As Olivia Harrison remembers, her future husband, George, drove himself to work on the primary day on his new job. It was October 1974, and George Harrison had flown to Los Angeles to go to the workplaces of the file label he’d simply launched. The one downside was that nobody had organized a welcoming get together for him, however Olivia — then Olivia Arias, newly employed to work on the challenge — dashed out to the car parking zone to greet him. “I believed anyone ought to,” she says. “He drove onto the lot by himself on this little automobile, and I believed, ‘Jeez, it is a massive day in his life,’ and I went outdoors and mentioned, ‘Welcome!’ He mentioned, ‘What’s happening?’ He was very excited, however it was simply me.”
In some ways, the story befits Harrison: Amongst his fellow Beatles, he was all the time probably the most low-key and publicity averse — the so-called quiet Beatle who additionally had a sly humorousness. However his life after the band’s breakup was removed from quiet; the early-to-mid-Seventies have been a few of the most inventive and bustling years of his profession. He went solo as quickly because the group disbanded in 1970, organized the all-star Live performance for Bangladesh at Madison Sq. Backyard, and had hit singles of his personal. Then, in 1974, he determined to begin his personal label, Darkish Horse Information.
The checklist of up to date musicians with their very own imprints is huge and consists of Drake, the Weeknd, Dan Auerbach, Meek Mill, Jack White, and Kanye West. Darkish Horse wasn’t merely one of many earliest artist-headed labels — together with labels began by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airplane — however probably the most eclectic. Through the firm’s first few years, Harrison launched data in genres few would have ever related to the Beatles: suave disco, strummy people rock, funky R&B, Seventies boogie rock, even proto-yacht rock. “There was a while and distance between no matter they went by means of with the breakup of the Beatles,” says Olivia, who met Harrison throughout this time. “You bought to the top of that [period] and Apple had cut up up, and he mentioned, ‘I wish to do one thing totally different.’ It was a brand new day and a recent begin.”
Many present rock and hip-hop artist-entrepreneurs have decided easy methods to personal, run, and distribute their very own labels, however within the early years of such undertakings, everybody — particularly the musicians who fronted the businesses — was studying as they went alongside. Darkish Horse started with one of the best intentions and was a testomony to Harrison’s wide-ranging tastes. However his expertise operating an organization, and touring to advertise himself throughout that point, would reverberate for the remainder of his profession, in methods each constructive and fewer so. With the label now revived by his son Dhani — who has reactivated Darkish Horse’s well-known emblem and is digging into its long-unavailable again catalog, with loads of unreleased materials as a consequence of be issued within the coming years — it’s value trying again on an often-forgotten chapter within the lifetime of a Beatle, the free-wheeling music enterprise period that led to Darkish Horse, and the teachings discovered when an artist takes the enterprise plunge.
In 1973, drummer Jim Keltner, who remained a detailed buddy of Harrison proper up till his demise in 2001 from lung most cancers, paid a go to to Friar Park, Harrison’s non-public property outdoors London. The 2 have been hanging out within the downstairs breakfast room that was the social hub of the home. “We have been sitting there one night and George requested me, ‘What does darkish horse imply to you?’” Keltner says. “My dad labored at a racetrack all his life. So to me, darkish horse is the one not anticipated to win however who wins.”
For Olivia, the connection was clear. “George all the time thought-about himself to be a darkish horse — underneath the radar,” she says. “It’s attention-grabbing contemplating he was so on the market [in the public]. However he was very internalized. If you happen to checked out him onstage, he didn’t bodily soar round and categorical himself like that. In that dark-horse method, folks wouldn’t count on you to be a songwriter or be religious or humorous, since you’re a darkish horse. No one actually is aware of what’s happening with you.”
Harrison instructed Keltner he was beginning his personal file firm and even confirmed him an illustration of the Uchchaihshravas, a seven-headed horse frequent in Hindu mythology, which might function the corporate’s emblem. “He was simply the king of all horses, the prototype for all horses, one of the best horse ever,” says Dhani of the image. “He turned the tide within the battle and simply usually was seen as this highly effective car for cover and overcoming.”
