Sign up with your email address to be the first to know about new products, VIP offers, blog features & more.

You are viewing LOUISE HARRISON


By Posted on 0 , 8

In the summer of 1963 the Beatles had some time off and while the other three members of the band went on holiday to Europe, George Harrison became the first Beatle to visit America, when, on 16 September 1963, along with his brother Peter, he went to Benton, Illinois – population, 7,000 – to visit their older sister, Louise.

According to George, “I went to New York and St Louis in 1963, to look around, and to the countryside in Illinois, where my sister was living at the time. I went to record stores. I bought Booker T and the MGs’ first album, Green Onions, and I bought some Bobby Bland, all kind of things.” George also bought James Ray’s single ‘Got My Mind Set On You’ that he later covered in 1987.

When the Harrisons arrived in Benton, George and Louise hitchhiked to radio station WFRX-AM in West Frankfort, Illinois taking a copy of ‘She Loves You’ which had been released 3 weeks earlier in Britain and on the day of George’s arrival in America. ‘She Loves You’ got a positive review in Billboard but very little radio play, although WFRX did play it. According to DJ Marcia Raubach “He was unusual looking, he dressed differently than the guys here. He was very soft-spoken and polite.”

It’s often claimed that in June 1963 Louise took a British copy of ‘From Me To You’ to WFRX that she had been sent by her mother and that Raubach played it. This is probably true but the claim that this was the first time The Beatles’ music was broadcast in America is not. ‘From Me To You’ was released in Britain in late April and then topped the British singles’ chart for seven weeks’. With the Beatles at No.1 in Britain Vee Jay records released their single of ‘From Me To You’ / ‘Thank You Girl’ as VJ 522 on 27 May 1963. The single was made ‘Pick Of the Week’ by Cash Box magazine, but was not a success.

With the Beatles success in Britain in early 1963 Parlophone were anxious to take advantage of their new asset and so contacted their sister label in America, Capitol Records that was owned by EMI. Capitol was underwhelmed by the Beatles records and so decided against releasing any of their records. Instead Parlophone turned to a small US label called Vee Jay, a company started by a husband and wife in Gary, Indiana that specialised in black R & B music.

It was an irony probably not lost on the Beatles who loved and had been influenced by exactly that kind of music. In February 1963, two days after ‘Please Please Me’ made No.1 in Britain, Vee Jay released it as a single in the US. VJ 498 did get some airplay from the major Chicago top 40 radio station WLS and it even made their own chart for a couple of weeks, but nothing happened nationally on the Billboard charts. Not helping the band was the fact that Vee Jay managed to miss-spell the bands name on the record as “Beattles”.

So it was that when George stayed at his sister and brother in law’s house in Benton he really was an unknown in America; Louise’s husband Gordon was a Scottish mining engineer who had emigrated to work in Illinois’s coal mines. George did play with a local band, The Four Vests and later members of the band took him to a Mt Vernon, Illinois music shop where George bought a red Rickenbacker 420 guitar. George wanted it to be re-finished in black, which the store-owner did for him. The guitar was first seen in public on 4 October on TV’s Ready Steady Go, the day after George and his brother returned to London.

Back in Britain, Beatlemania proper was about to begin. On 1 November they began their first tour as undisputed headliners. The venue was the Odeon Cinema, Cheltenham, and the sedate town in the West of England had never seen anything like it – so much so that one newspaperman coined the phrase ‘Beatlemania’ in an attempt to describe it. Three days later Beatlemania met royalty when the band appeared at the Royal Command Performance at a prestigious London theatre. John Lennon famously quipped that the people on the cheap seats can clap; those in the expensive ones can simple rattle their jewellery.

On 7 February 1964, The Beatles left London’s Heathrow Airport on-board a Pan Am Boeing 707 for New York’s JFK Airport where, upon arrival, they held a press conference. The American press unsure what to make of the four boys from Liverpool tried everything from sarcasm to open mouthed incredulity. The following day, after a press-call in a cold and snowy Central Park the band rehearsed for their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

Ironically, they were without George for the press call or the rehearsal as he was feeling unwell. Fortunately by the following day George was better and at 8 pm the band appeared before an audience of 73 million people – exactly a year earlier they had been playing to a few thousand at a cinema in Sunderland in the north of England as a lowly support act to Helen Shapiro.


