Tony Sheridan: Singer and guitarist who was a catalyst in the early career of The Beatles

When he went to Hamburg he found that the wild and crazy lifestyle suited him perfectly

Tony Sheridan was a catalyst in the Beatles' development, recording "My Bonnie" with them in Hamburg in 1961, and he was an exceptional, if erratic, performer in his own right. His one time manager and record producer, Paul Murphy said, "Sheridan was absolutely breathtaking on stage. If anyone should have made it, it was him but he had a self-destruct button. Whenever he saw success, he messed it up."

Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity was born in Norwich in May 1940. His Liverpool/Irish father, Alphonsus, left his mother, a nurse, and they lived outside Norwich in Thorpe St Andrew. Tony was a bright student, a good swimmer and a cross country runner. He played violin in the school orchestra and sang with his mother in Gilbert and Sullivan productions. He told me, "It was a very good training to be in The Mikado when you're 11, but I got so frustrated doing all this shit for six or seven years that as soon as I heard Lonnie Donegan, I wanted a guitar – and freedom!"

When he was 16, Sheridan passed several O-levels and obtained the top grade in Art. He studied commercial art, but not for long. In February 1957 he saw Lonnie Donegan in Norwich and decided to perform skiffle and rock'n'roll himself. As he put it, "I wanted to get into the sexual side of music."

After Sheridan's group the Saints won £15, they decided that they might be good enough for London. By day, Sheridan worked in a brewery, shifting beer crates, and he played the Two I's and other coffee bars at night. He worked in Vince Eager and the Vagabonds and Vince Taylor and the Playboys, who recorded for Parlophone in 1958. The bass player Licorice Locking recalls, "We did 'Right Behind You Baby' on the first take. I was expecting just one 12-bar solo from Tony Sheridan but he took two and the second one was awe-inspiring. It lifted the track off the ground."

The TV producer Jack Good signed Sheridan for Oh Boy! and he was the first British artist to be signed by the Top Rank label, but nothing came of it because he didn't receive an advance. Still, Sheridan was enjoying a bohemian lifestyle with attractive girls everywhere. He moved in with Hazel Byng, a dancer at the Windmill. They married in May 1959 after Hazel became pregnant, and their son was born in October.

Very few American rock'n'rollers had come to the UK and Sheridan was on tour with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran early in 1960. He commented, "Eddie Cochran was real and I was a copy. He was a very good guitarist and he was into all sorts of things, which influenced his music. He might suddenly do something differently, and that is when innovation can happen."

In May 1960, a strip-club owner from St Pauli in Hamburg, Bruno Koschmider, came looking for a British rock group for the Kaiserkeller on Grosse Freiheit. When Tony Sheridan went there as part of the Jets he found that the wild and crazy lifestyle suited him fine. The wilder he became, the more the audiences responded, but Sheridan's philosophy wasn't for everyone: "If you play 'Blue Suede Shoes' 2,000 times, you have got to find ways to do it differently – you put in sevenths and ninths and elevenths. That is what Hamburg can do for you – you become something else, but I believe that the only way to play is spontaneously. All those guys who plan their shows are not being creative. Of course I had bad nights, but there were nights when I turned myself on and also turned everybody else on."

The Jets moved to the Top Ten and the chief waiter, Horst Fascher, became a close friend. "The first British group I saw was Tony Sheridan and the Jets and it was such a surprise to see rock'n'roll live on stage," he said. "There was sweat all over him, he looked like he had just come of the swimming baths. We liked him very much."

Meanwhile, Koschmider was having success with the Beatles and soon they were breaking their contract by performing with Sheridan. He was the first musician they had met who had a reputation, and they saw how he could pace himself to play for hours on end. Both John Lennon and Gerry Marsden copied Sheridan's defiant stage stance: facing the audience straight on, legs astride, guitar high on the chest. Gerry Marsden admits, "I did get a lot of ideas about singing and presentation from Tony Sheridan. His rhythm playing was great, he could drive like mad, and he also wore leather pants and cowboy boots."

Sheridan often performed a rock arrangement of "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel. He said, "I would play it two or three times a night, and Gerry copied my version. He even sounded like me, so it's me that Liverpool Football Club should be thanking."

Many musicians recall Sheridan playing "What'd I Say" for up to an hour and then jamming with other musicians. He recalled, "Well, it was probably a sort of sickness, I was obsessed. It wasn't sex and drugs and rock'n'roll – it was rock'n'roll, rock'n'roll, rock'n'roll, with beer and drugs and sex coming after that. Most of the musicians in the Star-Club were fanatics. We didn't even want to sleep. Why sleep when you can play?"

The first session by Sheridan and the Beatles for Polydor Records took place in June 1961 and the producer, Bert Kaempfert, wanted rocked-up folk songs. Sheridan recalled, "We had about 15 whiskeys the night before and we had agreed on 'My Bonnie' and 'When The Saints Go Marching In'. We went to bed at 5am and got up at 8am to be taken to the studio to make the record. We took some uppers and the guitar solo was all right. I didn't feel too good about making the German charts. I would rather it had been with a good song."

The Beatles passed the German single to the DJ Bob Wooler, who played it at the Cavern in Liverpool. In October 1961, a teenage fan, Raymond Jones, went into Brian Epstein's record store, NEMS, and requested "My Bonnie". Brian Epstein promised to order it. As a result, he saw the Beatles one lunchtime and became their manager.

Sheridan continued to record for Polydor and he had German Top 10 singles with "Let's Slop" and "Skinny Minnie". Polydor released an album Let's Do The Madison, Twist, Locomotion, Slop, Hully Gully, Monkey and Sheridan broke his contract by recording for Philips as Dan Sherry. With the Beatles' commercial success, "My Bonnie" was released in both Britain and America and made the charts.

In November 1963, the Star-Club and the Top Ten decided to sort out their rivalry by a fight to the finish by their chosen representatives. Sheridan, then with the Star-Club, was charged with inciting a riot by calling out "Kill the pig!" He told the court, "Of course I did not want him to kill Walter. I was just screaming with excitement just as I would scream at a football game or a boxing match." He was released with a caution.

In 1967, