HITS Daily Double


Bud Scoppa Recalls His Day With George

The A&M Records lot was abuzz one day in early 1974 as word spread that a bona fide member of rock's royalty was scheduled to arrive at Herb & Jerry's Camelot on N. La Brea. As it turned out, George Harrison didn't show up with the expected fanfare; in fact, we wouldn't have known he was among us if the A&M campus hadn't been so open. We peeked out of our office windows as Jerry Moss greeted George and escorted the ex-Beatle to his office near the front gate. Later, a rumor circulated that Johnny the Guard, the celebrity-challenged keeper of the gate, had refused entry to Harrison on the grounds that his name wasn't on Johnny's list. Rather than kicking up a fuss, the rumor went, George meekly walked to the Safeway next door and used a pay phone to call Moss' office to secure a pass. I don't know if it really happened that way, but I want to believe it, because that was the kind of guy George seemed to be.

In the end, A&M's joint venture with Harrison's Dark Horse imprint failed to produce any smashes or cult classics, but it paid off big-time for me that first summer, in the form of a round-trip ticket to London (it would be my first time overseas) and reservations at cushy Blake's Hotel. As A&M's in-house editorial staffer, I was charged with writing the bios on Dark Horse's artists, and on my arrival in London, I sat down first with the gracious and articulate Ravi Shankar, then with the two Newcastle natives who made up the duo Splinter (writing that bio turned out to be a challenge, because I couldn't understand a word that came out of their mouths). As long as I was in the neighborhood, I also hooked up with the members of Supertramp, a promising art-rock band signed to A&M's U.K. label.

The climax of the trip was a visit to Friar Park, George's sprawling Victorian estate in nearby Henley-on-Thames. As my colleague Andy Meyer (then A&M's VP of publicity) and I climbed into the Jaguar sedan that would take us there, our spirits were further buoyed by the news that Richard Nixon had resigned the US Presidency. But that wasn't the only surprise we experienced. When we were ushered through the gate of Harrison's estate, what we encountered amid the splendor was a lonely guy.

George, looking rock-star regal with moustache and floppy center-parted bangs, greeted us as he sat atop the long table that dominated Friar Park's baronial dining room. We'd never met, but the 31-year-old superstar actually seemed happy to see us. At that point, George was in his fourth year of post-Beatledom, and he seemed to have everything going for him: wealth, a successful career as a solo artist, his own label and the respect of his peers. But no amount of fame and fortune would be sufficient to overcome what George had recently experienced—his wife Patti had left him for his good friend Eric Clapton.

Andy and I were taken to a pub on the river for lunch, while George retired to his home studio to fiddle with some rough tracks from a solo project (probably Extra Texture, but I could be mistaken) that he'd planned to play us later that afternoon. When we returned, the tapes rolled, and George seemed eager, if not desperate, for our reactions, seemingly no more convinced of his music's validity than any mere punter with some tunes and a guitar. It felt strange, to say the least, to be buttonholed by a Beatle for feedback, and though what I was hearing seemed less than Godhead, there was no way George was going to get a candid reaction from me in this surreal situation. Just as surprising as Harrison's artistic insecurity was his willingness to talk about the debris of his love life. He loved them both, he said, and wished them every happiness together. These expressions struck me as far too gracious to be credible, but his voice and demeanor seemed absolutely earnest—George always came across as earnest, even if his much-publicized spiritual quest seemed at odds with the beer and cigarettes he favored in the studio.

The strangest part of the experience came at dusk, as we prepared to return to London for a previously scheduled dinner. "Why do you have to go?" George asked. "C'mon, stick around awhile longer." Ignoring our explanations that we really had to leave, our new pal all but blocked the doorway to keep us there for a couple more hours. As we were whisked back to London that evening, I remember thinking how lost he seemed in that gigantic estate, how shockingly alone.

Not long afterward, however, George made a return visit to the A&M lot, where he met a dark, quiet beauty named Olivia Arias, who worked as an assistant in the marketing department. The next thing we knew, Olivia had run off with her very own Beatle to begin their lives together.

Back in Los Angeles last Thursday, Olivia and their son Dhani were at George's side when he died. I'd like to believe now what I hoped for the couple 27 all too short years ago—that they will indeed live happily ever after.