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The Beatles' big sis

WANT TO GO?

Liverpool Legends

WHERE: Riggleman Hall, University of Charleston

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS: Adults $35, college students $10, youth 18 and under $5. Season tickets: adults $90, college students $30 and youth 18 and under $10

INFO: 304-744-1400 or www.communitymusicassociation.comCHARLESTON, W.Va. -- There are a lot of things to remember about 1963. That was the year John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King Jr. led the march on Washington and the biggest song of the year (at least in the U.S.) was "Louie, Louie" by the Kingsmen. But Louise Harrison remembers it as the year she spent going from radio station to radio station trying to get them to play her kid brother's band.

It doesn't come easy, even if your brother is George Harrison and his band was The Beatles.

The 80-year-old mother, grandmother and housewife said, "For the most part, back in 1963, a woman going around talking about business, they were looking at me like, 'Who let you out of the kitchen?'"

And maybe she did seem kind of an unlikely advance agent for some pop band out of Liverpool, but Harrison thought they sounded pretty good to her -- and in 1963, on the eve of the British Invasion, she wasn't the only one.

A fact, Harrison, with her armload of 45s, tried to point out to every DJ she met that year.

"Hey, they're number one in England," she told them. "You should be playing them here."

Harrison is still trying to get Beatles music played. Only, now it's a lot easier, and she also has her own version of the band: the Grammy nominated Legends of Liverpool tribute band, which she handpicked.

"I wanted to put together a band that would do a good, respectful and joyful tribute to The Beatles," she said. "It is really good music. To most people, they look a lot like the people they represent, and they're kind, decent guys my brother would have hung out with."

The tribute band kicks off the new Community Music Association season in the series' new venue, the University of Charleston's Riggleman Hall.

Harrison said Beatlemania and the British Invasion were an incredibly exciting time, but not exactly unexpected. Her father had raised them all to not expect too little.

"We were raised by our parents to have great respect for our abilities," she said. "We were taught that if we were endowed with any particular talents, we had to use them wisely and use them for the benefit of ourselves and others."

These endowments, Harrison explained, were gifts for all.

"That was the kind of integrity we were raised with. You do the best with what you have, but you didn't expect them to not go anywhere."

Still, hard work and persistence were required to make the talent shine, but her brother George and his friends were wildly talented.

That kind of success seemed very possible.

"I didn't see why not." She said. 

But luck played a part. There were innumerable little things that helped The Beatles succeed. They met the right people at the right time. They played at the right places. Even Louise Harrison being in the United States was kind of serendipitous.

Harrison was 11 1/2 years older than her brother.

She said she was there when he said his first words and took his first steps, but she was long gone from their parents' home by the time he picked up his first guitar.

Harrison married an engineer, whose work took him all over the world. It was just a little more good fortune for The Beatles that they happened to have someone already in America months before they arrived.

"My mother was sending the records to me," she said, then added, "And I'm a bit of a ham myself so I thought, let me see what I can do to help my kid brother get somewhere."

Harrison remembers her brother fondly and said they were a lot alike.

"We had the same type of personality," she said. "We were both adventurous, wanted to see the world and climb Mount Kilimanjaro."

And definitely not quiet, Harrison added.

In the early days of Beatlemania in America, her brother was labeled as "the quiet Beatle," which Harrison said wasn't precisely true. The week the Beatles arrived to do "The Ed Sullivan Show," she said her brother had strep throat, a fever of 104 and could barely speak.

"They thought he wasn't going to be able to do the show and the doctor told him take care of himself, not speak too much and preserve his voice."

During the height of Beatlemania and even afterwards, Harrison stayed close to her brother but also stayed out of the way. She raised two children, became a grandmother, and then about 20 years ago became concerned with the environment and started a non-profit called "Drop-in!" which produced environmental conservation public service announcements.

Since her brother's death in 2001, she doesn't often hear from the two remaining Beatles.

"If they're passing through the area, they'll send word that I can have tickets to the show and VIP passes," she said. "And I got a card from Paul for my birthday last year, but I've never really pushed myself into their lives. Other people did that."

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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