Saturday 27 June 2015


George and President Gerald Ford were seen happily greeting each other at the White House on December 12, 1974, exchanging buttons and chatting amiably. President Ford’s second son, Jack, attended a George Harrison concert in Salt Lake City, Utah. After the show, he invited Harrison and members of his band to pay a visit to the White House. Jack got on the phone to check it out with Dad, who showed interest in meeting his son’s new friend, a former Beatle. Everything was set.

The irony couldn’t have escaped keen observers at the time. Less than three years before, President Richard M. Nixon, Ford’s predecessor, utilized the power of the federal government in efforts to have John Lennon deported from the United States. John’s political ties and outspokenness against America’s role in the Vietnam War did not sit well with the Nixon Administration and its most paranoid supporters. They made themselves look silly, and rather non-American at that, in trying to send Lennon, a brilliant artist, thoughtful individual, back to England. But all the things came easy for Nixon, as they eventually led to his resignation as the nation’s 37th president. Replacing him on August 9, 1974, was his appointed Vice President, Gerald R. Ford of Grand Rapids, Michigan, who less than a year before, as a Congressman mulling retirement after the ’76 election, had no idea he would become the next President of the United States.

It was among those odd turn of events, quite like what George experienced in ’70 and ’71, when he became the most popular ex-Beatle. George, it was a new beginning. The music world witnessed George unleashed. On November 27 , less than eight months after Paul called it quits, released All Things Must Pass, his first “real” solo album (he recorded two mainly instrumental albums, Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound,  between late ’67 and early ’69.) A 3-record set, featuring the hit singles, “My Sweet Lord” and “What Is Life,”  All Things Must Pass was a critical and commercial success, eventually designated six-times platinum in the United States alone. The “Quiet Beatle” was being heard loud and clear.
The Atlanta show, on Thanksgiving night, was a crowd-pleaser, with a gracious Harrison and invigorated Billy Preston particularly working well off each other.

Jack Ford was every bit as elated with the George concert he attended in Salt Lake City as were patrons in Atlanta’s Omni. He also likely felt empathy with George. Ford’s father, the President of the United States, was also getting nailed in the press. A late November ’74 cover of New York magazine depicted Ford as Bozo the Clown. In the same issue of New York was an excerpt from the book, A Ford, Not A Lincoln by political columnist Richard Reeves. In the book, Reeves referred to Ford as “slow,” “unimaginative,” and “not very articulate.” Also, like millions of Americans, Reeves was critical of Ford’s pardon of  former President Nixon for any crimes he could’ve been found guilty of committing in the Watergate scandal. The Nixon pardon, the failing economy, the administration’s Whip Inflation Now (WIN) campaign and perceived bumbling made Gerald Ford appear a very weak leader, with his only political attribute being that he wasn’t Nixon. The perception of Ford had changed significantly just a few months after that hopeful August day when he declared “our long national nightmare is over.” 

So there was George and his friends, walking into a White House where the guy in charge knew something about the judgement of critics. But a bad press did not mean bad vibes; a splendid time was had by all. Jack Ford greeted the Harrison party outside the White House and then took them on the standard Executive Mansion tour. George, Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston, saxophonist Tom Scott and George’s father were invited to the Cabinet Room to meet the president. According to Scott, Harrison was “great at breaking the ice,” and President Ford proved a congenial host, exchanging one of his WIN buttons for Harrison’s OM button. Scott told Larry Sloman for the January 30, 1975 Rolling Stone that President Ford “took us into this little side room where he had all this WIN paraphenalia — posters, watches, sweaters, T-shirts and it looked just like the back room at Dark Horse records, which is loaded with T-shirts and bags and towels.” Already, the president could admit, even to a group of rock and rollers, that his own grand promotional effort had fizzled.

In the Cabinet Room, George posed for pictures taken by White House photographer David Kennerly, as he sat in the president’s chair. Harrison and company found the house piano and launched an impromptu jam session. Such fun couldn’t be expected from Nixon and his Ray Conniff Singers.
The White House visit left quite the impression on Tom Scott, as it did on George. Scott remembered that Harrison said, “From a foreigner’s point of view, there was a tremendous sense of relief in Ford.” A native of California, Scott was more than relieved, he was inspired by all he discovered at the Ford White House. “It’s just a regular old, groovy American family living there, ” Scott said. “I thought I’d be very cynical about it all, but I was uplifted, it was like an unexpected shot of patriotism.”

And so it goes. George’s American concert tour ended eight days after the White House visit, at New York’s Madison Square Garden, the site of his triumphant Bangladesh shows in ’71.

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