Monday, November 14, 2011

November 14, 1974: George Harrison/Ravi Shankar, Tucson Community Center, Tucson, AZ

The cover of George Harrison's Dark Horse lp, released December 1974
It is difficult to fathom today how popular the Beatles were in the 1960s. They were the only rock group that everyone liked: jocks, stoners, parents, hippies, poets, violin players, you name it. The Beatles all but created the rock industry, but the ubiquity of their music during their time has never been duplicated. As the 60s wore on, every Beatles album became a bigger and bigger event, and amazingly,  the records lived up to expectations. My father had to buy every Beatles album from Sgt. Pepper's onwards, to prevent my sisters and I from fighting over who would get to play it. The only contemporary phenomenon that parallels the Beatles would be Harry Potter. Children of a certain age grew up with Harry, and the day a book was released was a day when time stopped. So it was with the Beatles.

The last Beatles concert was August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Although the modern rock concert industry had started up only a few miles away and a few months before at the Fillmore, Beatles concerts were part of the old model, where shows were merely publicity to sell records. At Candlestick, the Beatles played about 30 minutes on a lousy sound system, separated from their screaming fans by the entire baseball field. The Beatles were serious artists, so they retired to the studio for good. By the end of the 1960s, rock concerts were for serious artists as well, but The Beatles had no part of that. Thus the band that triggered the rock concert industry had no real part in it, never playing the Fillmore or the Royal Albert Hall, much less Wembley or Madison Square Garden or a giant outdoor rock festival. Blind Faith, Jimi Hendrix or The Rolling Stones would have been like nothing if the Beatles had performed in the 1960s, but they broke up and it was not to be.

There had been brief sightings. John Lennon had played a few brief benefits with his Plastic Ono Band, George Harrison had played the star-studded Concert for Bangladesh in 1971, and Paul McCartney had done a stealth tour of England with his band Wings in 1972. For Americans, however, unless one had been lucky or connected enough to see the Concert for Bangladesh, a Beatle performing live had not been seen since the band shut down. In 1974, George Harrison toured the United States, playing huge arenas lengthy West-to-East tour from November 2 through December 19. George wasn't John or Paul, but he was still a Beatle, and he wasn't just playing New York and Los Angeles, he was playing all across the land. The expectations for the George Harrison tour were sky-high. Major cities were used to major events, at least, but here was George playing two shows at the Tucson Community Center in Tucson, AZ on Thursday, November 14, 1974. This had to be the biggest rock event in the history of Tucson, and for all I know the biggest cultural event ever held there.

George Harrison 1970-1974
George Harrison was rightly or wrongly called "The Quiet Beatle," mainly because he was neither John nor Paul. He had contributed the occasional song to a Beatles album, and while they were generally excellent ("Taxman," "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and "Something" for example), no one really knew how much he had in him. Everyone loved George's guitar playing, of course, but the standards for judging guitarists had risen since the Beatles' prime, and no one knew how good he really was.

In late 1970, George had released his first "true" solo album, All Thing Must Pass. It was a fine album, somewhat overrated n retrospective, but a fine record nonetheless. It had two albums of finely crafted pop songs and one "jam" album with Eric Clapton and others. The jam album is forgettable now, but it helped establish George's credit as a "real" musician, not a player dependent on the studio. George's own music, and particularly the huge hit "My Sweet Lord," sounded enough like the Beatles to be familiar while still carving out his own style. All Things Must Pass demonstrated to most people's satisfaction that George Harrison had been an integral part of the Beatles, even if the bulk of the songwriting had been done by John and Paul.

In May, 1973 George released Living In The Material World, which instantly went to #1. People loved the Beatles, and they had loved All Things Must Pass, so they bought the album on faith, more or less. However, while not at all a bad album, it was somber and less catchy than its predecessor, and the album did not receive much airplay. George was still a Beatle--he'd always be a Beatle--but the album didn't have legs, in record industry parlance. If George was going to be a success as a solo artist, it seemed that he would have to be like Eric Clapton or the Rolling Stones, and get out on the road to drum up interest in his new record, just like they did.

The Dark Horse Tour
The plan was that George would record his new album in mid-1974, release it in the Fall and then tour to support it at the end of the year. For various reasons, not the least of them that George's wife Pattie had just left him for Eric Clapton (cue the intro to "Layla"), the project was delayed. The album, entitled Dark Horse, was recorded in September and October 1974, but it was not complete by November, when the tour was scheduled to begin. This would not be the first time that a major artist had had to play a booked tour before their album was complete, but this was a Beatle. The album itself was not released until December, by which time the tour was almost over.

