The Beatles backing Mr. Twist, Tony Sheridan
|Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity grew up hearing music
from the American scene. By the mid-50's, he had become convinced that he wanted to play
guitar, and later on, after hearing Buddy Holly's records in London, Tony purchased his
first electric guitar. Having worked with acoustic guitar already, Tony was able to get in
with some local groups and start playing rock and roll. Tony names Marty Wilde and Vince
Taylor among those he played with in the early days of his career. Tony even came close to
joining Cliff Richard and the Shadows.
By age 18, Tony was playing guitar on British TV--being the first musician allowed to play electric guitar there. By 1960, he was backing Eddie Cochran. Sheridan came close to acquiring a recording contract in England, but never quite made it there. So when he was asked to play rock and roll music at one of the clubs in Germany, he jumped at the chance. By mid-1960, Tony Sheridan and the Jets were playing at the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg.
Not long after, Tony graduated to the Top Ten Club, when he met the Beatles and other British bands who were by then playing in Germany. It was during this period that Sheridan took a young George Harrison under his wing and helped him better master the guitar. George was very eager to learn, and by the time of the Beatles' second trip to Hamburg (in April of '61), the Beatles and Tony Sheridan had become accustomed to playing together.
By that time, too, Polydor Records was seeking to offer Tony his first recording contract. Since Tony often played with the Beatles, they were familiar with the songs he might record. Some accounts have Bert Kaempfert himself hearing the Beatles at the Top Ten Club and personally signing the group, behind Tony Sheridan.
The accounts relating exactly what was recorded and when are a little musty with age. Gottfridsson has the first session for Polydor taking place on June 22-23. As Joe Brennan's Variation's Guide indicates, the session's recording engineer has said that the record was mixed live from twin track to stereo. Some people claim that the slow English intro was recorded by Tony and the Beatles but that the German intro was done months later, when the Beatles were absent. Since the German version of the single (and picture sleeve) appears to have been released slightly earlier, if this is the case, then the German intro must have been recorded in June (with or without the Beatles). One account has the recordings being made on the stage of a local school!
As to what was recorded, it is known for certain that "My Bonnie (Lies Over the Ocean)," "The Saints (When the Saints Go Marching In)," "Why," "Cry For a Shadow," "Ain't She Sweet," "Take Out Some Insurance On Me Baby," and "Nobody's Child" were recorded at that (first) session. The eighth song released from the Beatles' tenure with Tony Sheridan, "Sweet Georgia Brown," which exists in two versions, appears to have been recorded on a four-track machine, although there may be another explanation. According to Gottfridsson, the Beatles were scheduled to record with Tony in Hamburg in February of 1962, but with them absent, Tony recorded two songs with Bert Kaempfert's orchestra. The Beatles had already been paid for the session, and so, they would record with Tony later. Early articles exist mentioning a recording session on May 24, 1962. Tony's earlier version of "Sweet Georgia Brown" appears to have been unsuitable. It, along with a Beatles-backed "Swanee River" were recorded on that day in May. Whether the Beatles version is the one on the MGM album (the only extant version) is not known. Polydor's records indicate that there are no unreleased Beatles-backed tunes extant.
Now it really gets muddy. John Lennon told Hunter Davies (The Beatles biography) that the Beatles without Tony Sheridan recorded not merely "Ain't She Sweet" and the instrumental but three other songs as well, none of which were liked by the Deutsche Grammophon people. Tony Sheridan remembered "Rock and Roll Music," "Kansas City," and "Some Other Guy" as the unreleased tracks, the former of which John Lennon sang. Tony later recalled (1994) that along with "Sweet Georgia Brown," the April '62 session included "Skinny Minny" and "Swanee River." Both of those songs were released by Tony without the Beatles backing, as was another version of "Sweet Georgia Brown," and none of the mysterious unreleased Sheridan/Beatles tracks has ever been released, unless "Swanee River" (from May '62) is the version that is currently extant. Gottfridsson states his opinion that plans for the Beatles to record without Sheridan were scrapped since Brian Epstein had plans to audition the group for EMI.
