For all his longstanding reputation as “the quiet Beatle,” George Harrison sure knew how to get loud. Between the massive Phil Spector-helmed production on albums like All Things Must Pass and Harrison’s spiritual and charitable predispositions, he made his voice heard all the way until his death from cancer in 2001.
Among those he impacted is a small army of local musicians who have organized “Give Me Love,” a Harrison tribute concert at the
Homeward Bound, and the shows, fittingly, will take place the weekend of the 42nd anniversary of the Concert for Bangladesh, Harrison’s own star-studded charity event.
And although Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan won’t be making a surprise arrival, “Give Me Love” has attracted a cadre of talented local musicians who were all eager to pay tribute to Harrison. Local musician Robert “Zu Zu” Welsh developed the idea after hearing about a similar benefit his friend put together in Raleigh. Between his connections in the music scene and those of famed NPR theme composer B.J. Liederman, who signed on as music director, the roster filled up quickly.
“It kind of just all fell together,” Welsh says. “A bunch of us got together at B.J.’s house two or three months ago, and we ran through all the songs we thought would work, and it sounded great. And then we started back rehearsing about three or four weeks ago, and every time we turned around, somebody else wanted to play.”
Welsh originally wanted to put on the concert in February, on the anniversary of Harrison’s birthday. But once Liederman joined the project in January, it quickly became apparent that more time was necessary for the scope of the project.
“When I first came up with the idea,” Welsh says, “I thought, ‘We’ll just pick a night at the White Horse and publicize it and have people show up and play songs and donate money.’ It’s so much bigger than that. My vision was too small.”
Luckily, Liederman, who moved to Black Mountain about a year ago, had plenty of experience with organizing large-scale shows, even though the perfectionist in him would likely ask for much more time to bring “Give Me Love” together.
“We started late. I started too late,” Liederman says. “We had it agreed upon at the beginning that I was music director because I had done another multi-performer show at the White Horse last December that was wildly well-received. If you’ve seen a B.J. Liederman show, you know that it’s a well-done show, so musicians want to get on board.”
B.J. Liederman (photo by Mark Edward Atkinson).
Liederman was, unsurprisingly, an apt choice for music director. He grew up jamming on Beatles songs by ear, and his work with NPR has bestowed him with a diverse musical background. But in picking through Harrison’s massive body of work to form a setlist, Liederman had to think less like a musician and more like an audience member.
“I started the opposite of broadly. I thought like a customer who’s buying a ticket who’s a run-of-the-mill Beatles or George fan. So I had to start with the songs they would absolutely demand they would play and then work outward from there to the more fringe-y stuff,” Liederman says. “And, of course, every musician that’s in the band has their favorite song, some of which are in that core, but some of which are way out on the fringe, like ‘Dark Horse.’ That’s a great song, but it’s not necessarily one that, if we left it out, there would be a riot about. If we left out ‘Here Comes the Sun’ or ‘My Sweet Lord,’ I’d better pack my bags.”
The songs that did make the cut will be given massive arrangements. Vocalists like Peggy Ratusz, Paula Hanke, and Crystal Bray are lending their talents on one or both nights to replicate the intricate harmonies in much of Harrison’s work. And in addition to Liederman and Welsh, musicians like James VanDenBergh, Jeff Thompson and David LaMotte (among many, many others) are chipping in to make the songs sound enormous.
“We’ve got so many people that it’s kind of a luxury,” Welsh says. “We could have three or four guys sit out a song, or we could have five guys playing acoustic guitars, because some of George’s stuff — you’ve listened to All Things Must Pass, it’s got like 700 guitar tracks on it. We can do that live. We’ve got five or six guitarists here.”
The musicians have been practicing since the end of June, and although it has been a small time-frame to work with such involved arrangements, Liederman knows the band has the talent and the energy to bring the songs home.
“I always like to push them very hard — brutally,” Liederman says. “But I know that at one point, I just have to give up the ghost and go. Whether or not it sounds perfect before the show, I’m relaxed at the show. Because the bottom line and litmus test is if the audience sees that you’re having a good time up there, then they have a good time.”
If “Give Me Love” is well-received, Welsh hopes to continue the tradition both to benefit local charities and to keep paying tribute to the influential artist he and many other local musicians love.
“I want to do this every year, and if this many people are interested in doing it, then next year this many people are going to be interested in doing it again. We may end up doing it an extra night, or maybe we’ll do it in a couple different venues. Maybe it’ll be too big,” Welsh says. “It’s great because everybody in Asheville suddenly wants to be a part of this. It just reinforces what I already knew, which is that Asheville is a community that helps other people.”
“Give Me Love” will be performed at the White Horse Black Mountain at 8 p.m. on Aug. 2 and 3. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information, including lineup specifics, call 669-0816 or go to