Dhani Harrison: The Rock & Roll Globe Interview
The Quiet One’s only son talks about working with his father’s catalogue, the process of putting the All Things Must Pass reissue together, and why vinyl still rules
Twenty years ago, Dhani Harrison appeared as a guest musician on the bonus tracks of the 30th anniversary reissue of his father George’s landmark solo opus All Things Must Pass.
Now he’s executive produced the 50th anniversary release of the album, which features a great new mix by Paul Hicks. It’s a project that’s been many years in the making, and which Dhani thinks is the best it could possibly be. “We’re not going to do this again with All Things Must Pass,” he says. “This is it, for this one.”
And no wonder, for the expanded editions feature a bounty of previously unreleased material and other extras. The Super Deluxe Edition adds two discs of pre-session demos, and a disc of outtakes and jams. And if you’re feeling flush, you can indulge yourself with the Uber Deluxe Edition, featuring the music on vinyl, CD, and Blu-ray, a scrapbook exclusive to the set, a book on the making of the album, an oak bookmark made from a tree on George’s Friar Park estate, figurines of the gnomes featured on the album’s iconic cover, and a copy of Paramahansa Yogananda’s Light from the Great Ones, among other goodies, all packed in a 12.4” x 12.4” x 17.5” wooden crate (limited to 3000 copies, it sells for just under $1000).
It’s the latest in a series of impressive reissues of George’s material that Dhani has overseen since his father’s death in 2001. In this exclusive chat, he talks about working with his father’s catalogue, the process of putting the All Things Must Pass reissue together, and why vinyl still rules.
I know you’ve long been involved in reissues of your father’s stuff. When did that start?
Well, we were working on [George’s last album] Brainwashed before he passed away. The plan was to get everything in a good working order, and then take it out to Jeff Lynne and put it on ProTools out in L.A. And then we were going to work on it together. But unfortunately, he didn’t last that long. And when he passed away, it was kind of left to me.
I’d been making music with him my whole life, and I didn’t stop after that. After that year of finishing what we could with him on Brainwashed, I hunkered down in the studio with Jeff Lynne and we finished the record. And after the “Concert for George” [the 2002 tribute concert], I went and lived in L.A. and just carried on playing music.
At that point, my dad didn’t have a single record in the stores. His records were out of print. So I then spent the next eighteen years getting everything in a row, remastering everything with Paul Hicks, redesigning all the artwork myself. I even went to the printing press to make sure that the colors were getting done right. I built the websites, I did everything. With a team of people, obviously. I just couldn’t let a record company that hadn’t worked with my dad just take over everything and start making “best of” records. So I kept a really tight grip on everything.
Even to this day, like with this box set, and the set’s book, the Uber box, all of the paraphernalia, everything in there I worked on with my own hands. I do it because I’ve had a background in design. I was trained as a designer and I did my degree in design. But really, I do it because I’ve had this macro kind of view of my dad’s catalogue. I don’t think anyone had a macro view of it like that. It was nice to get to come in and do the artwork and make it all consistent. So it’s been a lot of work.
So every record got remastered. We’d done All Things Must Pass, I’d done it with my dad in 2001. But that was just from the original master, remastered. This time we went back and we did everything.
Paul Hicks gets the credit for remixing, but it sounds like you kind of work on it together?
Well, Paul’s an incredible mixer. We’ve worked on every single record I’ve ever done, and I’ve known him since I was a kid; we’re childhood friends. So we’re very close. And he deferred to me as the artist on this, the same as when I did Brainwashed with Jeff. Most of the time, Paul knows what my dad wanted because they were very close. They were really good friends. But occasionally Paul would come to me and say, “Look, come and sit and listen,” and we’d go through it together, just like when we’re composing. But he’s doing all the mixing. Occasionally I’ll make a suggestion with something and he’ll do it. I’m like the referee. If I say “play on,” then play on.
And we really pushed, went a bit further with the remix than we were going to because we’ve had a few successes. Paul had remixed and remastered Gimme Some Truth [the John Lennon box set], and then we did the Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup, and people were really liking where he was going with it. So he had confidence that the style of ultra-remastering that he was doing was actually getting appreciated.
I like that you presented the first two days of demos in their entirety. Some sets would probably have just taken one or two songs from each day or something, but I felt it really helped put the whole album in context.