By 1974, the thought of providing a refuge to a few of his fellow artists appealed to Harrison, who’d been battered by the Beatles’ messy enterprise breakup, and he had the extra clout to make it occur. His 1970 triple album, All Issues Should Cross, was each a best-seller and a declaration to the world that he might make data equal to these of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. The Live performance for Bangladesh the next 12 months discovered Harrison sharing the stage with Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and others to profit the ravaged nation, and he continued his industrial streak together with his 1973 album, Dwelling within the Materials World, and its corresponding hit, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth).”
Harrison was nonetheless underneath contract to EMI, the Beatles’ label, till early 1976, however the thought of operating his personal firm and selling his buddies’ work appealed to him. “If George favored you, he wished that will help you,” says Keltner. “He would put it as, ‘These individuals are the individuals who actually need to be signed to a label.’” In response to reviews, Harrison consulted with David Geffen, then operating Asylum Information, and he and Ringo Starr have been mentioned to be contemplating shopping for Apple. As a substitute Harrison opted to begin Darkish Horse, and within the spring of 1974, he entered right into a five-year partnership settlement with A&M Information, then the house of the Carpenters, Peter Frampton, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and lots of extra. A&M invested greater than $2 million into the challenge; for its funding, A&M additionally would finally land the rights to Harrison’s solo albums.
At a press convention a number of months later, Harrison defined his strategy: “I don’t need Darkish Horse to be a giant label. I wish to hold it fairly small.… If I signed all of the artists who’ve given me audition tapes, Darkish Horse can be larger than RCA now.” (Requested in regards to the Beatles reunion on the similar occasion, he mentioned, “If we do it once more, it can in all probability be as a result of we’ll be broke and wish the cash,” including that McCartney “is a superb bass participant, though he could also be just a little overpowering at occasions,” and saying he most popular session man Willie Weeks.)
As an artist himself, Harrison was blissful to delegate: Within the U.Ok., the label was run by Jonathan Clyde, with Dennis Morgan (who was beforehand concerned with Elton John’s Rocket label) managing the corporate’s L.A. workplace. Olivia Harrison had been working as an assistant in A&M’s merchandising division for 2 years when she was provided the job at Darkish Horse, which had its personal workplaces on the A&M lot — sharing area with Ode Information, whose main act was Carole King. “George was very excited, and he cherished having that workplace to go to,” she says. “He cherished being surrounded by musicians. He designed all the pieces, even the merch. He had lovely bronze Darkish Horse belt buckles and pins. There have been darkish horses in every single place.”
“Jerry Moss [A&M co-founder] put my mother on the Darkish Horse challenge as a result of she was the one individual cool sufficient there,” provides Dhani. “She was a meditator, they usually figured she would get on with my dad actual nicely, which evidently she did.” (The 2 have been married in 1978, the 12 months Dhani was born: “I used to be one in all their early releases,” he says drolly.)
As if declaring its vary proper out of the field, Darkish Horse’s first two releases — albums by Splinter and Ravi Shankar, each in October 1974 — have been at reverse ends of the musical spectrum. Shankar Household & Buddies was an East-meets-West collaboration between Shankar’s band, Harrison, and musician buddies like Keltner, Starr, guitarist David Bromberg, jazz sax and flute participant Tom Scott, and others.
George was tipped to the British folk-rock duo Splinter (Invoice Elliott and Bobby Purvis) by Mal Evans, the Beatles’ late confidante and private assistant. To Olivia, the enchantment of their music — the light hooks of their debut album, The Place I Love, and rollicking singalongs like “Drink All Day” — was apparent. “Badfinger had been on Apple, and Splinter was not too dissimilar,” she says. “You may see them following Badfinger.” Harrison produced the album and performed numerous devices on it; reflecting his sly humorousness, he referred to himself within the credit as Hari Georgeson, Jai Raj Harisein, and P. Roducer.
