Tony Jackson

Singer and guitarist with the Searchers

Anthony Paul Jackson, singer and guitarist: born Liverpool 16 July 1940; died Nottingham 18 August 2003.

The Beatles aside, the Searchers were the most successful of the many Merseybeat groups and their hit records of the 1960s, which included "Sweets for My Sweet" and "Needles and Pins", have endured. Their lead vocalist and bass guitarist Tony Jackson known as "Black Jake", was an important part of that success.

Jackson was born in Liverpool in 1940. He grew up with a love of Frankie Laine and Johnnie Ray records and, closer to home, the skiffle music of Lonnie Donegan. Jackson's nasal vocals were heavily influenced by Donegan's style. He formed a skiffle group, the Martinis, which had a fast-changing personnel. In 1989, he told me about his early days in music:

When you're learning to play guitar and only know three chords, you end up playing Buddy Holly's stuff. Then you learn a minor chord and you find you can do all his stuff. Buddy Holly had very, very good melodies and it was perfect for me as an amateur musician with just four chords in my repertoire.

After leaving school, Jackson enrolled at Walton Technical College to become an electrician, but his heart was in music. In 1960, the Martinis, reduced to a trio, was playing the Cross Keys pub in the centre of Liverpool "for 30 bob a night and as much beer as we could drink". Jackson befriended Mike Pender and John McNally, who were keen to form a beat group. The three youngsters formed a new group with Norman McGarry on drums, but McGarry was put on the night shift at the bakery where he worked and so had to leave, causing them to recruit the charismatic Chris Curtis instead. Jackson said,

Long before Beatle mops came in, Chris had his hair right down his back. He wore leather gear before we saw the Beatles in their Hamburg clothes, so he did stand out a bit and he was a very good showman.

The group, calling themselves the Searchers after the John Wayne film, recruited a fifth member in the lead vocalist Billy Beck, who renamed himself Johnny Sandon (after the Sandon pub). Sandon had a powerful voice and, in keeping with his preferences, the group developed a repertoire of R&B and country songs. Jackson became a proficient bass guitarist, but he was uneasy about the group wearing uniforms:

We had red shirts, black trousers and white shoes. One night we were booked into the Everton Supporters Club and you can imagine how well we went down wearing red and white. We then got polo-neck sweaters and suede waistcoats from C&A which cost us about £4 each.

Johnny Sandon left the group to tour American bases in France with another Liverpool band, the Remo Four. Tony Jackson took over as main vocalist and, encouraged by the Star-Club's resident vocalist Tony Sheridan, the Searchers developed their sound in Hamburg, where the Beatles had also played. Jackson said,

We would get up and go down to the Seaman's Mission about lunchtime and have a meal down there, steak and chips and a pint of milk, and then we would go into the club and rehearse and learn new numbers. It opened at 6 o'clock or 4 o'clock at the weekends and we would do an hour spot, then one hour off or two hours off, and be going on until three or four in the morning.

We were living quite a way from the Star-Club so we never used to go back to the flat. We would go on stage, come off, sit in the dressing-room for a while, go to the bierhaus, then have a few beers and go back on again. With playing so much, all our endings were in time and we all finished on the beat. Prior to that, if you finished first, you gave the others a round of applause.

The Searchers then had a residency at the Iron Door club in Liverpool and because of the rivalry between the Iron Door and the Cavern Club, the Beatles' stomping ground, they rarely appeared at the Cavern. They did, however, audition for Brian Epstein, who became the Beatles' manager, as Jackson recalls,

Brian Epstein came to see us at the Cavern and Ray McFall, the owner, put us on the final spot. We went to the Grapes and had a few and the stage was full of equipment. My bass amp collapsed and I went straight into the audience. It didn't go down well with Brian as he didn't sign us.

The Beatles made the charts with their first Parlophone single, "Love Me Do", in October 1962, and Tony Hatch, encouraged by Margo Quantrell from the Liverpool backing vocalists the Breakaways, came to the city to see whom he might sign up:

I went on a Friday night to a club in Bootle and there were the Searchers and

the Undertakers. I wasn't sure what I could do with the Undertakers but I knew that the Searchers had a huge following and were playing hit after hit. As soon as I heard "Sweets for My Sweet", I knew I was listening to a No 1 record.

 

The Searchers recorded their cover version of the Drifters' "Sweets for My Sweet" under Hatch's guidance and the record soared to the top in August 1963, helped by an appearance on a special Liverpool edition of the ITV show Thank Your Lucky Stars. They followed the single later that year with the similar "Sugar and Spice", written by Hatch under the pseudonym of Fred Nightingale, which was kept from the top of the charts by the Beatles' "She Loves You".

For the Searchers' third single, "Needles and Pins", Hatch double-tracked Pender's voice and added a harmony from Chris Curtis. Jackson, who had already fallen out with Curtis, was unhappy about being restricted to playing bass on the record and was even less happy when the album, It's the Searchers (1964), only contained one of his lead vocals.

After playing on the Searchers' next No 1 hit, "Don't Throw Your Love Away" and also "Someday We're Gonna Love Again", Jackson decided to leave. As it happened, Curtis had already been sounding out Frank Allen from Cliff Bennett's Rebel Rousers, and so both sides were happy about the change. Jackson formed a new group, the Vibrations:

In retrospect, I wish I'd formed a group with some other Liverpool musicians, but we all got along well. We had a hit with "Bye Bye Baby" but it was all too rushed as Pye wanted something out quick.

"Bye Bye Baby" made No 38 in the charts and although they made some good records, including a new Carole King song "Stage Door", nothing more happened for the Vibrations.

Jackson set up a night club in Spain and then moved into golf club management in Kidderminster. Around 1990, he returned to performing, thinking of calling his group Tony Jackson's Researchers, but there was little call for his talents, with the Searchers (McNally and Allen) and Mike Pender's Searchers already touring extensively.

When, in 1996, a woman waiting to make a call in a telephone booth asked Jackson to hurry a call to his fiancée, an argument ensued, with Jackson threatening to kill her and waving an air pistol. He was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment and, when he was released, the arthritis in his hands was so severe that he could no longer play the guitar.

Spencer Leigh

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015