Session drummer Jim Keltner recalls John Lennon and George Harrison telling him not to bad-mouth Paul McCartney

Session drummer Jim Keltner
(Image credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Corbis via Getty Images)

Session drummer Jim Keltner has opened up about working with both John Lennon and George Harrison, and how the former Beatles relationship were like brothers when it came to their intra-band bickering.

Speaking to Uncut in celebration of the 50th anniversary of George Harrison’s second solo album, Living in the Material World (released May 1973), the session ace - who worked on solo material with Harrison, Lennon and Ringo Starr - recalls meeting Harrison for the first time, and the differences between George and John in the studio.

“The very first time I laid eyes on George was at John Lennon’s Ascot Sound studio on February 16, 1971. John was making Imagine. 

“George was walking into the hall. I’d gone to the bathroom and I came out and saw him and we just said, ‘Hi.’ He said that he really loved the Delaney & Bonnie record that I’d played on, Accept No Substitute…To have George say that to me was a big deal.”

“He was the most unusual person. John was just very, very normal. He was a regular kind of guy: funny, incredibly smart, and incredibly fast with everything. 

“Nothing took a long time. When we got to hanging out, it was fantastic but it was like living in a cloud. There’s so much John stuff that I just can’t remember because we were so loaded, and everything was so condensed, time-wise. 

“George was just the opposite. With George, it was always kind of mystifying how he would come up with stuff to do, and how easily he made it happen.”

However, while Keltner has racked-up 15 albums’ worth of material with Lennon, Harrison and Ringo collectively, he still observed that (much like family members), it didn’t qualify him to express his opinion on Paul McCartney around the former Beatles.

“Over the years with him and John, they could both be really brutal with Paul. I learned very early on that I couldn’t join them. 

“They both on different occasions said, ‘We can say that, but you shouldn’t.’ They were truly brothers who loved taking the piss out of each other, but they didn’t want anybody else doing it."

Stuart Williams

I'm a freelance member of the MusicRadar team, specialising in drum news, interviews and reviews. I formerly edited Rhythm and Total Guitar here in the UK and have been playing drums for more than 25 years (my arms are very tired). When I'm not working on the site, I can be found on my electronic kit at home, or gigging and depping in function bands and the odd original project.