Nonetheless, Darkish Horse was hardly a haven for purist music. Harrison additionally issued Thoughts Your Personal Enterprise!, a style of interval FM rock by former Wings and Joe Cocker guitarist Henry McCullough. Certainly one of Harrison’s label heads signed the Stairsteps, the up to date lineup of the 5 Stairsteps, the Chicago R&B group whose largest hit was the fantastic soul hymnal “O-o-h Baby.” Their album 2nd Resurrection was the unlikeliest of Darkish Horse releases — silk-sheeted Seventies soul with ebullient harmonies, squiggly Billy Preston synths, and as many flute solos as a Lizzo present. “George listened to all the pieces,” says Olivia, “however as an artist, he let the artists have last approval.”
One other Darkish Horse signing resulted from the weekly jam periods on the Report Plant studio in L.A. Referred to as the Jim Keltner Fan Membership Hour, after a mischievous liner notice in Dwelling within the Materials World, the jams attracted everybody from Mick Jagger and John Lennon to assist gamers like James Taylor–Carole King guitarist Danny Kortchmar, soul-rooted bassist Paul Stallworth, and a younger, R&B-steeped Canadian keyboardist and singer named David Foster, who went on to supply pop acts from Chicago to Josh Groban and was featured in a public TV particular final 12 months together with his present spouse Katherine McPhee. “Foster was a hungry piano participant,” Keltner remembers. “He was so funky, man, nothing just like the man you see now on PBS.”
On account of these jams, Kortchmar, Foster, Stallworth, and Keltner wound up forming a band, Attitudes, that performed radio-ready grooves mixing Foster’s pop tendencies and Kortchmar’s roots in R&B. Though the music didn’t appear up Harrison’s musical alley, he nonetheless signed the group to Darkish Horse — a favor to his shut pal Keltner, as Kortchmar remembers — and launched two albums by them. The primary consists of the scrappy authentic model of Kortchmar’s “Honey Don’t Depart L.A.,” later lined by James Taylor. (Kortchmar says it was “loosely primarily based on a relationship with a lady who I actually dug however who cut up with anyone vastly extra well-known than me.”)
On reflection, the Attitudes data (particularly tracks like “Ain’t Love Sufficient” and “Drink My Water”) appear to presage the soft-rock invasion of the late Seventies, although Kortchmar begs off such comparisons. “I don’t assume you possibly can evaluate what we have been doing to Christopher Cross or Kenny Loggins,” says Kortchmar. “And that’s to not disparage these folks in any respect. However what we have been doing was method rawer and funkier than what you’d play in your yacht.”
On high of launching his personal label, Harrison piled much more work onto his plate by enterprise his first (and solely) American tour. By 1974, not one of the Beatles had toured America on their very own, so Harrison’s concert events — greater than 30 exhibits, spanning all of November and December — have been among the many most anticipated occasions of the 12 months. Even at a time that discovered Dylan again on the highway and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Younger reuniting, an endeavor like this by a solo Beatle was an occasion.
Every little thing gave the impression to be so as: Promoter Invoice Graham was dealing with the tour, which was booked into arenas, and Harrison’s band featured a formidable lineup that included Preston, Scott, and, at occasions, Keltner. Predating the way in which Dylan would rearrange his materials and, with the Rolling Thunder Revue, put the highlight on different musicians onstage, Harrison reconfigured his materials for a few of the jazz-rock gamers behind him and usually allowed Preston and Scott to showcase their very own songs. Every live performance additionally included a prolonged midsection set by Shankar and his musicians.
However in speeding to finish an album (Darkish Horse) in time for the exhibits, Harrison strained his voice, which proved to be solely one in all a number of potholes. Throughout the nation, Beatles followers have been thrilled by the sight of Harrison onstage, however some have been confounded by his hoarse singing and variations of “Whereas My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the Lennon-McCartney “In My Life” with tweaked lyrics (“I like God extra,” within the latter case). “George wished folks to hearken to the Indian music,” says Olivia. “He thought he was doing a service. He used to say, ‘If folks wish to come to listen to Beatle George, then they shouldn’t come.’”
