Feb 16, 2013 – Tony Sheridan was born Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity was born May 21, 1940 in Norwich, England. To the rest of the world he was best known as the only non-Beatle to appear as lead singer on a Beatles recording which charted as a single, even though the record was labelled as being with “The Beat Brothers”. In Europe he was at times a superstar.
In his early life, Sheridan was influenced by his parents’ interest in classical music, and by age seven, he had learned to play the violin. He eventually came to play guitar, and in 1956, formed his first band. He showed enough talent that he soon found himself playing in London’s “Two I’s” club for some six months straight. In 1958, aged 18, he began appearing on Oh Boy, made by the ITV contractor ABC, playing electric guitar on such early rock classics as “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Glad All Over”, “Mighty Mighty Man” and “Oh Boy!”. He was soon employed backing a number of singers, reportedly including Gene Vincent and Conway Twitty while they were in England. In 1958 Johnny Foster sought to recruit Sheridan as a guitar player in Cliff Richard’s backing band (soon renamed the Shadows), but after failing to find him at the 2i’s Coffee Bar opted for another guitarist who was there, Hank Marvin.
Early in 1960, he performed in a tour of the UK, along with Vincent and Eddie Cochran. On 16 April, Vincent and Cochran rebuffed his request to ride along with them to the next venue, but he thereby escaped the road accident which would leave Cochran dead and Vincent badly injured.
Sheridan played guitar for Cherry Wainer on her recording of “Happy Organ”. Despite these successes, his penchant for being late, showing up without his guitar, etc., soon got him a reputation for having gone a bit “haywire”, and cost him much of his professional standing in England. Providentially, an offer for a gig came from Bruno Koschmider’s “Kaiserkeller” club in Hamburg, Germany for an English group to play there. Sheridan and others (including Colin “Melander” Crawley) joined an ad hoc group promptly dubbed “The Jets” and were put on the ship headed for Hamburg. As fate would have it, legal woes (i.e. lack of proper papers) caused “The Jets” to not last long, but Sheridan (and now-friend Colin “Melander” Crawley) were soon back onstage in Hamburg.
While performing in Hamburg between 1960 and 1963, Sheridan employed various backup bands, most of which were really “pickup bands”, or simply an amalgam of various musicians, rather than a group proper (though almost always including now bassist Colin “Melander” Crawley). However, in 1961, the young Beatles (with their line-up at the time of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best) who had met and admired Sheridan during their first visit to Hamburg in 1960, and who openly worked with him on their second visit, became even closer. The Beatles sometimes backed Sheridan, who, in turn, often joined the Beatles during their own sets backing them on guitar. They even visited Sheridan’s home and had jamming sessions in the back garden.
When German Polydor producer/A&R man Bert Kaempfert saw the pairing on stage, he suggested that Sheridan and the Beatles make some recordings together. Kaempfert viewed Sheridan as the one with “star” potential, and though they signed the Beatles to play on Sheridan’s records their contract with them stipulated that the four Beatles (Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Best) were insured to play on a minimum of two songs.
These sessions produced Sheridan’s “My Bonnie” and “The Saints”, and the Beatles’ “Ain’t She Sweet” and “Cry for a Shadow” (formerly titled “Beatle Bop”), plus three other songs. Polydor’s beliefs in Sheridan’s coming stardom were so strong that they buried the two solo Beatle tracks until much later. Both John Lennon and Tony Sheridan swore that there were several other Beatle tracks that were recorded during the two-day session, but they have not resurfaced.
The record was released in America on Decca in 1962 with a black label and also in a pink label for demo play. The record has the distinction of being one of the most expensive collectible 45 rpm with the black label in mint condition selling for $15,000 in 2007 and the pink label selling for $3000. Ringo Starr briefly played in Sheridan’s backing band during very early 1962, before returning to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes. Starr was reportedly unhappy with Sheridan performing songs he had not rehearsed with his band (other musicians made the same complaint, as well as about Sheridan’s penchant for fist-fights).
