Jim Keltner on George Harrison, the “most unusual person”

To mark the 50th anniversary of George Harrison’s mysterious and magnificent second solo album, Living In The Material World, his great friend and go-to drummer Jim Keltner recalls their first meeting in 1971.

The very first time I laid eyes on George was at John Lennon’s Ascot Sound studio on February 16, 1971. John was making Imagine. George was walking into the hall. I’d gone to the bathroom and I came out and saw him and we just said, “Hi.” He said that he really loved the Delaney & Bonnie record that I’d played on, Accept No Substitute. It wasn’t a successful record, or a big record, but all the English guys loved it. To have George say that to me was a big deal.

Suddenly, after Ascot Sound, I saw George a lot. It was a really busy time. I was on sessions with him with Leon Russell, Phil Spector was producing, and Gary Wright. It did feel at that time, post-Beatles, that George was gathering this community of new artists and like-minded, soulful musicians around him.


He was the most unusual person. John was just very, very normal. He was a regular kind of guy: funny, incredibly smart, and incredibly fast with everything. Nothing took a long time. When we got to hanging out, it was fantastic but it was like living in a cloud. There’s so much John stuff that I just can’t remember because we were so loaded, and everything was so condensed, timewise. George was just the opposite. With George, it was always kind of mystifying how he would come up with stuff to do, and how easily he made it happen.

When I talk about George, sometimes I feel like I’m making him sound too much like he was a saint. By no means was the man a saint! Over the years with him and John, they could both be really brutal with Paul. I learned very early on that I couldn’t join them. They both on different occasions said, “We can say that, but you shouldn’t.” They were truly brothers who loved taking the piss out of each other, but they didn’t want anybody else doing it.

George in the studio was one of my favourites, always. I still remember the feel, the way we were set up. Everything about it. We would have been [recording] at Apple, and at Friar Park. He had all the best analogue gear that you could have, laid out really nicely. It was state of the art for the time. I told him to call it H.O.T.: Henley-on-Thames. He liked that: H.O.T. studios! There’s a sound on Living In The Material World that George could have pursued and developed – and it didn’t quite happen.