Give this man a capo…

It’s always a daunting thing meeting one of your heroes. I’ve done it twice: meeting (and eventually writing with) the late Graham Chapman of Monty Python and, a few years later, meeting (and playing with) the late George Harrison. Difficult because you always run the risk of disappointment on a scale equal to the eruption of Mt. St. Helen. You have an image of them (rightly or wrongly) which is about to be confronted with the startling reality of who they really are. Will they turn out to be jerks? Will they prove themselves to be deeper than you thought? Less so? Your entire belief system about who they really are, and all they represent (in your mind) hangs in the balance. But the urge to meet the man behind the myth is too great to ignore. So you go, breath held, fingers crossed…

Luckily, on both occasions, I was not disappointed. Both of the Great Men not only lived-up to their hype but exceeded it. Graham was kind and humble and George giving, funny and egoless. I first met George in 1995. We shared a mutual pal in former Bonzo Dog Band alumni “Legs” Larry Smith. I’d conceived of a recording project where Larry’s friends (George, Elton John, Ringo, Richard Thompson, John Cale, etc.) would each contribute a track, remaking an old Bonzo tune, on a proposed “tribute” record called It Was A Great Party (Until Somebody Found A Hammer). Tribute records were big at the time. It was going to be produced by the great, late, legendary Gus Dudgeon (alas, it seems nearly all my old buds are now “late”), former Bonzo and Elton record producer. George and Larry were friends from the 60s (the Bonzo’s had appeared in the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour film and George had even written a song on the Extra Texture LP for Larry called “(Ladies and Gentlemen) His Name Is Legs”). So the connection was tight. Larry and I arrived at Friar Park about 10 p.m. (for those who don’t know, Friar Park was George’s mansion located in Henley-On-Thames in the UK) he said “It’s Larry” into an intercom and we were buzzed through the imposing iron gates.

After a brief sojourn down the long and winding road to the main house, we buzzed the door and were let in by Olivia, George’s wife. To my relief, incense burned, giant photographs of obscure Indian gurus lined the walls – all things one would hope to find in George Harrison’s house were there… Introductions were made (at least mine, although she misheard my name as being “Joe”) and she then told us George was upstairs in the studio with Dave Stewart (of the Eurythmics) – it seems Dave and his then-wife Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama were, for some reason, staying at “the Park.” Once inside the inner sanctum introductions were made (again on my behalf) and George gave me something I hadn’t had in ages: a soul handshake. He bade us welcome inside the studio where he and Dave were jamming: George on keyboards and Dave on guitar. I immediately noticed a beautiful Drum Works drum kit (I’m a drummer) sitting there unoccupied and wished I could think of an excuse to sit behind it and join in. The excuse came shortly after when George got up and sat behind the kit to show Dave the feel he was looking for. He then grumbled aloud as to when Jim Capaldi was coming over. The late Jim Capaldi had been the drummer for Traffic (among other excursions), was a nearby neighbor in Henley, and was obviously expected. I said I was a drummer and volunteered to sit in until Capaldi arrived (he never did). Before I knew it, George handed me the sticks and I was sat at the magnificent kit and we were off.

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