The run-up to the tour was covered breathlessly by the likes of Rolling Stone magazine. Who would George choose to tour with him? There wasn't really a precedent for this. In the end, George signed up a younger group of hot studio players rather than big-name stars. The only exception to that was keyboardist Billy Preston, who of course had played with The Beatles on the "Get Back" single and had a successful solo career in his own right. The band lineup was
  • George Harrison (Guitar)
  • Robben Ford (Guitar)
  • Willie Weeks (Bass Guitar)
  • Andy Newmark (Drums)
  • Billy Preston (Keyboards)
  • Emil Richards (Percussion)
  • Tom Scott (Horns)
  • Chuck Findley (Trumpet)
  • Jim Horn (Saxophone)
Robben Ford and Tom Scott were from the jazz-rock group LA Express, and they would go on to back Joni Mitchell a few years later, among many other stellar appearances. Willie Weeks and Andy Newmark were American musicians, but they had recently recorded an album in London with Ronnie Wood (I've Got My Own Album To Do) and that was probably the link to Harrison. Emil Richards, Jim Horn and Chuck Findley were all established Hollywood session musicians, as in fact were the rest of the band save Preston.

Tucson Community Center, Tucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ is 118 miles Southeast of Phoenix, just 60 miles from the Mexican border. The University of Arizona had been founded there in 1885. Tucson had undergone staggering growth in the preceding decades, but it was still a considerably smaller city than it is today. In the 1950 census, Tucson had a population of 45, 454. By 1970, the population was 262, 933 (as of 2010 it was 520, 116). In 1971, the city built a new arena, the Tucson Community Center, which had a capacity of 9,275. 9,000+ capacity is relatively small by the standards of modern arenas, but it would have made Tucson seem like a real city. When George Harrison booked his American tour in 1974, amazingly enough he played Tucson between the Los Angeles Forum (November 12) and Salt Lake City (November 16.)

Tucson had one symbolic and one actual connection to the Beatles. Every Beatles fan knows the line from "Get Back:" "JoJo left his home in Tucson, Arizona/For some California Grass." In 1969, when "Get Back" was recorded and released, there was no reason to think that any member of the Beatles had ever been to Tucson. Presumably composer Paul McCartney chose the city for metrical reasons. However, Paul's girlfriend Linda Eastman--soon to be Linda McCartney--had gone to the University of Arizona, so presumably that is why Paul had heard of the town. Up until George Harrison's concert in 1974, "Tucson, Arizona" were just lyrics in a Beatles song, not a place any of them had been.

The oddity of a Beatle playing Tucson can be explained by the economics of 70s touring. In the days of the British Invasion, a band simply took their guitars and got on a plane. Some rented amplifiers were present at the local civic auditorium, and the extant Public Address system was used as well. They generally sounded terrible, but that was considered par for the course. By the time of the 1970s, major rock bands had learned the lessons of the late '60s and toured with their own sound, lights, equipment and crew. However, this meant that even though the band members flew from city to city, huge semi-trucks needed to roll in order for concerts to happen. Thus consecutive shows needed to be in reasonable proximity. Since the George Harrison tour was playing The LA Forum on Tuesday November 12 and the Denver Coliseum on Monday, November 18, economic logic dictated that some dates had to be found inbetween. Some of the curious booking choices--why play Los Angeles on a Tuesday, for example?--could probably be discerned by a nationwide comparison of NBA and NHL schedules since a Fall rock tour had to compete for time with major sports arenas. Tucson was between Los Angeles and Salt Lake City, and the city of Tucson did not have a sports franchise that was using their arena on a Thursday, so rock fans in Tucson were fortunate enough to find out that a Beatle was playing live in their town.

The popularity of George Harrison wasn't in question. In a throwback to an earlier era, Harrison played afternoon and evening shows at many venues. At a relatively smaller place like Tucson, this would have made the date more profitable, but double shows inevitably were shorter and caused more wear and tear on the performers. Nevertheless, George Harrison had two shows at Tucson, so there was no question his arrival was a big event.

George Harrison/Ravi Shankar, Tucson Community Center, Tucson, AZ, November 14, 1974
For all the anticipation of the 1974 George Harrison tour, people don't reminisce about it much. The truth is, it wasn't that great, and more importantly it was a tremendous let-down. The most memorable fact about the tour was that George Harrison's voice was hoarse. At the time, this was attributed to the fact that since Harrison had not been on the road since the 60s, his voice wasn't prepared for the rigors of touring. That very well may have been a factor, but apparently Harrison had been suffering throat problems for some months, but since his Dark Horse lp was so behind he had to keep recording rather than rest, so he began the tour with a sore throat. It never really got better, leaving people to joke that this was his "Dark Hoarse" tour.

