Music

How Gerald Ford's Son Orchestrated George Harrison's Visit to the White House

George Harrison was the first Beatle to do many things. He was the first to visit America. More importantly, George was the first Beatle to have a solo No. 1 hit with “My Sweet Lord.” However, many fans probably don’t know that George was also the first Beatle to meet a U.S. president.

George met President Gerald Ford at the White House in 1974, but it wasn’t the President who personally invited him. It was a younger Ford. Here’s how the first son got his father to invite the first Beatle to the Oval Office.

Jack Ford saw George Harrison live during his Dark Horse tour in 1974

On Nov. 16, 1974, Ford’s 22-year-old son, Jack, saw George perform during the Salt Lake City show on George’s 1974 Dark Horse tour.

Despite having a fierce hatred for touring, George decided to embark on his first (and only) solo tour of the U.S. By the time he left, he’d worn out his voice and developed a nasty case of laryngitis. Critics called it the Dark Hoarse tour. He made matters worse by snorting “mountains of cocaine” so he’d be able to keep up with the vigorous schedule.

Apart from his horrible vocals, fans weren’t pleased that George was hell-bent on not playing Beatles tunes. Since this was the first time a Beatle was touring the U.S. since the group stopped touring in 1966, they expected to hear some of the Fab Four’s biggest hits.

But Rolling Stone wrote that George refused to “bow to his past – he claimed the Beatles ‘[weren’t] that good’ in a pre-tour press conference and flatly refused to be in a band with McCartney ever again.” Instead, George had his friend and mentor, Ravi Shankar, and other Indian musicians play overly long sets.

So, despite being sold out, the tour didn’t do great, and George refused to tour like that ever again. However, the plus side was that Jack loved George’s show and used his name to get backstage to meet George and his bandmates. Jack told them to stop by the White House if they had the time.

George and President Ford exchanged buttons in the Oval Office

George and his bandmates took the younger Ford up on his offer.On Dec. 13, 1974, Jack personally greeted his guests, including George, keyboardist Billy Preston, sitarist Ravi Shankar, saxophonist Tommy Scott, manager Denis O’ Brien, publicity agent Michael Sterling, and George’s father, Harry, into the White House.

Their host led them into the solarium for a beef and vegetable luncheon. As they ate, George’s Dark Horse played. Then, Jack’s sister Susan gave them a quick tour of the Executive Mansion. While they waited to meet the President in the Cabinet Room, George cheekily sat behind the 1938 Steinway piano and started an impromptu jam session with his bandmates.

“We walked into the presidents’ conference room with the oval table and the chair and signs saying, ‘Secretary of Defense,’ ‘Secretary of this and that’ and we sat down in the chairs, clowning around,” Scott recalled to Rolling Stone.

Finally, the group was ushered into the Oval Office for an informal meeting with Ford himself. “George was great at breaking the ice,” Scott said. Ford took the opportunity to pin a WIN (“Whip Inflation Now”) button onto George’s suit lapel. In another cheeky move, George pinned an “Om” button on Ford in return. Apparently, George and Ford knew a thing or two about marketing for a cause.

“[Ford] took us into this little side room where he had all this WIN paraphernalia – posters, watches, sweaters, T-shirts,” said Scott. “It looked just like the back room at [Harrison’s label] Dark Horse Records, which is loaded with T-shirts and bags and towels.”

George said it was easy talking to Ford

George spoke with the President for nearly 20 minutes. They even touched on how Ford’s predecessor, Richard Nixon, nearly deported John Lennon years prior.

Although George knew that Ford was “not all that familiar with my music,” the pair had an engaging conversation together. George thought Ford was a gracious host even though he’d not personally invited the musicians.

“He seemed very relaxed,” George said. “He was much easier to meet than I would expect. You can imagine the number of things he’s got on his plate.” According to White House History, George said, “I didn’t ask him [Ford] about Bangladesh or anything else political… I didn’t want to bug him.”

The pit stop at the White House was bizarre, but it proved to be beneficial in some way to George and Ford equally. Ford got to show younger voters he listened to (or at least knew of) George, and George got to spread some spirituality onto Ford.

Either way, George and his bandmates had to high tail it out of Washington D.C. because they had another gig to play in nearby Landover, Maryland, that night.

Later, in his memoir, I, Me, Mine, George wrote that he related to Jack. Being a Beatle and a member of the first family are quite the same. Both are carefully watched by the public eye.

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