Tony Sheridan was billed as the leader of the group because it would be Tony who stayed on to record albums for Polydor if the first single sold. "My Bonnie"/"The Saints" (Polydor NH 24-673) was billed as by "Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers." As Tony recalls it, Beat Brothers was used instead of Beatles because "Beatles" sounded a lot like the German slang word for penis, was "peedles." (Remember John saying "Beatle peedles" on a Christmas record?) There were two versions of that first single, one (called the "rock" version) had the intro in German and the other (the "twist" version) had the slow intro in English. These were distinguished from one another both on the label and on the picture sleeve. The "twist" version of the song sold better, and very soon, "My Bonnie" found itself in the German Top Twenty, finally selling up to 180,000 copies in Germany. The single was held back until October, 1961 ("Rock") and mid-January, 1962 ("Twist").
Tony was a hit in Germany. His first album, also called My Bonnie, would be released in June 1962 (as Polydor LPHM 46-612 [mono] and Polydor SLPHM 237-112 [stereo]). The "Ya-Ya" EP (Polydor EPH 21-485), which contained the only 1960's release of the Beatles-backed original cut of "Sweet Georgia Brown," was released that fall.
Sheridan would follow up his initial success with many singles for Polydor through 1969, including "Ruby Baby," "Skinny Minny," "Do-Re-Mi," and "Ich Will Bei Der Bleiben." Tony then survived a stint in Vietnam and returned to record music for other German companies, something he does to this day.
Beatles fans are generally familiar with the story of how Ray Jones walked into Brian Epstein's NEMS shop on October 28, 1961, asking for a copy of the Beatles' single, "My Bonnie." After learning who the Beatles were, Epstein managed to stock and sell at least 100 copies of the single. By November 6th, Polydor was planning a British release of the record, and by the end of the year (1961), Epstein had become the manager for the group and was attempting to secure them their own contract. The story exists in several forms of how Bert Kaempfert was pursuaded to let the Beatles out of their Polydor contract to seek a contract with Decca (and later Parlophone) in England. On January 5, 1962, "My Bonnie" was released in England as their first single at home (Polydor NH 66-833), this time using the band's correct name. This was also the first release anywhere of the "English-intro" version of the A-side.
By April 23, 1962, the record had attracted the attention of Decca Records in the USA, which normally released records in Polydor's Deutsche Grammophon series. They pre-released promotional singles of "My Bonnie" by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers (Decca 31382), but the radio stations didn't pick it up.
Commercial copies of the single exist in three variations, so it is possible that a greater number were actually pressed. However, the record is so rare today that it is almost certain that very few of the singles actually made it to the record store shelves. Yet Gottfridsson gives an estimate of 600 copies pressed. The Beatles' first outing in America was clearly a disaster, failing to chart on any of the major listings. Tony Sheridan's name remained unknown to American music listeners.
In late 1963 or January 1964, Tony rewrote the lyrics to "Sweet Georgia Brown." As the Beatles became increasingly more popular in England and as they rose instantly to superstardom in America, the rewritten and rerecorded "Sweet Georgia Brown" would be released in both countries. Chronologically, though, it was not the next Sheridan/Beatles record to be released in the USA.
When the Beatles hit it big with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and Meet the Beatles, demand arose for anything the Beatles had ever done. MGM Records acquired the rights to issue the four Sheridan/Beatles tracks that were apparently deemed most suitable for release. These were the single, "My Bonnie"/"The Saints," and the additional tracks "Why" and "Cry For a Shadow," which together had been released as an EP in Germany in July 1963 (EPH 21-610). For many years, it was rumored that the four songs were issued as an EP in 1961. However, no trade magazines mention the EP, no copies have surfaced, and no one who alleges its existence is able to produce a picture of the record or the catalog number. It is likely, then, that the other two songs were not released until 1963.
"My Bonnie" immediately received its second US release (MGM K13213, released January 27, 1964). This time, it charted in the top forty.
MGM filled their album, The Beatles with Tony Sheridan and Guests with two songs by Tony and the Beat Brothers ("Swanee River" [!] and "You Are My Sunshine", a single in Germany for Tony, Polydor NH 24-849) and several tracks by the Titans, probably an MGM in-house band. The album's cover made an obvious attempt to capitalize on the success of the group, succeeding only moderately. The release date was February 3, 1964, just before the arrival of the band in America. (MGM E-4215 [mono] and SE-4215 [rechanneled stereo])
Within about a year, MGM removed the words "and others" from the bottom of the front cover. These words had seemed to imply that there were other Beatles-backed songs on the album, when in fact, there were not.
