Dark Horse Records: The Story of George Harrison’s Post-Beatles Record Label
Author: Aaron Badgley
Sonic Bond Publishing
Publication date: January 26, 2024
$24.95 Available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and select bookstores
204 pages plus 16 pages of colour photos
Written by respected broadcaster and Beatles expert, Aaron Badgley, this is the first book to discuss Harrison’s label in such detail. This book is like reading the intimate diary of George Harrison’s life in music, his recording label, his collaborations and lifelong friendships with other trailblazing artists whose music is still played and appreciated today. In fact, Harrison played with, produced and wrote for a virtual who’s-who of the rock and pop world and helped create a whole new genre of music – World Music. His long-time collaborations with Indian superstar Ravi Shankar and his daughter, Anoushka, brought a world audience to the unique and melodic sounds of India where George found such spiritual enlightenment during his 60’s Beatles days.In 1974, with Apple winding down, Harrison still aspired to help new artists, so rather than trying to salvage Apple, he set up his own label, Dark Horse Records, but on a much smaller scale. His plan was to release records from new artists as well as some of his old friends, with an eye to eventually releasing his own music. While Dark Horse had an encouraging beginning with a hit single from the band Splinter, the label suffered increasing problems, failing to establish itself in the way Harrison hoped. However, some incredible and varied music was created from 1974 to 1977, including some of Harrison’s best solo material. Towards the end of its initial life, Dark Horse dropped most of its artists and released mainly Harrison’s solo work. Thankfully, since 2020, George’s talented musician son, Dhani, has taken the reins and has made Dark Horse viable once again, signing legends Cat Stevens and Billy Idol, and releasing music from Joe Strummer and Leon Russell. Finally, in 2023, it was announced that Harrison’s entire solo catalog was going to be re-released on Dark Horse. Badgley’s book tells the story of the label from the beginning, through its struggles and on to its exciting renaissance in the new millennium.Dark Horse Records was not a vanity label set up exclusively for George Harrison’s music. It was a record label and company that attempted – and succeeded – in being unique, that desired to make a difference. Harrison had a passion for helping artists and introduce them to the world. He felt there was room in the music business to accommodate many different styles and a label with diverse acts could not only exist but thrive. It was more of a philosophy than a business plan, and the world was a better place because of it. Dark Horse Records is now in the hands of Harrison’s musician son, Dhani, along with his widow, Olivia.
I recently spoke with Aaron who kindly filled me in on how the book came to be and how Harrison’s music has impacted his own….
Aaron, congratulations on your new book Dark Horse Records. What inspired you to write about this relatively unknown part of George Harrison’s life? First, thank you. The reason for writing this is because it’s a relatively unknown part of George Harrison’s life and career. His All Things Must Pass, Concert For Bangladesh, Cloud Nine and The Traveling Wilburys get a lot of attention, but there is this other chapter in his life that is equally as important. Dark Horse Records was a chance for Harrison to help others and to promote new and undiscovered talent, like he did with Apple Records (The Beatles own record label). I think this time period really deserved to be explored and explained. It has always been a very fascinating chapter in his history for me. The label was so eclectic, like George himself. You have British folk (Splinter), classical Indian music, blues, jazz-rock, rhythm and blues, and pop. In very few years he did a lot for these artists and had a remarkably diverse label. Not to mention his own music. I would argue that he made some of his best solo albums on Dark Horse Records.Most people feel that the Lennon & McCartney- written songs are the biggest influences on their own lives or have impacted the music industry the most….where does George Harrison’s writing and recording fit into the public zeitgeist? That is an excellent question! I am not really sure how to answer that, but with songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Here Comes the Sun”, I think he joins their ranks. As a solo artist, his All Things Must Pass Album was a triple album and now considered a classic. Maybe at the time he was overshadowed by Lennon & McCartney but I think he has caught up with them in the public’s eye. Even McCartney admits that “Something” is one of the greatest love songs ever written. I think that there has been a serious re-evaluation of his work and he is being appreciated by