Gary James' Interview With George Harrison's sister
She's a former radio talk show host and radio correspondent. Her brother George used to play guitar for The Beatles. She is Louise Harrison. Although music and her famous brother figure prominently in her life, it is the environment which most concerns Louise Harrison these days. She is the founder of "We Care" Global Family, Inc. Her message is really quite simple: "The only people who need to worry about the earth are those who breathe air, drink water, eat food grown in soil or plan to in the future."
Q - Louise, how did you get interested in the environment and helping save the planet?
A - Well, first of all, like everybody else, I have to breathe. I have to drink water or other fluids and I have to eat food. It seems to me all of those things are getting a little imperiled.
Q - What would you say to those people who believe there is no problem with the environment?
A - I prefer to stay with the positive things, with the things that can be done. I don't ever dwell that much on what's wrong with the planet. I know all of the things we're having problems with, like lack of water. We're losing our water supplies very fast and there's a lot of other things. But, rather than dwell on those, again, I would rather focus my attention on the positive things and let people know what things are being done to improve the health of the planet, rather than keep on worrying about how sick it is.
Q - Your publication Newsplash is read by people...
A - Throughout the world. We have people in Australia, Argentina, New Zealand, Japan, all over Europe.
Q - When did you start this newsletter?
A - The first one went out in November 1993. The whole organization is only just a year old. We're just babies now. I'm finding that if I go and talk to 500 people and maybe eight people join the organization out of that 500, those eight people are absolutely first class. They're the kind of people who are willing to make an effort to do something. They are intelligent. They are well read. They're really dynamic people.
Q - Before the We Care Global Family, what did you do with yourself?
A - I was in radio mostly. I've worked in radio for most of the last 30 years, apart from bringing up my kids. I haven't needed to work all of the time. I do believe, as many women today are starting to realize, that the most valuable career a woman can have is to be a mother, if she is a mother. Many people realize being a super woman and running around with a career and putting your kids in nursery schools, is not really where it's at.
Q - What did you talk about on radio?
A - Oh, everything. Every single day there'd be different people from different walks of life. Different subjects. I never, ever, pre-talked the show. I didn't really read up a great deal about the person, 'cause I wanted to react as though it was a spontaneous reaction between two people who've never met before, just finding out about each other, with the audience overhearing the conversation.
Q - Did you see the movie Backbeat?
A - I saw about 10 minutes of it.
Q - What'd you think?
A - I got into the movie about a half hour into it. I was at one of these Beatlefests signing autographs and then I went in to have a look at it for awhile. They had a scene where I think it was John (Lennon) and Stu (Sutcliffe) were talking. Of course, I'd never been around when John and Stu were talking, so I couldn't have any opinion on that. Then, it came to a scene where it was supposed to be George and Mom talking. That scene was so far-fetched that it was certainly a conversation that would never have taken place between them. Between that and the color of the lipstick that the guy was wearing who was supposed to be my brother, I said, well, I've never, ever, seen him wear that color lipstick (laughs). Just facetiously I said, oh gosh. I don't want to waste my time watching this. So, the movie may have had a lot of merit, but, from my personal point of view, just that little bit of it, made me say oh, c'mon I want to get out of here.
Q - You see, that's the great thing about being Louise Harrison. You don't have to sit through all these movies on The Beatles, and read all these Beatle books.
A - And believe it all (laughs). The thing I'd like to do is write a brochure outlining the books you shouldn't read. There's one guy in particular, Giuliano, who is atrocious. He's written a book about our George, and he didn't even know what George's name was. I think he went into a trance and imagined the whole thing. I've been brought up his book by people who will say, Will you sign it?' I say, 'I'll sign it, as long as I can write in it, Don't believe a word he says.'
Q - Did George and the rest of the group really understand the influence The Beatles had on music, fashion, and pop culture?
A - I'm sure those kinds of things have crossed their minds to some degree. That's basically part of why I want to do a book, with the compilation of people's stories about how The Beatles have affected their lives. Now that the guys are all over 50, it would be a lot easier for them to read the true little stories that people tell about how they have been affected by The Beatles and understand that apart from all the hoopla, there was a lot of good that came out of what they were doing. I know they were a little, I hate to use the word, traumatized, because it's in excess of what I'm trying to say, but times when people would come up to them in wheelchairs and want them to shake hands with them, and that was a very uncomfortable feeling for four young fellows who were in it for the fun. People were looking at them as being, I don't know what, and being modest, real people made them feel a bit squirmy and uncomfortable.
Q - How did your life change when The Beatles became popular?
A - Well, I was living in the Midwest at the time. It did get a bit hectic, because I was getting 200 - 300 letters a day, and I was trying to answer them as much as possible. Then I ended up getting involved in these Beatle reports on about 18 major radio stations all across the country (laughs). And, they lasted for 18 months. So, it did change my life somewhat.
Q - How did anyone know where you were living?
