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Joe Moretti: Session guitarist whose work graced a string of hits


From 1955 to 1962, it seemed only the Americans could create convincing rock'n'roll, and few British records could compete. One exception was the atmospheric "Shakin' All Over" from Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (1960): the tense stop/start song, Kidd's belligerent vocal and Joe Moretti's dramatic guitar breaks combined to make a remarkable record.

Joe Moretti was born in the Glasgow docklands in 1938, the son of a Scottish-Italian father and an Irish mother. He taught himself to play his grandfather's piano, although he had ambitions to be an artist. With the advent of rock'n'roll and skiffle, Moretti acquired a cheap guitar and then a Hofner Senator. In 1957, he entered a newspaper competition for Glasgow's Tommy Steele. At the audition, he met the eventual winner, Alex Harvey. Harvey offered Moretti a place in his group, the seven-piece Kansas City Band (all from Glasgow).

In 1958, Moretti made his TV début on Six-Five Special with the Rikki Barnes All Stars. After marrying a young trainee nurse, Pina, they moved to London with £11. He went straight to the Two I's coffee bar in Soho, where he jammed with Tony Sheridan and Brian Bennett. He was offered a job with Tommy Steele's brother, Colin Hicks, and then he joined Vince Eager for a pantomime, Mother Goose, in Southport. "There was just me, Joe and Tex Makins so I don't know what we sounded like without a drummer," says Eager, "but Joe was a very good guitarist and ahead of his time. He left me and joined Vince Taylor and the Playboys, but I never got on well with Vince. My real name is Roy Taylor so I accused him of taking my name."

Vince Taylor, an American from Hounslow, had determination, if not talent, and he looked the part, with long sideburns and a black leather suit. Moretti played electrifyingly on "Brand New Cadillac", but it was banned by the BBC because of advertising, even though Cadillacs were not available in the UK. Taylor was later rediscovered and influenced David Bowie's creation, Ziggy Stardust. After the Playboys, Moretti moved to Johnny Duncan and his Bluegrass Boys then to the middle-of-the-road trumpeter, Eddie Calvert.

In 1960 he joined Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (Brian Gregg, Alan Caddy and Clem Cattini) for a session as Caddy felt nervous about playing the solo on "Shakin' All Over". Moretti told Dave Burke of Pipeline Instrumental Review in 2002: "I created the introduction, the backing figures, the solo, and slid a cigarette lighter across the strings to get that shakin' guitar sound. We had it down in a couple of takes." The single went to No 1 and he also played on the follow-up, "Restless".

Moretti did not tour with the Pirates as he was working in the Beat Boys with Gene Vincent. Vincent's agent, Larry Parnes gave Moretti £7 to go to Italy for a TV date, not appreciating that he needed the same amount to return. Moretti had to sell his guitar to get home. He borrowed a Fender Telecaster for a UK tour with Vincent, but almost immediately Vincent crashed into him on stage and broke the guitar. He said of his time with Vincent, "He didn't have a set list. Every song began with the word 'Well-ll-ll-ll" and we had to guess what it was going to be."

Another musician, Mike O'Neill, had acquired some plastic Roman gladiator costumes no longer required at Elstree film studios, and he formed a band, Nero and the Gladiators, with himself in a toga and a laurel wreath. Moretti became a Gladiator and played on "In the Hall of the Mountain King", again banned by the BBC, this time because it insulted Grieg.

The former Shadows Jet Harris and Tony Meehan had a UK No 1 with "Diamonds" in 1963, and Moretti joined their stage band with a schoolboy, John Paul Jones, later of Led Zeppelin, on bass. Because Harris was drinking heavily, Moretti often played his solos. He also played on their hits "Scarlett O'Hara" and "Applejack", and when Harris left, he played the lead on Meehan's "Song of Mexico".

Moretti had a residency at London's Flamingo club with Herbie Goins and the Nightimers, so could take daytime session work for Decca, Pye and EMI. He might play three sessions a day, five days a week. He is on Tom Jones's "It's Not Unusual" (1965) and Chris Farlowe's "Out of Time" (1966), both No 1s, as well as Donovan's "Mellow Yellow" (1967) and the original album for Evita (1976). He appeared, dressed as a Spanish guitarist, on a TV special with Barbra Streisand and wrote an instrumental tribute, "Little Evvy", for Kenny Everett and "Disco Kid" as the Sound of Pop.

"I find it sad that people like Joe Moretti don't get the credit for what they've done," said Clem Cattini, "Everyone thinks it was Mick Green playing guitar on 'Shakin' All Over' but he didn't join the band til later. Then the Bay City Rollers and Kenny take the credit for playing on their hits when it was us."

In the late 1970s, Moretti toured Africa with Madeline Bell and, knowing he owed tax in the UK, settled in South Africa. He formed a band for a casino in Sun City and settled in Johannesburg in 1981. His wife made costumes for dramas while their son, "Little Joe", became a gifted musician and music teacher. Asked if he regretted anything, Joe Snr said, "A course in business management would have helped."

Spencer Leigh

Joseph Edward Moretti, guitarist: born Glasgow 10 May 1938; married (one son); died Johannesburg 9 February 2012.