In the same year Polydor released the album My Bonnie across Germany. The word “Beatles” was judged to sound too similar to the Hamburgisch dialect word “Pidels” (pronounced “peedles”), the plural of a slang term for penis, hence the album was credited to “Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers”. Amusingly, that very unintentional-naughty-pun was the precise thing that so many young German fans had found amusing but enchanting. After the Beatles had gained fame, the album was re-released in the United Kingdom, with the credit altered to “Tony Sheridan and the Beatles”. The Beatles’ Hamburg studio recordings, as well as some live recordings from the same period, have been reissued many times.
In the mid-1960s, Sheridan’s musical style underwent a drastic transformation, away from his rock and roll roots and towards a more blues- and jazz-oriented sound. Though these recordings were praised by some, many fans of his earlier work felt wildly disappointed. This change was presaged by liner notes from his 1964 album Just a Little Bit of Tony Sheridan in which his musical preferences are listed as “jazz and classical” rather than rock. The liner notes also mention his wanting to visit the southern US “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.” Polydor continued releasing Sheridan singles through 1966 (though they only ever released two albums by him).
By 1967, Sheridan had become disillusioned with his Beatle-brought fame. As he was more concerned by the Vietnam War and the thought of further Communist aggression, as such Sheridan agreed to perform for the Allied troops. While in Vietnam however, the band that he had assembled was fired upon and one of the members was killed. For his work entertaining the Allies, Sheridan was made an honorary Captain of the United States Army. Due to the repeated shellings encountered there, Sheridan henceforth suffered a great sensitivity to the sounds of any kind of explosions even fireworks.
With his Polydor contract gone Sheridan did what he could to survive. In the early ’70’s he managed to cut a single as a pop duo teamed with Carole Bell, and they toured Europe together with fair success. Following that phase he returned to playing in Germany (usually Hamburg) or London. The mid-1970s, saw him deejaying a West German radio programme of blues music, which was well received. Somehow he then managed to record an entire live album of early rock classics, a number of which had been part of his and the young Beatles early live act but of many which had never gotten recorded.
Fortuitously in 1978 a record producer in America heard Sheridan’s early Polydor recordings (with and without the young Beatles), and was enthralled by Tony’s singing and playing. Immediately Sheridan was offered and wisely accepted the offer to come and record a whole studio album in Los Angeles. Making the entire thing sweeter was the fact that Elvis’ (now out of work) TCB Band was hired to play on the album along with top bassist (and former Hamburg friend) Klaus Voorman. A fine album of rock classics plus a few country tunes resulted but with NO major label release it was doomed to direct TV sales. And thus the possible prospect of a long American career in Las Vegas evaporated.
In 1978, the Star Club was reopened, and Sheridan performed there along with Elvis Presley’s TCB Band.
In 1991, Joe Sunseri, Sheridan biographer and then-manager, completed Nobody’s Child: The Tony Sheridan Story. However, due to a falling-out, the biography remained unpublished. A biography of Sheridan, titled The Teacher, was eventually published in 2013 by Norfolk author Alan Mann, a childhood-friend of Sheridan. This book was essentially an email question and answer interview. While repeated probings by the author DID bring out Sheridan’s one time of two weeks spent in an English jail, aside from that the author unfortunately takes Sheridan’s memory of things at total face value.
On 13 August 2002, Sheridan released Vagabond, a collection largely of his own material, but also including a new cover version of “Skinny Minnie”, a song he had years earlier recorded for his first album.
Tony played guitar and sang for the Argentinian rock musician Charly Garcia. The album was called Influencia and it was released in 2002. In 2015, Colin “Melander” Crawley – Sheridan’s former bassist, published another biography, Tony Sheridan – The One The Beatles Called “The Teacher”.
Of the two published biographies it definitely gives the most insight into Sheridan’s major career of the early ’60’s.
Tony Sheridan died on 16 February 2013 in Hamburg, after undergoing heart surgery. He was 72.