George Harrison’s first full solo tour following the breakup of The Beatles began in November 1974, prior to the release of his fifth studio album. This was also the first tour of North America by any of the four Beatles and, like his Concert For Bangladesh, this 1974 tour, which began in Canada on November 2, 1974, included Ravi Shankar the Indian master-musician.
Other musicians from the Bangladesh concert that also appeared on the 1974 tour included Billy Preston who had a couple of solo numbers and was prominently featured on keyboards, drummers Jim Keltner and Andy Newmark, and trumpeter Chuck Findlay. The rest of the band for the ’74 tour was made up of saxophonists, Tom Scott and Jim Horn, guitarist, Robben Ford, who all played with Scott in the LA Express, and who all featured on George’s Dark Horse album.
The tour became known as the “Dark Horse” tour. George had signed Ravi to his new label of the same name and he played several songs from the album that was released towards the end of the 26-date run of gigs. However, it was not a happy time for George. He struggled throughout the tour with laryngitis and gargled nightly with a mixture of honey, vinegar, and warm water to try and relieve the symptoms; it was a situation not helped by the fact that he played two shows on many of the dates.
But whatever the limitations caused by his throat infection, which led to the cancellation of the shows in Portland, George and the band’s playing sounded magnificent throughout. George was upset by some of the criticism the tour received, some of that could be put down to incredibly high prior expectations, and people wanting something they simply were not going to get.
Work on the Dark Horse album began in November 1973, at home in Friar Park. Sessions initially used the same line-up of musicians who appeared on Living In The Material World – Ringo Starr, Jim Keltner, Klaus Voormann, and Gary Wright and Nicky Hopkins alternating on keyboards. Recorded at this time were the basic tracks for “Ding Dong, Ding Dong,” an early version of the title track, and “So Sad.” In March 1975, George’s near neighbor Alvin Lee, of Ten Years After and soon to be Rolling Stone, Ronnie Wood added lead-guitar parts to “Ding Dong.”
George saw Joni Mitchell’s concert at the New Victoria Theatre in London, in April 1974. He was impressed with her jazz-rock backing band, the L.A. Express, led by saxophonist and flautist Tom Scott and so the band were invited to Friar Park the following day. Here, Harrison, Scott, Robben Ford (guitar), Roger Kellaway (keyboards), Max Bennett (bass), and John Guerin (drums) – recorded an instrumental track that became the opening number on the album, “Hari’s on Tour (Express).” They also laid down “Simply Shady” which also appeared on the Dark Horse album; Scott then stayed at Friar Park for a while, overdubbing horns onto “Ding Dong” and the two new tracks.
In late August, George returned to working on the album with Billy Preston, Scott, drummer, Andy Newmark, and Willie Weeks on bass – all of whom had signed up to play on the tour. They recorded, “Māya Love,” “Far East Man” and “It Is ‘He’ (Jai Sri Krishna).” In early October. George arrived in LA, to begin preparing for the tour, but his voice was already in bad shape. With the necessity of completing the new album, he was under considerable pressure.
George used A&M Studios in Hollywood to rehearse on a sound stage with his tour band. At the same time, he finished off the songs that had been recorded at Friar Park with many of the vocals on Dark Horse that were taped at A&M. During this time George was diagnosed with laryngitis, and according to Scott, Harrison recorded “Bye Bye, Love” one night, alone in the studio adding Moog synthesizer, drums, electric pianos and electric-guitar parts to his acoustic guitar.
It was also at this stage that “I Don’t Care Anymore” was recorded, which was not on the album but became the b-side in the US of “Dark Horse” and later in the UK the b-side of “Ding Dong, Ding Dong.” In the end, George discarded the version of “Dark Horse” he recorded in his home studio and he reworked it, recording with the touring musicians. On December 28, 1974, the album entered the Billboard 200 albums chart.
Reviews of the album upon its release were less than glowing, but over time people have come to appreciate this record on a different level, realizing it was a peek into George’s world at the time as well as one containing some wonderful music. All too often, contemporaneous reviews are hastily cobbled together with the need to react to a publishing deadline.
When George returned home to Friar Park in January 1975, following the tour and release of the album, he told Derek Taylor, “When I got off the plane and back home, I went into the garden and I was so relieved. That was the nearest I got to a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t even go into the house.” Three months later he was back in Los Angeles to start work on his next album, Extra Texture (Read All About It).
Dark Horse can be bought here.