Dylan and George Harrison



After I posted some comments about The Concert for Bangladesh a little earlier, I stumbled accidentally across this gem, which is in some ways better than anything from the actual film. It’s Bob Dylan and George Harrison singing “If Not For You” from the rehearsal for the show (the song didn’t make it actually into the live performances).

On the one hand, the video documents what Joan Baez and others had already proven – singing a duet with Dylan is tough, because his phrasing can be pretty variable. Indeed, it might be one of the reasons that this wasn’t done live – you don’t want to have two of the biggest stars on the planet sort of faltering through a song in front of 20,000 people.

On the other, I like this video because it seems to point to something simple – that two of the biggest stars on the planet can just be friends. Dylan and Harrison seemed to really understand each other. They performed each other’s songs, and they even will form a band together. It was always evident that of all The Beatles, George was the one that Dylan connected with most (Paul seemingly least). By all reports, they hung out a lot around this period, and you can see that a bit here.

Walking the dog tonight I re-listened to the recordings that Dylan and Harrison produced on May 1, 1970. Bjorner reports thirty-seven tracks were recorded on that day. I have twenty of those, but there were also multiple takes of “Sign on the Window” and “Time Passes Slowly” for New Morning, and probably some false starts.

It’s not a great bootleg because George doesn’t sing, except on “Your True Love” (the Carl Perkins song), which would be the primary appeal of hearing them record together. Harrison mostly just plays guitar and the two of them (and bassist Charlie Daniels and drummer Russ Kunkel) are just jamming (“Your True Love” ends with laughing and Dylan says “That’s an oldie”, as if he’s surprised to have remembered it, and they are just dredging things out of their minds). They cover a number of Dylan tunes, possibly at Harrison’s request (you can hear Dylan explain that he can’t remember the chords for “Please Crawl Out Your Window”), and one Beatles song (“Yesterday”, a song Dylan was definitely not born to sing). They even cover, lamely, “Da Doo Ron Ron Ron”.

The best thing to come out of the session, I guess, is “Working on a Guru”, a loopy Basement Tapes sounding piece that gently mocks Harrison’s connections to the Hare Krishnas. It was released on Another Self Portrait. It’s an inessential, but fun, tune.

The Dylan/Harrison sessions took place one month after The Beatles broke up, and before Harrison began working on All Things Must Pass. The visit apparently inspired Harrison’s “Behind That Locked Door”, his country-Hawaiian song that is read as a tribute to Dylan (who was seen to be hiding his talent by doing all of the covers that appeared on Self Portrait (and will soon appear on Dylan)). I have to say, I had never heard this theory before tonight. I always thought that song was just romantic mush (though with awesome steel guitar). Judge for yourself if Harrison is writing about Dylan:

Concert for Bangladesh



“I’d like to bring you all a friend to us all, Mr. Bob Dylan”. With those words, George Harrison surprised the sold-out matinee crowd at Madison Square Garden during the Concert for Bangladesh. Actually two concerts (afternoon and evening), The Concert, held on 1 August 1971, was one of the first rock benefits of this size and scope, and laid the foundation for numerous charity rock shows in the decades that followed.

Organized by George Harrison, the shows featured fellow Beatle Ringo Starr (John Lennon pulled out a few days before the event, apparently when Yoko Ono was upset that she was not invited; Paul McCartney was never going to appear because he was sulking about the legal dramas from the break-up of the band), Eric Clapton (in severe heroin withdrawal), Billy Preston, Leon Russell and Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan. It raised $250,000 for Bangladeshi relief, administered by UNICEF, and continued to raise money through the film and soundtrack.

The two shows were Dylan’s first significant stage show in two years, since the Isle of Wight, and he’d been finished touring for five years at this point. The story is that he almost failed to appear, showing up at the sound check the night before and panicking at playing for such a large crowd. In the film, you can see Dylan’s afternoon set (well, four of the five songs) beginning at 1:09, and just before he introduces him Harrison clearly goes to check to see if Dylan is actually come out on stage.


Dylan did five songs backed by Harrison, Starr (on tambourine), and Leon Russell: “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”, “Blowin’ in the Wind”, “It Takes a Lot To Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”, “Love Minus Zero/No Limit”, and “Just Like a Woman”. “Love Minus Zero” didn’t make the film or the album, but of the others it’s probably “Just Like a Woman” that receives the best version. In the evening show “Mr Tambourine Man” replaced “Love Minus Zero”, but that also doesn’t show up on the recordings of the show.

This is some of the earliest really high quality video recording of Dylan. Yes, he can be found in the Newport Festival footage of Murray Lerner, and in footage from his two British tours, but this is the kind of  well shot, close to the action camera work that would become quite common only later. There is a bit of a sense of being on stage with Dylan here, and he definitely seems like a much different performer than he did five years earlier.

The entirety of the Concert for Bangladesh film is online on Vimeo (I still haven’t bothered how to embed Vimeo clips, just click through), but here’s a YouTube clip of “Just Like a Woman”. The entire concert is really worth watching if you have an hour and a half. Clapton really isn’t that good, but it’s interesting to hear Harrison doing some of the late Beatles material live for the first time. Also, UNICEF was promoting the fortieth anniversary of the show two years ago, so if you do watch it on Vimeo rather than buying it, you might want to make a donation. Sadly, forty years later and the problems UNICEF deals with are no less acute.