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A nobody; a nitwit; a pilot; a motorcyclist; a raconteur; a lover...of life - who loves to laugh, who tries to not take myself (or anything) too seriously...just a normal guy who knows his place in the universe by being in touch with my spiritual side. What more is there?

07 March 2008

George Harrison - Horse To The Water

In early October of 2001, George Harrison traveled to Switzerland to record one of the last, if not the last song he ever composed (with his son Dhani). The song is called, “Horse To The Water.” George was dying. He had been diagnosed with cancer in 1997. Barely two months after the recording session he was gone.

I remember watching some of the clips of George from 1996, during the time he, Paul McCartney and Ringo got together to complete those two rough John Lennon songs (“Free As A Bird” and “Real Love”). In the formal interviews that George gave at the time, he looked good! He was all made up and his hair was perfect - the George we knew and loved. But in the candid documentary footage of the three surviving Beatles working together on the Lennon songs, he looked awful…sick. In sad retrospect, you can tell that the cancer was eating him up even then, whether he knew it or not (and I suspect he did although the official announcement was yet to be made).

George approached that death with good-natured grace. “Horse To The Water” was a bit of gallows humor on his part, a little inside joke about his inability to quit his years of heavy smoking which ostensibly caused his cancer. He kept working right up until the end. In fact, when George went to Switzerland to record the vocal for that song, it was not for use on one of his own records but rather, a CD entitled “Small World, Big Band” by a guy named Jools Holland. We’ll get to that in a second.

Although he was dying, although he was nearly 58 years-old, George could still write a rocker! The bluesy, “Horse To The Water” is as good as anything he’d ever written.

One of George’s long-time friends was a musician named Joe Brown. Fairly well-known in England, he never gained much popularity in the United States. Joe was best-man at George’s marriage to his second wife Olivia. Joe’s daughter Sam is a singer, and had been working with Jools Holland, who himself had been a member of and keyboard player in a terrific English band called Squeeze back in the 1980’s. The founding members of Squeeze were two guys named Chris Difford and Glen Tillbrook, who were heralded at the time as the “new Lennon/McCartney.” The influence of the Beatles on the music of Squeeze was undeniable, and they didn’t. Currently, Jools Holland is a well-respected musician, television host and interviewer on English television.

So one year after Harrison’s death, his buddy Eric Clapton puts on this concert in George’s honor. He gathers up many of George’s friends including many of those he’d played with over the years. Then they get together in the Royal Albert Hall in London to sing and play his music. I’ve written before about the “Concert For George” and how much I love it. It is possibly the best "tribute concert" that ever will be.

One of the songs they do is “Horse To The Water,” sung by an ebullient Sam Brown. It is an amazing, joyous performance, one of the highlights of the whole show. But before clicking on the video below (and I sincerely hope you do), here are a few things to watch for.

· Sam Brown’s incredible vocal . She just flat nails the song! She owns it!
· Jools Holland’s keyboard playing is wonderful. The look on his face says it all – how happy and honored he is to be there on that very special night.
· Andy Fairweather Low’s backing vocal is awesome, adding a gospel depth.
· Tom Scott’s rockin' sax solo! And I’m not even a big fan of the sax. Scott’s been around forever. He is outstanding.
· This is one time in the concert when we get to actually hear Eric Clapton play- they finally turn his guitar up! As bandleader, throughout most of the concert he's stuck to just playing rhythm and not lead. In this song, his signature sound is unmistakable, yet the cameras only briefly ever catch him in the act.


I can (and do) watch that video over and over. I just love watching Sam sing it, and of course I love hearing it. It never fails to cheer me up and make me feel good.

I had not been able to find a bloggable copy of George Harrison singing that song, although I knew one existed. Finally, through the magic of YouTube, somebody put it up! Mind you, while it is George's version of "Horse To The Water" as it appeared on the Jools Holland album, what is posted below is not a music video. It's just a collection of Beatle video clips centering mostly on George, forming the background for it. Sadly, many of the clips show him happily puffing away on cigarettes.

After George recorded the vocal for the aforementioned "Small World, Big Band" CD, Jools Holland took the track and added the orchestra instruments and more background vocals. So it doesn't sound like your "typical" George Harrison song. Still, it sounds great. But compared to Sam Brown’s killer version, I’m not sure which one I prefer! I'll let you decide for yourself.


Anonymous said...

I bet Tom Petty could do an awesome version of this song.


Hal Johnson said...

Before "Concert for George," my four favorite concert films were Neil Young's "Rust Never Sleeps," The Band's "The Last Waltz," Nanci Griffith's "One Fair Summer Evening," and the Talking Heads' "Stop Making Sense." (Love that one, even though I was never a rabid Talking Heads fan.)

But sheesh, "Concert for George" just blows them all out of the water. I've watched it about ten times so far, and it still gives me chills at certain points.

Loved this post, Bob. Thanks.

David said...


Concert For George just went to the top of the shopping list.

I watched the George version first. The time lapse from Abbey Road nearly (Nearly) teared me up.

This is not a 'prod' just an observation, that could have been Dylan off of say, Slow Train.

Sam Brown! Where do I find one of those!? WWOWW. At about 5:05, did you see Clapton looking at her like a proud papa?

