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It’s hard to imagine George Harrison without hearing his impeccable slide guitar work. George started playing slide guitar just before The Beatles broke up. The style gave him a fresh sound, and he never stopped playing it. Sometimes the melody he made would hypnotize him so much that he’d black out.

George Harrison in a colored suit in Germany, 1988.
George Harrison | Fryderyk Gabowicz/picture alliance via Getty Images

George Harrison first started playing slide guitar in 1969

In the mid-1960s, George met sitar legend Ravi Shankar and immediately started receiving lessons from him. Indian music took hold of George so much that he left his guitar behind. However, George realized he’d never become as good a sitar player as Shankar. So, he returned to the guitar.

When George picked up the instrument again, he discovered he was out of touch with it. Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix did unprecedented things on the guitar, but George couldn’t make anything sound good.

To give his playing a fresh sound, he learned the slide guitar. In 1977, George told Crawdaddy (per George Harrison on George Harrison: Interviews and Encounters), “All the young kids coming up were all playing so good and I hadn’t been involved with it for so long, both being in the Beatles, just playing the same old tunes, and playing Indian music. So I felt a long way behind, that was one reason why I had all the instruments.

“I suddenly realized ‘I don’t like these guitars’ and Eric gave me this Les Paul which really got me back into it because it sounded so funky. That was one of the reasons I started playing slide, you know, because I felt so far behind in playing hot licks. With slide I didn’t have any instruction, I just got one and started playing.”

When George started playing slide guitar, he found his spark again. Choosing one song with George’s best slide guitar work is hard. There’s “Cheer Down,” “Cloud Nine,” “This Is Love,” and many, many more.

George sometimes ‘blacked out’ during slide guitar solos

After The Beatles broke up in 1970, George was still trying to become a great slide guitarist. He practiced on his solo work and some tracks on John Lennon’s Imagine.

However, during a 1987 interview with Timothy White for Musician Magazine, George explained that he sometimes “blacked out” when playing slide guitar solos.

“I was earnestly trying to be a slide guitar player at that time but I always blacked out at solos, especially live ones,” George revealed. “I seemed to have no control over what was happening and my mind’d go blank.”

George said that while recording John’s “How Do You Sleep?” he hit a few good notes, and it “happened to sound like a solo.”


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The former Beatle didn’t know where his style came from

When George first started playing guitar as a teenager, his influences (to name a few) were Big Bill Broonzy, Jimmie Rodgers, and Carl Perkins. Then, in The Beatles, he made a name for himself as one of the best rock ‘n’ roll guitarists.

When his contemporaries started experimenting, they inspired him to do the same. After receiving his first sitar lessons from Shankar, that too changed George’s guitar playing.

However, George couldn’t really identify what influenced his slide guitar playing. He guessed it had something to do with playing with Delaney and Bonnie and, of course, Indian music.

“I’m not sure of the influences,” George said. “The first time I ever played slide was in 1969. I suppose I stuck one of those things on my finger somewhere before that, but in 1969 Eric Clapton got his manager to bring Delaney and Bonnie over to England, and Eric was in the band.”

The former Beatle explained that he went to the first show and wanted to be in the band. They invited him to join, and he did. During one show, Delaney gave George a slide bottleneck and asked him to play the slide guitar on “Comin’ Home.”

“I’d never attempted anything before that, and I think my slide guitar playing originated from that,” George recalled. “I started writing some slide songs on that tour, one of which later came out on ‘Thirty Three & 1/3,’ called ‘Woman Don’t You Cry For Me.’ Then I started playing that way at home, and I suppose I was always trying to pretend to be a blues player in my style.

“Another thing that influenced me was, during the ’60s, I played the sitar and got heavy into Indian music. That may account for some quality that you can’t quite put your finger on; it’s in there somewhere and comes out. For two or three years I was only playing the sitar.”

All types of music inspired George’s slide guitar playing. However, even he didn’t know where it all led him during solos. At least we have most of it recorded.