By: Shelley L Germeaux
George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary Edition will be released August 6, 2021. The iconic triple album was first released in November of 1970 and was Harrison’s first solo work after the breakup of The Beatles earlier that year. It was commercially a hit upon release, staying at No. 1 on the charts throughout the world for several weeks. It has been described as the most successful album ever released by an ex-Beatle.
The upcoming release of the 50th anniversary edition will feature session outtakes and jams. It has been remixed and produced with upgrades that are said to completely transform the sound.
Since Alan White worked with Harrison on this legendary album, it seemed like a good time to recount his memories and review previous interviews I had done with him concerning his work with both John Lennon and George Harrison.
This article focuses primarily on his work with Harrison, and Alan offered some great new details about the sessions for All Things Must Pass.
Alan has been the drummer for Yes for almost 50 years; but his early work with Lennon and Harrison holds special memories for him.
It began with an invitation from John Lennon to join him and the Plastic Ono Band for the Rock-n-Revival festival September 13, 1969. It was put together so quickly that the only practice they got was on the plane, Alan hammering his drumsticks into the seat in front of him while John and the others strummed guitars.
He first met George Harrison December 15, 1969 when joining Lennon again, this time for a Lyceum Ball benefit called “Peace for Christmas”. This was John and Yoko’s “War Is Over” kickoff event; but more memorable was the fact that two Beatles would end up performing on stage together for the first time since well very last Beatles concert on August 29, 1966 at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
Alan recalled, “I only lived about 10 miles away, so I got in the car and went down there and there was Klaus (Voorman), John and myself, and Yoko. And that’s all who was there, so we were just going to do the gig like that.”
But then Eric Clapton showed up to join them for that gig, and with him was the entire Delaney and Bonnie band, including George Harrison. The band also included Jim Gordon (drums), Jim Price (trumpet), Bobby Keys (sax), Billy Preston (organ), and Keith Moon, who pounded on Alan’s tom-toms. The spontaneous Supergroup came together and the concert was full of energy and enthusiasm, as the stage was full of legendary musicians.
For an idea of how energizing the concert was, some footage of George and Alan at the Lyceum Ballroom concert can be seen here, during “Cold Turkey/Don’t Worry Kyoko.”
George began working on his album, All Things Must Pass in May of 1970, right after the formal break-up of the Beatles. George invited Alan to come work on the sessions at Abbey Road Studios.
What do you remember about those sessions?
Alan said, “Everybody used to just turn up every day including Eric Clapton, and musicians from the Delaney & Bonney Band, like Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, and others. Those sessions were full of musicians. We’d go every day about lunchtime and just start working. I just loved playing all that music.”
“My drums were set up in studio the entire time they were recording; mostly backing tracks for the songs, and that lasted about three weeks. Phil Spector (the producer) stayed in the control room, and he hardly–if ever—came out.
“We would all listen to a demo of the song to be recorded, first, and then just get on with it and start playing. We’d work out who was going to play what — some of the songs I played drums, and some Jim Gordon did. And on one or two, Ringo played.
“George would go in and out of the control room to listen to the different takes. The band musicians also listened to the takes and gave their input. We were all pretty happy with everything we heard played back.
“George worked on the music afterwards at Trident Studios in London, adding overdubs and things but I was not involved during that process.
Which songs from ATMP did you work on?
Alan said, “People always ask me that, and it’s hard because we would play a song but then they would do some remixing. I know I played on “It’s A Pity”, “Wah Wah”, and “My Sweet Lord”. But they did numerous tracks. I’m sure that Ringo was there when we did that.”
He continued, “One of the funny things is, one day Ringo, John and George were all there (in the studio). Ringo had a tambourine, and I said, ‘Shouldn’t he (Ringo) be playing drums for My Sweet Lord?’
And George said, ‘No, no, no, you play the drums.’
“And I felt really bad! Ringo was just standing there being Ringo, he didn’t care” Alan laughed. “One time I overdubbed the tambourine too. I don’t think John actually played on the track, but he was in the studio. It was basically George and Eric playing guitars, and Carl Radle was on bass. Then myself on drums, with Ringo on tambourine.”
What were George and John like to work with, and how were they different?
Alan replied, “John was the type of guy who was lead easily, but he was the leader. John would let things happen as they happened, but George was a little more organized coming into it. John would feel it for the moment and take that and go, ‘this is working, this is happening.’ He’d go with the flow, whereas George had a definite idea of what he wanted to do before he got there. He did a lot of work on his songs at home beforehand.”
“They were both easy to work with. They never told me what to do. They let me play whatever I wanted. They always said they liked what I did. But George was more of a perfectionist.”
Did you feel George’s spirituality when you were with him?
Alan said he definitely felt Georges spiritual aura; “He emanated that all the time, in fact I felt it around John too, there was a very deep, heavy spiritual thing inside, because they had been through the whole thing in India, so you could feel it emanating from them after the success The Beatles had had… the music shows that direction, which was great that’s what changed the atmosphere in the studio”
“But he didn’t talk about his beliefs. The outlet (for his beliefs) was the music.”
Alan worked with Harrison again during Lennon’s Imagine sessions in July of 1971 at Tittenhurst Park in Ascot in July of 1971. Much of this footage was released in 2018 with the documentary, “John & Yoko: Above Us Only Sky” where Alan can be seen suggesting a later drum intro to the song, which we are all familiar with today.
The Imagine sessions lasted about eight days and Alan stayed there. He recalled George’s participation, saying, “George came for two of the days. He lived about an hour away so he just drove in (every day).” commenting that George was a total vegetarian at that point, he said “we’d be sitting around the dinner table at night. John would be there but you also had George, and the energy was doubly amplified, everything revolved around two Beatles being in the same room. They obviously had their own relationship; but they acted just like me and you, sitting down here talking. It was like normal people. Everybody would just sit there and think, you know, these guys are just really great people.
Hearing the news about Georges passing was tough. “I got up that morning, saw it on the news…ugh… I knew it was going to happen. The day it happened, I was walking around the streets of Dublin Ireland, feeling really bad. I walked past a pub and Jon Anderson (bandmember with Yes) ran out from a pub and said, ‘you’re having a bad day aren’t you?’ And he poured me a beer. George was sweet. He was a great person.”
Previously published sources:
Daytrippin’ Magazine, issue 20, Fall 2002, “YES Drummer Alan White shares his memories of working with John and George” by Shelley Germeaux
Not So Modern Drummer, Vol. 14.4, Fall/Winter 2007, “Alan White: From Imagine to Yes” by Shelley Germeaux