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Tony Sheridan performing live, November 2004
|Birth name||Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity|
21 May 1940|
Norwich, Norfolk, England, UK
|Died||16 February 2013
|Genres||Rock, rock and roll|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, violin|
|Associated acts||The Beatles|
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 a single.
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 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 and usually top-pianist Roy Young). 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 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) were insured 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 (Paul McCartney and Pete Best). And that conversely only on their two solo songs do all four Beatles play (minus Sheridan), while Sheridan plays on all of his tracks. John Lennon's rhythm guitar is heard only on the two Beatle solo tracks (though his voice is heard in background vocals as well as his handclaps on Sheridan's tracks)(per "Beatles Deeper Undercover" by Kristopher Engelhardt, p. 302) 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. Additionally John Lennon, Pete Best and Tony Sheridan all swore that there were several other Beatle tracks that were recorded during the two-day session, but they have not resurfaced. In the Spring of 1962 in order to fulfill contractual obligations, the four surviving Beatles (plus Roy Young but without Sheridan) recorded an instrumental version of Sweet Georgia Brown, later Sheridan cut his vocal overdub for the song while solo in the studio. (Reportedly "Swanee River" was also recorded by the Beatles and Roy Young, though Polydor released a version in 1962 on Sheridan's album My Bonnie, however Polydor states they've never found this last recording). A newspaper story of the day also mentioned that Sheridan had recorded "You Are My Sunshine" with the Beatles as well for single release, (it was also on his album as well).
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 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).
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". Amusingly, that very unintentional-naughty-pun was one 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 Tony Sheridan singles with german record producer Jimmy Bowien through 1967 (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 1970s, 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 which had never been 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 Voormann. 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. Thus the possible prospect of a long American career in Las Vegas evaporated.
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 (ISBN 0957528507), 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.
Sheridan lived in Seestermühe, a village north of Hamburg, and in addition to music, in his later life he was interested in heraldry and designed coats of arms. Sheridan was extremely secretive about his personal life though it's known that he was married three times, lastly to the very young Anna Sievers, and previously to Rosi Heitmann and to Hazel Byng. His friend and former bassist Crawley stated that in 1960 Sheridan confided that (despite his mixed Irish-Catholic and Jewish background) he was at that point viewing himself as a Buddhist. Later in life Sheridan became a fervently devoted follower of the Hindu guru Bhagwan Sri Rajneesh (and lived for a while in the commune in the Pacific northwest in the '80's).
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