(CBS) — Fifty years ago this month, Beatle George Harrison took a break from European stardom to go someplace where no one knew him — southern Illinois.
Saturday, the state of Illinois remembers what was probably “the quiet Beatle’s” last anonymous trip anywhere in a day that Gov. Pat Quinn has proclaimed “George Harrison Day” statewide in his honor.
It’s difficult to believe, but Harrison and his sister Louise hitchhiked with a stack of records and a guitar to local radio stations, looking for airplay. WXRT’s resident Beatlemaniac, Terri Hemmert, said Harrison bought a Rickenbacker guitar at a local store, played cover tunes with a band at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall with a cover band known as The Four Vests, took in a drive-in movie, rode in a convertible, rifled through record store bins — and no one screamed, even when he was introduced on stage at the VFW Hall as the “Elvis of England.”
“He just hung out and really got to know people,” Hemmert said. “But that’s the kind of guys they were.”
At least, how they were before worldwide fame hit, which proved especially tiresome for Harrison.
The Beatles were already high on the charts in Britain, and had made a name for themselves in Europe, but Hemmert said the interviews from that period showed that they didn’t believe they would ever “conquer” America, or that if they did, their fame would prove to be fleeting.
Nonetheless, it was a cherished moment to get away and “be free.” While Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr visited Greece, and John and Cynthia Lennon visited Paris, Harrison recharged his batteries in anonymity at his sister’s home.
Benton is in coal-mining country, and Louise Harrison Caldwell had moved there with her husband, a mining engineer.
Harrison died of lung cancer in 2001, at the age of 58.
Today, the home where George Harrison slept is a Beatle-themed bed and breakfast. Benton is dedicating a plaque in his honor.