Beatles introduced to Ravi Shankar's music at LSD party, Byrds singer reveals
The Beatles were introduced to Ravi Shankar's sitar music by Roger McGuinn at an LSD-fuelled Los Angeles party at Zsa Zsa Gabor's mansion, the founder of the The Byrds has said.
By Dean Nelson in New Delhi
Wednesday, April 19, 2010
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/musi ... veals.html
George Harrison listens as Ravi Shanker plays the sitar Photo: CORBIS
The collaboration between the Indian composer and the British pop band went inspired psychedelia, the 1960s movement that blended mind-altering drugs with experimental beat music that was one of the dominant cultural influences of the decade.
It took The Beatles to India to meet the Maharishi, inspired George Harrison to take sitar lessons from Pandit Ravi Shankar, and had a deep influence on albums including Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sitar sounds later featured on The Rolling Stones hit Paint it Black and Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours".
But according to McGuinn, founder of the American rock band that had hits with "Mr Tambourine Man" and "Turn! Turn! Turn!", has now spoken for the first time about the moment he introduced Ravi Shankar's music to The Beatles.
According to McGuinn, the birth of the counterculture movement began when the Beatles sent a limousine to collect him and fellow Byrds founder David Crosby to hang out with them at Zsa-Zsa Gabor's Bel Air mansion, which they were renting during their 1965 tour of the United States.
"There were girls at the gates, police guards. We went in and David, John Lennon, George Harrison and I took LSD to help get to know each other better. There was a large bathroom in the house and we were all sitting on the edge of a shower passing around a guitar, taking turns to play our favourite songs. John and I agreed Be-Bop-A-Lula was our favourite 50s rock record.
"I showed George Harrison some Ravi Shankar sounds, which I'd heard because we shared the same record company, on the guitar. I told him about Ravi Shankar and he said he had never heard Indian music before," McGuinn told the Daily Telegraph from his home in Florida.
"You can hear what I played him from the Byrds' song 'Why'. I had learned to play it on the guitar from listening to records of Ravi Shankar," he added.
Harrison became the first Western pop musician to play a sitar on the song Norwegian Wood, and visited Shankar in Kashmir the following year to take sitar lessons.
After discussing Indian music, McGuinn said the conversation turned to religion, and he asked Harrison "what he thought about God". Harrison, who later became a disciple of the Maharishi and an advocate of Transcendental Meditation and "yogic flying", replied: "We don't know about that."
"Then they didn't know whether there was a God or not or about anything going on in the spiritual world, they were oblivious to it," he said.
When he next met George Harrison on a plane some time later, the Beatle was so focused on Indian religion that he was "transcending" in his seat, McGuinn said.
"We talked about Transcendental Meditation and he looked like he was somewhere else. I asked him 'what's going on?' and he said he was 'transcending'," he said.
"We planted the seeds [of psychedelia]. We loved Indian music and did some things in that vein, but not as much as The Beatles. Later they went out there [to India], got some sitars, met Ravi Shankar and learned to play them, and got into the whole Eastern Thing. We didn't really realise it but it had an impact. We loved the Beatles and they loved The Byrds, and we were sharing influences," he added.
At the time, he said, LSD and Indian music were a natural fit at a time when many were trying to "discover the truth about spiritual things".
McGuinn's memories of introducing the Beatles to Indian influences were stirred when he read a Daily Telegraph article in which Ravi Shankar, who is proud of his role as a classical Hindustani musician, voiced his anger at the Beatles for turning him into a "pop star" and surrounding him with drugged-out hippies.