Harrisons Widow Still Loves to Hear His Voice

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June 18, 2009; Spinner.com; Melinda Newman


On June 16, George Harrison's first greatest-hits collection in more than 30 years was released. The set, 'Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison,' is the only compilation that spans his entire solo career. Its release is one of a series of current activities celebrating Harrison's legacy, starting in April when he received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In September come both the Beatles' highly anticipated version of Rock Band and their re-released, remastered catalog.
Spinner talked with Harrison's widow, Olivia, about 'Let It Roll,' plans for other Harrison reissues and her late husband's obsession with taping everything.

How involved were you in picking the music for 'Let it Roll'?
More than I cared to be, to be honest, because it was nearly impossible. Everyone was fighting and pushing and pulling. [Harrison's son] Dhani had a list, of course, and he was, "No, you can't have this; you gotta have this." Then the record company has ideas ... I had a two-CD set; we really honed it down [to one] ... We tried to pick something from every era.

What's the most gratifying part for you that there's seemingly no end in the interest in George's music, whether it's solo, with the Traveling Wilburys or with the Beatles?

I guess just hearing his voice. I love that voice ... But you know, [people] would say, "What would you like to be remembered for?" and [George] would say, "I don't really care if I'm remembered" ... He wasn't trying to make himself into something that had to be remembered. If somebody takes something away, which I think they have and obviously his music has endured, [that's fine], but if not, that's fine, too.

Do you listen to your husband's music a lot?
I listen to a lot of really rough recordings, cassettes and demos. George seemed to have a tape recording going ...The other night I listened to New Year's Eve, it must have been '87. There was Joe Brown, a great musician; and Dave Edmunds; Alvin Lee, who was a neighbor; Jon Lord from Deep Purple. We're all just hanging out. And then we're sitting around the piano, someone has a guitar. You can hear all the wives talking, the guys are playing and we're all singing along ...I'm like, 'Wow, who had this tape going,' you know? And George would always end up putting it in his pocket, throwing it in a drawer, so I listen to things like that.

Any thought of releasing them?
No, not really, but you just sit and listen and it's sort of like you're there again.

Why is there no previously unreleased material on the set?
George had a "best of" that ended in 1976 -- that was the only "best of" collection out there. That album always bothered me ... I just thought that is really not fair and I think we have to put something in that place, and that's really what this is.

What do you want someone to learn about George from this collection?
I think the basic thread that runs through it is his guitar playing and his sentiment, which veers towards a person questioning their existence and also somebody with a sense of humor ... And also, there's a longing, especially, like in the song 'Isn't It a Pity.' He really meant that. He used to feel so bad when bad things would happen. I think the ultimate was a couple of months before he died was 9/11. He was so disappointed and so heartbroken, like everyone else.

Will there be a Volume Two of the greatest hits? There are omissions here like 'Dark Horse' or '
Crackerbox Palace.'
With 'Dark Horse,' I will remaster that, but there's a lot of peripheral material to that and I don't want to just do the album and put it out without everything ... There's photographs, there's artwork, there are a lot of things that could go into that to make it a really nice package. But to actually put the music out because they fans want it ... if they wait, I can make it better.

In April, George received his own star on the
Hollywood Walk of Fame. What would he think about that?
I think by this point he would have been OK. But there was a point, sort of in the '90s, he was enjoying himself so much not doing anything in the public eye, he might not have done it. But you know, we want to give him a star and so that's too bad, George, you're going to have it [Iaughs]. He would always say, no matter what it was, "Oh that's nice." Sometimes people would make up an award and send it because they like him and he'd go, "Oh, that's nice." And he'd kind of put it on the table and it would just be there. Probably people don't realize that he did appreciate it whether it was the biggest award in the world or the smallest little award or a flower left in the gate ... He might have some hokey little thing beside an Oscar on the shelf and it was all the same to him.

The Beatles: Rock Band game comes out in September. How involved were you?
Oh, we [Olivia, Yoko Ono, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr] were all very involved. The technical things you leave to Harmonix and EA because that's what they do, but little things like, you know, the shape of the face and certain things, the nose: "His chin wasn't like that" ... There was a point where I had to say, "Hang on a minute, it's a game. They're not trying to re-create him here." But you wanted it to be nice and you wanted it to reflect a look. They're very cute.

Dhani gave an interview where he said there may be some unreleased Beatles songs in the game. True?
I don't think that was an accurate quote, actually.

So the answer is no, then?
I think what is it is there's a lot of [unreleased] dialog that was given from the [recording] sessions and that has been used ... They had hours and hours of studio talk, so they were able to incorporate that.