Jeff Lynne Played Ukulele for George Harrison the Last Time They Saw Each Other: ‘I Hope He Heard Me – I Think He Did’
George Harrison was close with many people, but one of his best friends was Electric Light Orchestra frontman, Jeff Lynne. For a while, though, it didn’t seem like they’d ever become close. George thought Lynne was just another Beatles copycat.
However, that all changed after George realized Lynne was the only person who understood him as a musician. Since Lynne was such a big fan, he was the only person George could think of to help him record his album Cloud Nine.
Their friendship might have had unconventional beginnings, but George and Lynne loved each other. They got to share a beautiful yet heartbreaking last moment together shortly before George died.
George Harrison first worked with Jeff Lynne in 1986
“In an article from the 1970s, when the writer described an ELO song coming on the radio, you said, almost dismissively, ‘Sounds like the Beatles.’ Now, irony of ironies, you’ve ended up working with Jeff Lynne,” Entertainment Weekly pointed out to George.
“That’s one of the reasons why I tried to get Jeff Lynne, because he knew about… Okay, most people knew about the Beatles, but he really knew about ’em,” George explained. “And I was looking to work with somebody who would know my past and not disregard that, but who I would also respect, as a writer and producer. But it is a bit ironic, I know.
“I think in those days I was a bit sensitive to all that kind of stuff, having just got nailed in court for the other song [‘My Sweet Lord’ and its similarities to ‘He’s So Fine’]. Every song I listened to on the radio sounded like other stuff, and yet I had to go through that hassle.”
George knew he needed Lynne to help him on Cloud Nine. In 2020, Lynne told Louder Sound that a friend told him George was looking to work with him. So, Lynne visited the ex-Beatle at his home, Friar Park.
“It was like a giant palace, an amazing place – and kind of scary when you’re going in to meet one of The Beatles for the first time.” Lynne had no idea what would come next.
Lynne played George some ukulele tunes the last time they saw each other
Before George and Lynne worked on Cloud Nine, George invited Lynne to vacation with him in Australia. The ex-Beatle wanted to bond with Lynne and find out if they were compatible songwriting partners. Lynne was George’s perfect match.
They worked on Cloud Nine, and later, both of the Traveling Wilburys‘ albums. Their friendship only strengthened.
However, that beautiful friendship was cut short when George’s cancer returned, this time for good. In the last year of his life, George traveled all over the world, but he ended up in LA the last couple of days of his life. In a rented house in Studio City, some of George’s closest friends came to visit with him for the last time. Lynne was one of them.
During those last days, George was “weak and drifting in and out of consciousness,” Rolling Stone wrote. “I went over to the house,” Lynne told the publication.
“I was with my girlfriend, Rosie, and she brought a ukulele without telling me. So I went into the room and strummed some little George Formby tunes – all these tunes that George loved and could play fantastically well – just quietly to him. I hope he heard me – I think he did, because he did look at me.
“The one thing I was upset about was that George didn’t leap up and say, ‘That’s the wrong bloody chord!’ That’s what I was hoping for – that I would wake him up and he would go, ‘You bastard, you’re playing the wrong chord!'”
Lynne helped finish George’s last album
Shortly after George died in 2001, his widow, Olivia, and his son, Dhani, approached Lynne with the task of helping complete George’s last album, Brainwashed.
“Dhani asked me if I could mix it with him at my studio,” Lynne told Uncut. “Working on Brainwashed was a very sad thing, because he was a great pal and now he was gone. It was difficult to make decisions when nobody was there to say, ‘I hate that, you bastard!’
“His life was in those final songs… Lots of very personal stuff. Some of them are really good. We gradually just filled them in. It was just about mixing them and making them sound like George would like them.
“You just had to go with your gut feeling. I felt so bad for Dhani. It was joyful when it sounded great — ‘Well done, George, nice one!’ — but such a shame he wasn’t there to hear it with us.”
Olivia also touched on her husband and Lynne’s friendship. “You know, I think they shared some sort of Northern (England) sensibilities as well — and humor. And you know, Jeff has bat ears. They were great pals.”
Along with George’s other friend, Tom Petty, Lynne had the honor of inducting George into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Since then, Lynne has been there for all George-related events, including the Concert for George and George’s Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony. He even made a short cameo in George’s new video for “My Sweet Lord.”
Lynne was always George’s friend, though, and he’ll continue to be for years to come.