Keltner has fond reminiscences of touring on non-public planes with Shankar’s band and crew, and in resort rooms, Harrison would play Dylan albums and sing together with each phrase. However everybody concerned was indulging in typical Seventies rock extra. “We have been having an excessive amount of dangerous enjoyable,” Keltner admits. “It was a giant, enjoyable get together. So George was not in one of the best form to do a giant tour. I believe that’s why he by no means toured after that.”
Olivia additionally confirms it was a tough time for her future husband. “He had such a uncooked throat when he left on tour,” Olivia says. “He wasn’t used to being a frontman. He was a bit unhinged on the time, and he had the duty for 25 or 26 musicians. He had a brand new supervisor, and had he recognized George, he wouldn’t have allowed George to push himself like that. George didn’t have the nerve to cancel, however he ought to have.”
The trials of the highway would show to be just one hurdle. Maybe reflecting his jammed workload, the Darkish Horse album (launched by Capitol/EMI, not Darkish Horse, for contractual causes) felt drained and wasn’t greeted as warmly as his earlier data. Despite their high quality, the identical went for the preliminary slate of Darkish Horse releases. Kortchmar says he had “excessive hopes” for Attitudes — “I believed perhaps it will catch on and folks would begin digging it” — however few of the Darkish Horse releases made the charts. Olivia says gross sales weren’t a problem for George: “You probably did the music and put it out and tried to put it on the market. They are saying, ‘Do it and drop it within the nicely.’ That’s the rationale George did something, for the pleasure and the necessity to create.”
However the relationship between the label and its monetary backer soured. “George began hitting the highway, after which it was this man making the file and this man making choices, and this man operating up an enormous tab that we have been paying for, and the data weren’t superb,” A&M’s Moss recalled in 2007. “And it received to the purpose the place I couldn’t root for this challenge any extra, regardless that George had charmed an awesome many individuals on our lot to do additional work for that label, and we created the entire picture for him.”
When Harrison delivered his subsequent album — what can be Thirty-Three & 1/3 — to Warner Bros. as an alternative of A&M, A&M sued him for $10 million. Harrison had developed what Clyde calls “a detailed private friendship” with Warners head Mo Ostin and felt that firm can be extra amenable. Harrison in the end needed to fork over $four million to A&M earlier than he totally moved Darkish Horse to Warner Bros., the place it remained for a few years. “Administration and A&M weren’t pleased with the deal,” Olivia says. “It didn’t have a lot to do with George, however it had all the pieces to do with him as a result of he needed to signal all the pieces. I don’t know the ins and outs, however it was fairly acrimonious and it was very disappointing to George. Being an artist label, he by no means thought that will occur. It went unsuitable, and that was actually unhappy.”
With Warner Bros. now backing Darkish Horse, Harrison tried to revive the unique spirit of the label, releasing a solo album by Stairsteps co-founder Keni Burke and albums by Splinter and Attitudes. However in the course of the change from A&M to Warner Bros., a possible hit — Attitudes’ “Candy Summer season Music,” which recalled the breezy Latin-pop hits of Battle and had begun climbing the soul charts — didn’t get a correct promotional push and pale shortly. Quickly, the burden of being a label boss started to gnaw at Harrison, as he instructed Rolling Stone in 1979.
“I used to be so worn out, and it resulted in me saying, ‘Sod it, I don’t desire a file firm,’” he mentioned. “I don’t thoughts me being on the label as a result of, all proper, I can launch an album and it makes some revenue, and I don’t cellphone myself in the course of the night time to complain about various things. However artists are by no means glad. They spend perhaps $50,000 greater than I’d spend making an album, then they received’t do any interviews or go on the highway — no matter you’d manage for them, they’d foul it up. It was simply an excessive amount of bullshit. They assume a file firm is sort of a financial institution that they will go and draw cash out of every time they need.”
