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Illinois Remembers Harrison

Beatle made U.S. stage debut forty years ago

In September of 1963, the Beatles — needing a break from European
tours and screaming girls — agreed to take a few weeks off to
recuperate. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr fled to Greece, John
Lennon hid in Paris, and George Harrison visited his sister Louise
in Southern Illinois, where he would make the first-ever stateside
performance by a Beatle.

“Gabe McCarty, a young fellow who used to pick up my
dry-cleaning, was in a band called the Four Vests,” recalls Louise
Harrison. “He heard me playing ‘Please, Please Me,’ the first
Beatles record, and he said, ‘Oh, that’s a different kind of music.
What is that?’ When George came to visit, Gabe took him around a
bit.”

The two musicians formed a friendship, and George went to see
the Four Vests play at the local VFW hall. About halfway through
the show, the Vests’ lead guitarist asked George’s brother Peter if
the Beatle would be interested in joining the band for a few songs.
“Peter said, ‘No, he’s trying to get away from all that — but if
you tried to stick a guitar in his hand he probably wouldn’t be
able to resist,'” Louise remembers. “So the guitarist said he had
to run to the bathroom, and asked George to take over for a
minute.”

The musicians had a quick conference to discuss which songs to
play, and since they didn’t know any Beatles’ numbers, they settled
on “Green Onions,” “Teddy Bear” and “Everybody’s Trying to Be My
Baby.”

“The minute George got up and started to play, it was as though
a bolt of electricity had gone through the room,” recalls Louise.
“The whole room was transformed. People were stomping their feet,
banging their fists on the table, whistling, and when he stopped a
song they would applaud like crazy. After he finished, this old
veteran comes over with his walker and puts his arm around George
and he says, ‘Y’know son, with the right kind of backing you could
really go places.'”

To commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the performance, and
to give something back to the community, Louise Harrison is
organizing a benefit concert for September 28th in Benton,
Illinois. She’s signed up “George” and “John” from American
English, one of the country’s top Beatles tribute bands, and she’s
even getting the Four Vests back together. “We’ll have ‘George’
from American English sing all those songs that George had sung
with the Four Vests,” she says. “We’re trying to recreate that
performance a little bit.”

Charging $25 a ticket, Harrison hopes to raise enough to provide
the town’s Civic Center, where the concert will be held, with a new
sound and lighting system. “The town is very financially
depressed,” she says. “It would be a really fitting legacy of
George’s if we can provide a good system so the town can bring in
entertainment, and then maybe the kids in the high school, if they
want to do plays, or practice their bands, have somewhere nice to
do it.”

Meanwhile, the state of Illinois has plans to erect a plaque to
commemorate the historic performance. “I thought that was nice,”
Louise says, “because he brought nothing but good to the
world.”

In This Article: George Harrison

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