By Posted on 0 , 10

George Harrison made a secret trip to the US incognito five months before Beatlemania crossed the pond, his estranged sister has revealed. The music legend slipped into the country in September 1963 without fanfare, travelled the Midwest and played with a local band. It was the last time that the Beatle, who would have celebrated his 75th birthday on February 25, felt ‘like a normal human being’, said 86-year-old Louise Harrison.

Louise, who moved to the US more than 50 years ago, says her brother’s visit when he was 20 years old was very different to the lifestyle he would later have.

‘It was probably the last time in his life that George could ever go anywhere without being recognised and mobbed by fans, the last time he could feel like a normal human being,’ she said. ‘When he got off the plane in St Louis there wasn’t a single fan waiting.’Nobody tore at his clothes or screamed for his autograph. No squads of police, no gangs of reporters. It was such a relief for him. ‘In the middle of all that craziness George enjoyed a holiday in the US where he could feel human again.’

Louise had moved to America with her husband earlier that year and was living in Benton, Illinois, when her little brother, 11 years her junior, came to visit.
‘George and I went camping out in the wilds, barbecued sausages and roasted marshmallows,’ she said.
‘He was happy roughing it. He was always very down-to-earth. He spent hours playing with my kids and their train set. When George grew up we never had any toys like that.
‘We went to Saturday night dances at the Veterans’ Hall, drinking and having a good time. He loved being just George again rather than a Beatle.’

She took him diners where waitresses served customers on roller-skates, introduced him to drive-ins and went shopping together at record stores.
And when a local band The Four Vests were entertaining at the Veterans’ Hall in Eldorado, Illinois, and heard George was a British musician, they invited him on stage.
They played Roll Over Beethoven and a Hank Williams song together – the first performance by a Beatle in America.
‘The audience suddenly began cheering, shouting, dancing like crazy,’ said Louise.
‘George set the place on fire. Everyone said that he had to join the band but he explained he already had a group in England.’
The legend was invited to play alongside the band the next week at a birthday party in Benton, where he gave a 90-minute performance.

But as soon as Beatlemania hit America five months after the secret trip, things changed dramatically.
‘It was absolutely crazy,’ said Louise, who joined up with The Beatles in New York.
‘Fans were crawling over our limousines wherever we went. Out of the rear window we would see the road strewn with clothes, shoes, bags and fallen fans.
‘George told me, ‘If we’d known what was waiting for us we’d never have got off the plane.’
She added: ‘I met the rest of The Beatles for the first time and it was like having three more brothers.
‘Paul was the group’s best PR, always signing autographs, making fans happy. Jolly old Ringo never had a bad word to say about anyone. John was always commenting on society’s inequalities.
‘George earned a reputation as the quiet Beatle on that trip but he actually had a sore throat and could hardly talk. I spent much of that visit nursing him.’

Louise, who grew up with George in a terraced house in Liverpool with an outside toilet, said he ‘was a loving and compassionate child’. ‘He was born at home and I held him in my arms. His fingernails were fully grown and he had a little tuft of hair and wide eyes. It was love at first sight,’ she recalled.
‘I would often babysit him or take him to movies. Times were tough. My bus driver dad and our mum were always singing but we had no musical instruments and we had no idea George would become a musician.
‘When George first saw Elvis on TV he asked our dad to buy him a guitar. He said, ‘You know that guy on the TV last night? That’s the kind of job I can do.”

Now 17 years after his death, Louise says she and her brother, who remained close throughout their lives, will always have a special bond.
‘He had no fear of dying. He was looking forward to whatever came next,’ she said.
‘We both believed in reincarnation and came up with a secret signal so that we would recognise each other in future lives. ‘I love and miss him but I’m not sad that he’s gone. He was ready to move on and was excited about what life after death had in store.’