A - During 1963, Brian (Epstein - Beatles Mgr.) had sent me a number of their records and I was taking them around to various radio stations trying to see if I could get them some airplay. There was one particular station in St. Louis that said these guys are never going any place. When I went up to New York to be with them for the Ed Sullivan Show and came back, I'd been with them for the whole week. There was a news item on this radio station in St. Louis about how somebody had cut Ringo's hair at a party. I was at that party. The news item had it that the Ambassador's wife was the one that cut his hair, which was totally untrue. So, I called the radio station and they knew who I was because they knew they hadn't played the records that I had given them (laughs). I said this is making an absolute fool of this really, very, very nice dignified lady who said she wrestled Ringo to the ground, and cut his hair, which was ridiculous. I said would you please correct that news item? They said, "Well, would you come on and correct it?' I said, 'No, I'm just a housewife!' They corrected the item, and after a few days they called me and said, 'Look, there's so much interest about these guys, and there's so many crazy stories going around about them, you'd probably be in a better position to know the truth. Would you be willing to do some little 60 second reports, anecdotes about them and let us know what's happening?' They said we'll pay you, I think it was $17 for a minute feed at that time. And, they wanted ten of them a week. I thought, well, that will help me pay for some of the postage for all of these letters that were coming in. So I said, yeah, let me try it. I tried it and after about seven weeks of doing this, they decided they would fold it, that it had run its course. In the 24 hours after they stopped my reports, they got something like a 1,000 pieces of mail. "Where's Louise?" So they started me back up again and changed the pay to $30 a week (laughs). I did it for 18 months, on 18 major stations.
Q - Didn't you bring chicken soup to George at the hotel he was staying in during rehearsals for the first appearance on the Sullivan show?
A - No, no, no! (laughs). I was at the hotel with them. He had strep throat. The hotel doctor, Dr. Gordon, was thinking he oughta get a nurse to come and look after him. Then he thought, when you look around at all of the females in the state of New York, and how they were all screaming to bring someone in here, she's probably not going to be able to function too well. Then he realized that I was George's sister and he said, well, you're not gonna get all nervous if you're in the same vicinity as him, so would you like to give him this medication? And so, that's what happened.
Q - In Harry Benson's book, he wrote about The Beatles' first visit to the States, and said George referred to America as "plastic America" and the he "couldn't stand the brashness of the American people and all the phoniness." Do you recall him saying that?
A - No, because his real first visit to America was when he came to the midwest in September of 1963 and he met these wonderful, warm, friendly, real warm Midwesterners... school teachers, retired miners and all kinds of just wonderful people... and a little band. He had a fantastic time. He thought they were just wonderful people.
Q - Why didn't The Beatles ever record in the US?
A - It probably never occurred to them.
Q - Did it have anything at all to do with the studio set-up?
A - I don't think the technology was any different over here than in Britain. Let's face it, Britain really started a lot of things which Americans have adopted or adapted as their inventions. And, a lot of what they call the 'Brain Drain' was people coming from Britain, very sophisticated engineers and engineers that moved to America and brought their technical knowledge with them.
Q - Were you backstage for all three of the Sullivan shows?
A - No, the two.
Q - You didn't go to Miami with them?
A - No, I went back home.
Q - What was the mood of the group backstage after the Sullivan show? Did they wonder how they went over?
A - I don't know that that even came up (laughs). They were enjoying themselves. I think again, part of their appeal was that they were not really that concerned about how they went over. I don't mean that they were blasé' about it, but as long as they were having fun doing what they were doing, I think they felt it was OK. I don't know that I should be quoted on that, but, that's just my opinion as how they seemed to be. I think part of the reason they were so good was they weren't dissecting everything they did. They were just spontaneously doing it, and everybody spontaneously enjoyed it right along with them. That's my feeling about it.
Q - People were just so overwhelmed by Beatlemania weren't they?
A - Yeah. I can remember backstage in Cincinnati, talking to George on one of the tours, probably the next year (1965) and he was tuning his guitar. I remember joking with him saying 'Why are you bothering to tune your guitar? Nobody's gonna hear you.' He said, 'Oh, well, I always have this scary feeling that all of a sudden they might stop screaming and I'll be out of tune.' They wanted to sound the best they could, but they also knew, and it was one of the reasons they never released albums of 'live' performances, was there was so much noise. They couldn't hear themselves and they couldn't tell whether they were in tune or not.
Q - Did The Beatles practice in your home?
A - Not in my home, in my mom's house.
Q - I don't know the age difference between you and George.
A - Well, I used to be older, but now I'm younger (laughs). I'm still 39.
Q - You never heard a Beatles rehearsal then because you were in the US at the time.
A - That's right. The only ones who would've heard would be my two other brothers, Harry and Pete, and they don't get involved with the press.
Q - What do they do?
A - They both work there in George' town.
Q - For George?
A - Yeah.
Q - Who has his own film production company?
A - He had Handmade Films, but as far as I know, he's just sold it to a Canadian company according to the reports I've heard.
Q - So what does George do with himself these days?
A - He's working on a compilation of everything they (The Beatles) have ever done.
Q - "The Long and Winding Road" movie?
A - Yeah. He's been working on that for a couple of years now.
Q - How often does George keep in touch with you? Does he call you regularly? Are their family get-togethers?
A - Oh no. It's quite seldom really that we see or talk to each other. We're all busy. I write to him all the time and tell him everything I'm doing. It's almost like we have to make an appointment two weeks before to talk. You never know where he's gonna be... Australia, England, India or Phoenix.