Another great music post from a pilot. You're gonna change my way of thinking! LOL!


PS: What was that Clapton had in his hand?

Redlefty said...

Great stuff, thanks!

I introduced Samantha to the Beatles on Wednesday night. She eventually asked me to sing "Hard Day's Night" as her bedtime song. :)

Bob Barbanes said...

kman, I dunno...I can never imagine anyone else doing Beatle songs. I love Elvis but I'm not a big fan of his version of George's "Something" (one of the most-recorded songs of all time).

And guys, I'm glad my copy of the "Concert For George" is not like a vinyl record or it would be worn-slap-out by now.

Michael, having Samantha ask for "A Hard Day's Night" just proves that great music really is timeless.

David, that "thing" in Clapton's hand...you mean that Strat? Quite a few Stratocasters up on that stage. I've got to get me one of those things! Think it's too late in life for a 50-something guy to learn how to play the guitar? I wanna rock out before I die.

David said...

It's never too late!

Hal Johnson said...

Bob, in some ways, being 50-something may mark the ideal time to learn to play the guitar. Go for it dude: better now than when you're in your seventies.

Hal Johnson said...

Now here's a travesty for ya: Sam Brown's version of "Horse to the Water" isn't included on the soundtrack CD for Concert for George. Sheesh.

But, I ordered it anyway.

Bob Barbanes said...

Yes Hal, that *IS* a travesty! How they failed to include that scorcher of a potential hit song on the audio CD is simply unfathomable. And dont' give me any of this "space consideratons" mumbo-jumbo - I'm sure they could have squeezed her in. Oh well, for those who don't own the concert DVD, at least there are the YouTube versions. Maybe some day I'll be able to find one for my iPod.

saraswati said...

Hi! I m from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I ve just come across your blog since I have been listening Horse to the Water sung by George again and again and again for at least an hour and a half. I do love that song. I m a big fan of George and there is no day for me without playing his songs.
I absolutely agree with you about this Horse to the Water, about Concert For George and about the amazing Sam Brown´s performance of that song. I m also one of those who have played that part of the Concert hundreds of times...actually I ve seen the complete Concert a dozen of times and the more I see it the more I love it and I never fail to cry at the end of it when Joe Brown sings that touching song and all of a sudden roses petals start falling down. I know people of all ages that have seen that Concert and everyone of them says the same about it is perhaps the best tribute ever. I took the dvd to some friends´ who arent fans of George but they could felt the joyful vibes that were around that night at the Royal Albert Hall and I saw tears in their eyes. It is magical.
I d like to call that Concert "a celebration of a man´s life".
I knew that was the last song he sang before leaving his body and I think it is another special reason to love it.
It is amazing how the guy was leaving but he wrote such amazing songs like that and like The Rising Sun. Every time I hear him singing "and in the rising sun you can feel your life begins" I cry and say to myself: "he is such a great soul! though he leaving this material world he sang about the beginning of a life"
I ve just found another vid on youtube where you can listen to George singing Horse to the Water and see some rare pics of him.

I started this comment saying I came across your posting about this song...but maybe it was not just "by chance" that I found it. Besides, I ve noticed you posted it on my birthday.

Bob Barbanes said...

Sara, thank you so much for your comments. Like you, I am a HUGE George Harrison fan, and I listen to his music every day. There are so many of his songs that I listen to over and over. Like you, they often affect me emotionally.

I did look at the YouTube video you linked, and it is terrific! I do love his version of the song. And amazingly, there were pictures of him I'd never seen before!

The clip of Sam Brown singing "Horse to the Water" has been removed from YouTube because of some silly copyright fight between companies. However, I am editing the blogpost to include a shorter YouTube clip that still exists - at least until it is pulled down another time.

Again, I thank you for visiting and commenting. It is through George's fans that his music lives. He was an amazing man. (And I might add, I had other things planned for tonight - a new blogpost I'm working on. But I got sidetracked watching and listening to George Harrison videos on YouTube. For me, it's a wonderful way to spend time. And it sure beats working!)


Anonymous said...

Randall here

I saw Sam Brown at the Concert for George, in London and Royal Albert Hall

While the concert was the best I've seen in my lifetime [ Billly Preston, Ravi Shankar, Eric Clapton -- who was magnificent on While My Guitar Gently weeps, Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, on and on ] Ms Brown really brought the house down

She was electric

I've been love with her ever since

Glad to see someone else who gives credit for her amazing performance and George's lost, last great song

Music is immortal

Bob Barbanes: said...

Agreed, Randall. Thanks for posting!

Fabrice Zaphiratos said...

Oct. 2015. In France. I watched on youtube the Concert for Georges. A lot of joy, emotion, goose bumps and tears... And Sam Brown appears on stage ... what a great great voice and performer ! i love it ! Bought the cd on Itunes and listen to it everyday.
Thanks for your wonderful post.. And yes, me too, I am going to learn guitar at 58 !..
Keep on updating your blog. You are doing a great job

Bob Barbanes: said...

Hey Fabrice, thank you for your comment! It is amazing (and more than a little surprising) to see how much of an impact George Harrison made on my life. He was a wonderful person.

My guitar playing is progressing...maybe not as fast as I'd like, but I *do* see progress. So good luck with your playing! Keep practicing, and have fun!