At around the same time as the album's re-release, the single "My Bonnie" was reissued, too, adding mention of the album to the label. Album sales did not pick up, however, and by August of '66, the album was reissued onto MGM's budget line label, Metro.
The "My Bonnie" single had sold well enough for MGM to offer its other two Sheridan/Beatles songs as a single. This single only made it as high as 88 on Billboard's Hot 100 and did not chart at all on the other listings.
By the middle of 1964, Polydor was ready to pull its other Beatles songs out of the vaults. In June, "Sweet Georgia Brown" was released as a single both in England and the USA. Here, it was Atco Records who purchased the license to issue the remaining four Sheridan/Beatles tunes. "Sweet Georgia Brown" was coupled here with "Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby," and fared almost as poorly as the early Vee Jay Beatles singles.
As they released their other two songs as a single, "Ain't She Sweet" and "Nobody's Child," they chose to promote it with a title sleeve. Since the a-side did not feature Tony Sheridan but John Lennon on lead vocal, Atco promoted the single as a Beatles single, printing "Vocal by John Lennon" on the a-side labels. (This wording can appear at the left or under the group's name.) The single hit the Top Twenty, and one has to wonder why this was not Atco's first choice for a single.
It now bears mention that before Atco released their allotted four songs, they hired a session drummer and session guitarist to "punch up" the songs, particularly Pete Best's drum work. Drummer Bernard Purdie has claimed that he played drums on some Beatles records, and since he did record for Atlantic/Atco, it is often thought that he was the session drummer, even if he misremembers the details. Atco also edited two of the songs: "Nobody's Child" and "Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby," the latter because of Tony's swearing near the end.
By October 5, 1964, Atco finally got around to issuing its album of Sheridan/Beatles (and other) songs. The Swallows, probably an Atlantic session group, filled out the remainder of the LP. Oddly timed, the record sold poorly. (Atco 33-169 [mono] and SD 33-169 [rechanneled stereo])
For the next year and a half, the American public heard nothing of Tony Sheridan, although he was still selling records in Germany. In 1966, though, a small label called Savage Records signed Pete Best to an album. Shortly before this, they also released an album of Sheridan material. Where Savage got the songs to use on the album is not known. The Savage album, appropriately named The Savage Young Beatles, contained four of the Sheridan/Beatles tracks and four songs by Tony Sheridan. The front cover deceptively shows the group without Tony and mentions Tony's name (on the front cover) only at the bottom, as though "T. Sheridan" were one of the songs.
The album (Savage BM-69) appears not to have sold well at first. The title on the label of this rare first issue appears to be Hamburg 1961. But sales picked up later in the year, and the second issue of the album is reasonably common.
Just as the Beatles were preparing to release their posthumous Let It Be album, Polydor Records (USA) got into the act, issuing In the Beginning (Circa 1960). Polydor's album (Polydor 24-4504) just managed to hit the Hot 100, even though for the first time, all eight Sheridan/Beatles songs were together, and for the first time, the songs were in stereo. In fact, all twelve of the album's songs are in stereo on this LP, although (oddly) the ending of "Sweet Georgia Brown" is in rechanneled stereo. There was so much confusion over the Sheridan/Beatles songs that for years it was reported that the songs were not in stereo. Also, the album itself claims to be a reissue of the MGM record, which it is not! At last, Americans got to hear the four Atco songs in their original state. "My Bonnie," though, appeared here without either of its slow intros. In fact, every release of that song from 1964 through about 1978 lacked either of the intros.
The early 1980's saw the re-release of the Sheridan/Beatles material on certain small labels, sometimes together with some of the "live" Star Club recordings. With the advent of CD, the Beatles First album, released in England in mono in 1964 (Polydor 46-432) and in stereo in 1967 (Polydor 236-201), became the standard form for the Sheridan/Beatles releases. This is essentially the "circa 1960" record with a different cover. At the time of the CD release in 1985, however, the English intro was restored to "My Bonnie" (Polydor 823-701-2).
Fascinatingly, Atco's altered version of "Ain't She Sweet" appears on the Apple release, Anthology 1. To date, no reason has been given for this anomaly.
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