Besides Harrison's vocal weakness, his choice to make a group of Indian musicians featuring Ravi Shankar an integral part of the show did not resonate well. Of course, Harrison had done more than anyone to make the world aware of the depth and breadth of Shankar and Indian music, but the truth was that although people paid lip service to Indian music, they didn't actually listen to it that much. If Shankar had done an opening set and then Harrison had played his set, it might have worked out fine, but Harrison took a different tack. Harrison and his band typically performed about 5 numbers, usually including one by Billy Preston, and then turned over the stage to Shankar and the Indian musicians for about 40 minutes. Thus from the audience's point of view, just when they were getting into a groove, the spell was broken by something that didn't interest them.

Thus cities like Tucson and Salt Lake City got a Beatle in their midst before a lot of other cities, but they went home disappointed for the most part. George Harrison wasn't happy either. Critics shredded the shows, and while musicians regularly declared that they don't care what rock critics say, the fact is George Harrison never undertook a major tour again, and never played America at all. He did one tour of Japan with Eric Clapton's band in 1991, and played a few benefits in London over the years, but save for a casual drop-in at a bar in North Hollywood (The Palomino) in 1988 with Bob Dylan and John Fogerty, he never booked another show in the United States.

Aftermath
Tucson has doubled in size since 1974, but I don't believe a Beatle has ever played there again. Paul McCartney played in a football stadium in Tempe (Sun Devil Stadium, April 4 '90--do you think he got a big roar when he sang "JoJo lived at home in Tucson, Arizona"?), and in fact Paul owned a ranch outside of Tucson, where his wife Linda sadly passed away in 1998. The Tucson Community Center is still active, although it is called the Tucson Convention Center now, but I don't think a performer of George Harrison's magnitude ever played there since.

A tape circulates on the internet of the afternoon George Harrison show. It doesn't sound great, but if you like field recordings, a stream can be found here.

The complete setlist and notes can be found here, but I have posted them below.
George Harrison, Tucson Community Center, Tucson, AZ Nov 14, 1974, Afternoon show,
Disc 1 (73:49)

1. Hari's on Tour (Express) (Harrison) (5:04)
2. While my Guitar gently weeps (Harrison) (6:10)
3. Something (Harrison) (4:24)
4. Will it go round in Circles (Preston) (4:28)
5. Sue me sue you Blues (Harrison) (5:43)
6. Zoom zoom zoom (Shankar) (7:10)
8. Naderdani (Shankar) (6:29)
9. Cheparte (Shankar) (6:44)
10. Anourag (Shankar) (14:00)
11. I am missing you (Shankar) (7:09) Indian musicians introductions
12. Dispute and Violence (Shankar) (6:01)

Disc 2 (1:17:55)
5. For you Blue (Harrison) (3:56)
6. Give me Love (Give me Peace on Earth) (Harrison) (4:06)
7. In my Life (Lennon/McCartney) (6:20)
8. Tom Cat (Scott) (4:39)
9. Maya Love (Harrison) (5:14)
10. Nothing from nothing (Preston/Fisher) (4:02)
11. Outta Space (Preston) (6:17)
12. Dark Horse (Harrison) (4:55)
13. What is Life (Harrison) (6:34)
14. My sweet Lord (Harrison) (7:33)
 
Indian musicians:
Ravi Shankar (Sitar)
Hariprasad Chaurasia (Flute)
Rijram Desad (Percussion & Strings)
T.V.Gopalkrishnam (Mridangam & Vocal)
Gopal Krishn (Vichitra Veena)
Sultan Khan (Sarangi)
Kartick Kumar (Sitar)
Kamalesh Maitra (Percussion)
Satyadev Pawar (North India Violin)
Alla Rakha (Tabla)
Harihar Rao (Percussion)
Lakshmi Shankar (Vocal)
Viji Shankar (Vocal)
Shivkumar Sharma (Santoor)
L.Subramaniam (Violin)


1970 census: 262, 933
2010 census: 520, 116
118 mi SE of Phoenix



2 comments:

  1. I was at this show, my first rock concert ever - I was 15 and a friend's mother drove us and picked us up afterward. I remember it fondly despite his vocal problems. I wouldn't say that no other artist of Harrison's magnitude ever played there since. I personally saw Bruce Springsteen and the Rolling Stones in that same arena in 1977 and 1978 and I'm sure there were many more huge acts that played there.

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  2. I would like to clarify one point to the author of the above essay, Paul McCartney & Wings played the TCC June of 1976. I have been to many rock concerts and sporting events but, when the lights went down and the acoustic guitar started playing the intro to Venus & Mars and Paul began singing, I have never heard such an electric explosion from a crowd since. Venus and Mars segued into Rock Show and that segued into Jet. It was a fantasctic night watching a 34 year old Beatle!

    Also, to ramboorider, The Rolling Stones played Tucson in August of 1978 and Bruce Springsteen played in December of that same year.

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