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.
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. …