Harrison went on to say that there have been “some good issues that got here out of it,” citing Attitudes’ Good Information and the 2 Shankar albums he bankrolled. However his disenchantment with the expertise deepened, and Darkish Horse finally grew to become a house for Harrison’s solo albums, proper as much as his last launch, Brainwashed, launched shortly after his demise.
Talking of the label’s early days, Olivia says, “it was quite a lot of work. He’d performed it, and he wished to do different issues. Sure, in hindsight, it’s such as you’ve created a monster right here.”
As an outlet for Harrison’s intermittent solo albums, Darkish Horse continued proper up by means of his demise, however Dhani admits that the label has largely been “dormant outdoors its present vaults” since then. Earlier this 12 months, he and his supervisor David Zonshine introduced that the label was being revived, because of a brand new distribution cope with BMG. Darkish Horse’s re-entry started with a recent recording — a canopy of Tom Petty’s “For Actual — For Tom,” that includes Dhani, Jakob Dylan, and Willie Nelson, together with Nelson’s sons Micah and Lukas — however Dhani and his four-person workers will largely concentrate on materials in Darkish Horse’s vaults. Up to now, they’ve rolled out an Attitudes compilation and reissues of Shankar’s In Live performance 1972 and Shankar’s 1997, George-produced Chants of India, with extra again catalog to come back.
Darkish Horse will even reissue the work of simpatico artists who weren’t on the label, beginning with the post-Conflict albums by the late Joe Strummer and his band the Mescaleros. “It was simply a kind of issues the place it was such a pure match,” says Dhani. “Joe was half Indian from his father, and he spent a while in Mexico. My mom’s Mexican and clearly my father was household with Ravi and all of the Indian classical musicians. So it was the same parallel.” For now, although, the label doesn’t plan on signing new artists.
The corporate’s archival analysis has additionally turned up a trove of unissued George Harrison materials. “We have now folks digging by means of mountains of tapes, they usually hold coming,” says Dhani. “Packing containers and containers of them.” This 12 months marks the 50th anniversary of All Issues Should Cross, and Dhani and his archivists have unearthed hours of unreleased materials and unheard songs from these periods. “Numerous it has been bootlegged, however we’ve higher variations,” says Olivia. “We have now all of the 24-tracks of All Issues Should Cross, and we discovered a number of totally different takes and speaking within the studio.”
Subsequent 12 months will mark the 50th anniversary of the Live performance for Bangladesh, adopted in 2023 by the five-decade mark of Dwelling within the Materials World. Every of these tasks could possibly be accorded expanded editions, though the specifics aren’t labored out.
Dhani says he’s requested regularly about his father’s controversial 1974 tour greater than any of Harrison’s different undertakings. Dhani says he’s listened again to tapes of all of the exhibits and agrees that his father wasn’t in one of the best of voice, however nonetheless feels the exhibits revealed one other facet of George’s music. “His voice is fairly drained, however in my view, it sounds nice,” he says. “It’s raspy, and it has grit to it. You possibly can hear the fragility in all of the songs. It’s a special tackle quite a lot of his music.” Olivia says a number of of the exhibits have been additionally filmed, onstage and offstage, and the fabric has the makings of a documentary. “I believe it will make an awesome tour film,” she says. “The backstage footage is superb and hysterical. Issues went on backstage that don’t occur now. Now all the pieces is so lower and dried, the other of spontaneous.”
Though it’s largely forgotten now, Darkish Horse paved the way in which for different artist corporations, a legacy Dhani is searching for to guard and proceed. “It’s the household enterprise, as they are saying,” he says. “It’s humorous — in the event you’re a plumber and wish to be within the household plumbing enterprise, nobody would assume something about that. That may be regular. However in our household, the household enterprise is music, so I’m simply doing what mum and pop did. Nobody is making us do it. We have to do it.”