Dylan, and he has to find out his own directions. If he felt he wanted electrification, that’s the way he has to do it. Who’s laying down the rules?”
George recognized that Dylan was open to new things, just as he was at the time. “Even his stuff which people loathe, I like,” George said, “because every single thing he does represents something that’s him.”
Whether George wanted to perform with Dylan or not, and vice versa, the pair remained close friends for decades.