CULT ROCK (Part 1): George Harrison's Cult Band

George Harrison signs Maharaj-ji cult band Jiva to his Dark Horse Record Label

CULT ROCK (Part 1): George Harrison's Cult Band

Olivia Arias met her soon-to-be husband, George Harrison of the Beatles when she worked as a secretary for A&M Records in the early 1970s. After numerous marketing phone calls with Harrison, he took a liking to her and assigned her to work solely on his new subsidiary record label Dark Horse.

Arias and Harrison bonded over an interest in Eastern spirituality. Harrison had traveled to India on several occasions and been inspired by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Ravi Shankar, and the Hare Krishnas. Arias was a follower of Prem Rawat also known as Maharaj-ji, a child guru called "Lord of the Universe" who took America by storm. Many considered him and his Divine Light Mission a cult.

In the 1970s there were three rock bands that consisted solely of Maharaj-ji disciples: Jiva, Blue Aquarius and One Foundation. Olivia Arias was close friends with the Jiva band members and got their first record, By His Grace, to Harrison. Perhaps he didn't pick up on the cult-like devotion to Maharaj-ji, or it didn't bother him. "Understand the Lord is on the planet," their lyrics say. "You need the perfect one to open up the gates you can see in."

Harrison soon saw Jiva live at the Topanga Corral in Malibu, a venue where musicians like Linda Ronstadt and Canned Heat honed their skills. It’s also where Charles Manson’s short-lived band Milky Way did their one and only performance. It's said that Jim Morrison named his song "Roadhouse Blues" after the corral.

"Our music was really a joyous celebration of the universe and our place in it and George just fell in love with the band," Jiva singer Michael Lanning said.

Harrison signed Jiva to his Dark Horse label and published their first commercial album in 1975.

"George was deeply involved in not only signing us but the making of our record as well,” said Lanning. “He served as executive producer and was there quite a lot of the recording time. He even helped in the demo sessions, picking out what tunes would be on the record and even playing piano on one of the demo tracks."

Harrison hired Gary Wright, singer of the hit song Dream Weaver to play keyboards on the album. He hired Minnie Riperton, creator of the #1 hit song "Lovin' You," and legendary producer Stewart Levine to produce Jiva's album.

Wright had been given a copy of Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi by Harrison and became involved with the Self-Realization fellowship. The song title Dream Weaver came from Yogananda's poem "God! God! God!" which referenced "the idea of the mind weaving dreams." Wright named his album "The Light of Smiles" after Yogananda's poem of the same name. Wright even gave a songwriting credit to Yogananda for his song I am the Sky.

Harrison had first been given copies of Autobiography of a Yogi and Raja Yoga by Vivekananda by Ravi Shankar in 1966 while studying sitar with him in India. “I kept stacks of it around the house, and I gave it out constantly to people,” Harrison said. “When people need reproving, I say ‘read this,’ because it cuts to the heart of every religion.” He said Yogananda had been the “greatest influence” on him.

Wright's song "Who Am I" on The Light of Smiles album depicted his spiritual search. "Who am I? Where am I? Where am I coming from? How far will I go?" he sings. "Many lives passing by. All of them, once were mine. I can tell there's strings like Heaven. I'm the same. I'm headed out. Searching for identity. Who am I? I don't know. I don't know, no."

As a result of the commercial nature of their album, Jiva did a 36-city tour with Fleetwood Mac in 1975. Jiva manager Jack Reed said they got a “fantastic audience response,” suggesting they could have been far more successful. Reed and the band alleged Dark Horse didn't promote their artists properly, saying the label wasn't run professionally. "We couldn't find our records in the stores," Lanning said.

Jiva Somethings Goin On Inside LA 1975

A&M Records later sued Harrison for $10 million dollars for not fulfilling his solo four-album contract which led to a highly publicized split. Jiva got lost in the shuffle and left Dark Horse in 1976. They released two more albums in the coming years, both of which were explicitly filled with devotion to their guru.

Before Jiva's album was released, Lanning said that all songs on the Dark Horse record were going to be dedicated to their guru. "They're all to Guru Maharaj Ji, but we haven't mentioned Maharaj Ji's name," he said. "That's a no-no. Of course, a song like "Something's Going On Inside LA" naturally talks about Knowledge...Our first album will only have one ballad, a song that Guru Maharaj Ji likes a lot, called 'Love Is A Treasure.' He asked us to do it for one of his home movies."

The album did reference a few of the cult's five commandments. The second commandment is, "Constantly meditate and remember Holy Name." Their lyrics say, “You might think me absent-minded, If your Name I sometimes forget." The third commandment is "Leave no room for doubt in your mind," and their lyrics say, "When it's late and I'm all alone, And the doubt and worries start."

Grammy award-winning singer Michael Bolton and his wife became followers of Maharaj-ji in the 1970s after taking a course at the New Haven ashram. "The Knowledge was the greatest awakening for me," he wrote in his memoir The Soul of it All. "The Indian teenager led me out of the darkness and into the light, and a much healthier and saner lifestyle." Bolton even sang for his fellow Maharaj-ji disciples at the New Haven ashram.