Yeah. We wanted to include a full version of the album in each configuration, you know? And then the final disc was what we cherry-picked to be fun and what we thought people couldn’t miss. There was stuff that sounded like a good party; you can hear them all whooping and hollering and playing loud and having a good old laugh, Billy Preston and dad and Eric [Clapton]. So we thought we’d call it “the party disc.” It’s like there’s something everyone was pleased with, everyone gets what they want on this one. So that’s why it had to take so long, you know?
And you think the best way to appreciate that is on vinyl?
I think so, yeah. I think if you’ve got a good vinyl player and some nice speakers then that’s definitely the way. I know you can kind of absorb it all streaming or on CD. But I think if you’re really going to try and hear what we’ve done with the sonic clarity of the record, I think vinyl is a really good way of listening to it.
We can’t make enough vinyl. I mean, vinyl is just going through the roof and I’m really happy to see that, because I run Dark Horse Records obviously, and we’ve just done all these Joe Strummer releases and seeing how well vinyl is doing again is just really great. I think a lot of people got their record players out during lockdown and are really getting back into that. Because they’ve had some time on their hands and they’re not rushing around trying to listen to stuff on their phones, you know?
Can you talk a bit about the Uber box and how you decided to put all that together?
The Uber box? At the beginning, I said, all right, design brief, going to do a big box set for All Things Must Pass, what is that? What is that going to be? Is it going to be a time capsule? And I was just going around Friar Park, looking at some of the stuff that was here from the last 50 years, and found old Victorian ale crates and things with rope handles and old things that have been around since Victorian times that are still handy today. And I’m like, right, instead of some big cardboard thing that someone chucks away, let’s make a big wooden record box that people can keep their records in.
And then, you know, what was such a big part, I was working with some of the guys from Pinewood Studios when they were doing Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. I was visiting there a lot. And I ended up meeting the people who did all of the product design for the toys and everything. And I brought them out to Friar Park. The gnomes were the first thing we did; I said, wouldn’t it be great if we could bring these gnomes back to life? Fifty years later, they’re so iconic, you know?
And I was thinking of something that marks the passing of time, and shows that we’re still here, and that his house is still here, and that his music is still here, and all of the things that have come and gone. And try and make it, instead of it being a book that says “And then we did this and then we did that,” let’s make a scrapbook, a photo book, as if you’d taken the last fifty years worth of leaves and put them inside a photograph book, and just left them in a time capsule, and you’d come along and found it. And I worked really hard with the printers on all the textures, I’m really into touching the page and feeling where it’s smooth, or where the page is rough, or you can feel the ink raised up, and gloss varnishes, matte varnishes. Trying to make something that’s really tactile, and spiritual, and evokes a sense of self-reflection and marks the passing of time. And when you feel it in your hands, it’s like, wow, this is definitely worth the price of the box set. I think we really overdelivered on that one.
VIDEO: Dhani Harrison and Friends perform “Let It Down” on Conan
Well, after you have a well-deserved break, what’s next as far as the Harrison catalog?
I’m going to take a little break from Dad’s stuff. I’ve got to do a movie and I’ve got to finish my own album. And then maybe, hopefully, music will come back and we can have touring again. I was supposed to be on tour with ELO last year. But there’s whispers of restoring the Concert for Bangladesh film and seeing if that can’t get an amazing restoration. And then, we have anniversaries every year. I mean, this year is the 20th anniversary of Brainwashed, next year is the 40th anniversary of Gone Troppo, then the 50th anniversary of Living In the Material World, 50th anniversary of Bangladesh — I’m sure Cloud Nine will be in there somewhere! I mean, it’s never ending. But I think in terms of the biggest releases that we’re going to be doing, All Things Must Pass is going to be the biggest for a while. All Things Must Pass deserved, definitely, a remix.
What about other outtakes? Is there a huge vault of that?
Well, we did Early Takes: Volume One. And I’d love at some point to do an Early Takes: Volume Two. We may release a couple companion things for All Things Must Pass. There’s many takes that won’t ever see release because they’re too similar to the take that’s on the record. But there’s stuff that’s on different formats that wouldn’t have been comparable to put on this vinyl set, that might come out as a companion bootleg or the songs from the 2001 remaster that I played on; those didn’t go in because we wanted to go back to the original purist box set. That will maybe make a Record Store Day vinyl or there’ll be other things. But we’re in no rush to do that. We’ll see where it goes. The one thing we said we’d never do was scrape the barrel, but we’re nowhere near that yet. I’m never going to scrape the barrel and try and make something out of nothing.
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