TONY SHERIDAN (BORN ANTHONY ESMOND SHERIDAN MCGINNITY, 21 MAY 1940 – 16 FEBRUARY 2013), WAS AN ENGLISH ROCK AND ROLL SINGER-SONGWRITER AND GUITARIST. HE WAS BEST KNOWN AS AN EARLY COLLABORATOR OF THE BEATLES, (THOUGH THE RECORD WAS LABELLED AS BEING WITH “THE BEAT BROTHERS”), ONE OF TWO NON-BEATLES (THE OTHER BEING BILLY PRESTON) TO RECEIVE LABEL PERFORMANCE CREDIT ON A RECORD WITH THE GROUP, AND THE ONLY NON-BEATLE TO APPEAR AS LEAD SINGER ON A BEATLES RECORDING WHICH CHARTED AS
Sheridan was born in Norwich, Norfolk, where he grew up in Thorpe St Andrew and attended the City of Norwich School. 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, but at the same time he also found himself reduced to sleeping in doorways. In 1958, at 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!”. Sheridan was soon viewed as a very promising guitarist and as such was employed backing a number of singers, reportedly including Gene Vincent and Conway Twitty while they were in England. Early in 1960, Sheridan performed in a tour of the United Kingdom which also included Gene 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. He also 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, his little band was offered a gig in Bruno Koschmider’s “Kaiserkeller” club in Hamburg, Germany. As fate would have it, his bandmates soon packed up and left Germany, but Sheridan remained behind. In a bizarre twist a young Liverpool rock group was then booked by Liverpool club-owner/manager Allan Williams to play in Koschmieder’s second club “The Indra”, and thus the young, raw Beatles came face to face with “professional” musician Tony Sheridan and his now makeshift band. This face to face contact rapidly grew into mutual great admiration, particularly on the part of young George Harrison, who, as lead guitarist for the Beatles, never missed a chance to corner fellow lead guitarist Sheridan and practice with him endlessly.
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. However, in 1961, the young Beatles (with their line-up at the time of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Stu Sutcliffe, 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 relationship was largely symbiotic, with the Beatles sometimes backing Sheridan, but with Sheridan often joining the Beatles during their own sets backing them on guitar. When German Polydor producer/A and 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) only had to play on a minimum of two songs. Of the seven songs recorded during Sheridan’s two-day-long sessions for Polydor in June 1961, it should be pointed out that at times the band behind Sheridan would be down to only two Beatles, and that conversely only on their two solo songs do all four Beatles play (minus Sheridan), while Sheridan plays on all of his tracks. 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.
In 1962, after a series of singles (the first of which, “My Bonnie”/”The Saints” made it to number 5 in the German chart), the record was released in America on Decca 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 also very 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. Ringo thus narrowly missed playing on Sheridan’s album debut.
Also in 1962, 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. 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 several times over the decades.
In the mid-Sixties Sheridan’s musical style underwent a 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 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.”
Sheridan continued performing in Hamburg at the same club for a number of years, but eventually Polydor dropped him as a recording artist.
By 1967, Sheridan had become disillusioned with his Beatle-brought fame. As he was more concerned by the Vietnam War, 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. Reuters reported that Sheridan himself had died. For his work entertaining the Allies, Sheridan was made an honorary Captain of the United States army.
In the early 1970s, Sheridan managed a West German radio programme of blues music, which was well received. 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.
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 Argentinean rock musician Charly Garcia. The album was called Influencia and it was released in 2002.
Tony Sheridan lived in Seestermühe, a village north of Hamburg. In addition to music, he was interested in heraldry and designed coats of arms.
Tony Sheridan died on 16 February 2013 in Hamburg, after undergoing heart surgery.
His oldest child, Tony Sheridan, Jr., is a rockabilly guitarist/singer in his own right. He lives in the United States (where he has dual USA-UK citizenship), and returns to the UK regularly to perform at rockabilly festivals.