George Harrison initially turned down his 1991 Japanese tour with his long-time friend and collaborator, Eric Clapton. However, the former Beatle realized he’d be making a huge mistake not taking Clapton up on his offer.
Eric Clapton invited George Harrison to do a 1991 Japanese tour
In 1991, George found himself in a rut. His friends and fans constantly wondered what he was up to, which wasn’t much. When Clapton told George that so many people had been asking about him, he got a bit embarrassed.
During a 1992 interview with Timothy White for Goldmine, George said, “I never really was in that touring mode, and occasionally people would ask me, like when I’d do interviews for an album, ‘Oh, have you thought about touring?’
“It was on the books, really, but Eric brought it on by saying that everywhere he was touring – the year before last he went all over the world – people would keep asking him, ‘Where’s George? What’s he doing? Why doesn’t he do some shows?’ So it kind of got Eric to ask me.
“And then he said, ‘Well, you know, if you wanted to do something the end of this year, me and the band are free, and we could back you up. It would save you all the hassle of thinking of who to get in your band, and all that.’
“I just thought about it for awhile, and of course the other thing that happened between him telling me about this was when his boy Conor got killed. And then I saw him a bit more often last year than I normally would’ve done, because he was home and because of that.
“I think after that happened he’d wanted to busy himself a bit. I kept thinking that it was a good opportunity for me, plus I think he was really looking toward doing something, although he’d taken time off.”
George knew Clapton needed a low-key tour to occupy him during a horrible time. However, he still wasn’t sure if he needed it.
George initially turned his Japanese tour down
Initially, George turned Clapton down.
George told White, “I’d actually turned it down! I thought a lot about it, and then I sent his manager a fax saying, ‘Thanks for the great offer but I don’t think so.’ Then I just swam around my swimming pool and I was thinking, ‘Ahh, really, I shoulda really done it, ’cause it doesn’t feel any good not doing it. I’m free of the burden of not doing it, but I’ll never know what it was like.’
“So I phoned him up again, and I said, ‘If you haven’t already canceled it, I will do it!’ ‘Cause I really needed something to jerk myself out of a rut.”
George realized a Japanese tour would be a good opportunity for many reasons. It would help him stop smoking and get him out of the rut he was in at the time. He didn’t need to organize a band, and he would be playing to a relatively tame audience. It was also a short tour, with only 12 shows.
There was nothing George could lose, really. Since his time with The Beatles, George had mostly hated touring. He preferred spontaneous jam sessions with his friends. The last time he’d embarked on a tour was in 1974, and the American audiences weren’t too kind. However, this was George’s moment to have a tour as he wanted.
The former Beatle got to perform some of his songs for the first time
Before his Japanese tour, the last time George played the songs on his setlist was when he recorded them. George got to perform some of his songs for the first time, so they felt new to him.
“A lot of the songs that I had done, I had wrote them and then I recorded them, I sang it that one time on the record, and never, ever done them since,” George told Scott Muni at WNEW-FM (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters).
“So to me they’re like new songs—like ‘I Want to Tell You’ and ‘Old Brown Shoe,’ even ‘Taxman,’ I’ve only ever sang it the one time. ‘Piggies,’ you see, I’ve never really done that one before, and all my new songs like ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Cheer Down,’ ‘Devil’s Radio,’ even something like ‘Isn’t It a Pity’ has been around since 1970, that song from All Things Must Pass.
“But the first time I ever performed it. It’s really good for me to … see, it’s like singing new songs.”
So, George’s 1991 Japanese tour gave him much more than he initially thought. He later thanked Clapton for convincing him to do it. Sadly, it was his last tour, but thankfully, it turned out the way he wanted.