whole new generations.George’s wife, Olivia, and son Dhani (pictured below) have cherished and sustained his legacy, both in music and peace activism – how do you think future generations of music lovers will embrace George Harrison’s music? I find it interesting that Dhani has also resurrected the Dark Horse Records label. He has signed Cat Stevens, Billy Idol and has released Leon Russell and Joe Strummer (of The Clash) solo music so I am glad to see they are also keeping his record label alive along with his music and spirit. I hope that this music lives on forever, quite frankly, and is embraced by all future generations. I was thrilled to see the new Beatles single, “Now and Then” top the charts all around the world, including Spotify and other streaming charts. Because Harrison never tried to follow trends and jump on bandwagons, I think his music has aged well and will continue to age well. He had his own distinct style and it sounds as good today as it did when it was first released. Harrison is really coming into his own these days, and my 24 year-old daughter tells me that friends and people of her age group are really enjoying discovering his music, both with The Beatles and solo.You’ve enjoyed a long career in radio playing great music, chatting with music makers and offering opinions and reviews – how do today’s songs compare with those of the 60s and 70s and do you wish more under-40s would listen to the rock and pop classics of that era? When I was growing up, listening to AM radio, like CHUM and CFTR (in Toronto), what I loved about it, in hindsight, is that they would play everything. Oldies and new songs. So, as kids of that era, we all knew Buddy Holly, Elvis, Janis, and all sorts of artists along with the current top 40. I think that is missing today. Radio is so fragmented that young people only listen to their genre and never get the chance to branch out. There are some fine artists today making really creative and wonderful music, and as much as I enjoy discovering new bands, I notice radio will not play new music by anyone over 40. This is a shame. Because when I hear some new artists, I can hear the older bands coming through their sound. So, I wish the young listeners were also aware of the artist’s influences as they enjoy the music. Was the music of my youth better? I don’t know. But, when I was young, the music of my parents’ generation was Bing Crosby or even Al Jolson, which was pretty square at the time. Now, I love Bing and listen to him a lot. Maybe as the youth get older, they will look back and discover this incredible body of work, not only of George Harrison but all the other artists.So tell us, was George your favourite Beatle, if not, who was? I am one of five boys, and my mother used to say, ‘I love you all equally, just differently’. I guess that is how I see The Beatles. I don’t really have a favourite, but I do go through phases. Some months, I just listen to McCartney, other months it may be Lennon. I love George, I love his lyrics and his musical ability and his spiritualism. His solo albums are full of fantastic, astounding songs, of which I never ever tire. I guess that may not answer your question, but that is the best I have.How/where can people buy your book? My book is available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indigo, basically all the book sellers. It is also found in select stores and Burning Shed website.
For younger fans of both The Beatles and Harrison as a solo artist, perhaps a reminder of his tragic final years is needed: in May 1997, Harrison was diagnosed with throat cancer. He was treated with radiotherapy, which initially seemed successful. Then two years later, on December 30th 1999, Harrison and his wife, Olivia, were attacked in their home. Harrison suffered over 40 stab wounds and part of his punctured lung had to be removed. And yet, Harrison continued to record, helping new bands and old friends such as Bill Wyman, Jeff Lynne, Albert Lee and Jim Capaldi. On 29 November 2001, George Harrison lost his battle with cancer and passed away.
About the author
As a youngster, Aaron Badgley developed a profound love of The Beatles and music in general, also developing a fascination with record labels. At the age of 19, he started working in radio and by 20, he was a production manager for a number of stations in Canada. In 2005, Aaron debuted his syndicated radio show The Beatles Universe, which ran for six years. Currently, he is the host of Here Today and Backwards Traveller radio shows and cohosts From Memphis To Merseyside and The Way-Back Music Machine (with Tony Stuart). He writes for Spill Magazine and Immersive Audio Album, and has also contributed to the All Music Guide. Aaron resides in Toronto, Canada.At the back of the book, there are pages and pages of reference works and a bibliography so extensive, one can only imagine the hours, days, weeks, months Badgley put in to research for his book.