domingo, 17 de febrero de 2013
Tony Sheridan, who has died aged 72
The Liverpool foursome ran into Sheridan in Germany, where they had been booked to play the Indra, a sleazy club in the red-light district of Hamburg. Sheridan was the resident British attraction at the nearby Top Ten club, a larger-than-life figure who invariably turned up late, drunk, sometimes with — but often without — his guitar; when he did get himself and his act together, he often forgot the lyrics, and was notoriously unpredictable, tumbling off the stage on to the dance floor where he would moon at the gyrating fans and contort himself into obscene poses.
The Beatles, which then included Pete Best on drums, went to see him play every night after their own show and quickly fell under his spell.
When they moved to the larger Kaiserkeller club nearby, it was Sheridan who directed them up the Reeperbahn to the shop where they kitted themselves out in the sleek black leather Luftwaffe-style bomber jackets and hand-stitched cowboy boots that became their signature “bad boy” look until Brian Epstein became their manager and ordered them into suits.
But more significantly, Sheridan was a decisive influence on the Beatles’ early repertoire, introducing them to R&B records imported from America by artists like Little Richard which Sheridan covered in his own set. The Beatles covered several numbers from these recordings on their own early albums.
For all his shortcomings as a polished act, Sheridan was regarded as a consummate rock musician, wielding a fat-bellied Martin Dreadnought guitar with an electric pickup jammed under the strings as effortlessly if it were a knife and fork, working his sandpaper voice until “it cracked like old plaster” (as one chronicler put it) and hosting wild parties every night in his flat above the club.
When the Top Ten’s young owner offered the Beatles a residency as his house band to accompany Sheridan, they jumped at the chance — even though the contract required them to play for seven hours a night, seven nights a week. Sheridan had no problem fuelling this relentless schedule: he would dole out handfuls of amphetamines called Preludin — known as “prellies” — to keep himself and the Beatles awake.
Backed by the Beatles, Sheridan raised his game. His marathon sets became deafening extravaganzas of rock and roll, and could last for several hours. They attracted the attention of the bandleader and Polydor talent scout Bert Kaempfert, who offered Sheridan a recording contract to include the Beatles as his backing group. Because the German slang word “pidels” — pronounced “peedles” — meant “tiny willies”, Kaempfert changed the group’s name to the Beat Brothers.
Not wishing to alienate his somewhat staid core audience, Kaempfert insisted that the first Sheridan-Beatles recording sessions should cover mainstream standards, which is how My Bonnie came to be released on Polydor in September 1961 with Sheridan taking lead vocal. Another track from the session was When The Saints Go Marching In. The release of My Bonnie was immortalised when Epstein invented the story — now accepted as apocryphal — that he discovered the Beatles when a customer asked for a copy at his Liverpool record shop a few weeks later.
Tony Sheridan was born Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity on May 21 1940 in Norwich. His parents enjoyed classical music, and by the time Tony was seven he had learned to play the violin. At Norwich School he played in the orchestra, sang in the choir, and appeared in productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. In 1956, having also mastered the guitar, he formed a skiffle group and ran away to London, where he was soon playing in the Two I’s club in Old Compton Street, Soho, by night, and sleeping in doorways by day.
His fortunes improved when he appeared on the BBC’s pop show Oh Boy! He was reputedly the first British musician to play the electric guitar on television (the BBC had hitherto banned the instrument), in rock classics such as Blue Suede Shoes and Mighty Mighty Man. The American journalist Bob Spitz later described him as a guitarist of extraordinary flair who, after backing stars like Marty Wilde and Vince Taylor, attracted a sizeable cult following of his own. “His rave 1959 appearance on Oh Boy! was one of those transcendent TV moments in which an unknown performer leaps from obscurity to stardom,” Spitz noted.
Perhaps the calibre of “stardom” he achieved was not recognised by the big names of American rock. When Sheridan performed on a British tour by Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran the following year, he asked if he could travel with them to the next venue. They refused him a ride, which meant he escaped the traffic accident which left Cochran dead and Vincent badly injured.
Later in 1960 Sheridan took a residency at the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg, playing with various British backing musicians, then moving to the glitzier Top Ten club where he met and worked with the Beatles. Their collaboration continued when the Liverpool band returned to Hamburg for a second time the following year, and was sealed when Sheridan and the Beatles cut their first disc together for Polydor, with My Bonnie on the A-side.
“What a silly choice,” Sheridan recalled. “But Bert Kaempfert said we had to do something that the Germans would understand, and they all learnt My Bonnie in English lessons.”
The success of the My Bonnie single was followed by an album of the same name, first in Germany, where it was released with “Tony Sheridan and the Beat Boys” on the cover, and then in Britain, where it was credited to “Tony Sheridan and The Beatles”.
But by the time Sheridan released his solo album Just a Little Bit of Tony Sheridan in 1964, he had moved away from rock and roll to a bluesier, jazzier sound. In any case he had been dismayed by the hysteria of the Beatlemania phenomenon and felt drawn to the political and social problems of the day. According to the album’s liner notes, Sheridan planned to visit the southern United States “to hear at first hand the original Negro music and experience the atmosphere that has been instrumental in creating Negro jazz and the spiritual, for which he has a great liking”.
During the Vietnam War, Sheridan performed for American troops with a specially-formed band, one of whose members was killed by enemy fire. Initially, the Reuters news agency reported that Sheridan himself had died, and newspapers worldwide published his obituary. For his work entertaining the military, Sheridan was appointed an honorary captain of the US Army, and presented with an Army Ranger cap which he subsequently often wore on stage.
Sheridan released a new album called Vagabond in 2002, mostly of his own material, but also including a new cover version of Skinny Minnie, a rocker number he had recorded for his first album nearly 40 years earlier.
Songs from that 1961 session, including My Bonnie, have been reissued many times, most recently by Time-Life as The Beatles With Tony Sheridan First Recordings: 50th Anniversary Edition in 2011.
Last year, a few weeks after he made a rare concert appearance — at the 2012 Beatlefair in San Diego, California — Sheridan underwent heart surgery in Germany.
Tony Sheridan is survived by his wife, Anna, and a son from an earlier marriage, the rockabilly musician Tony Sheridan Jr.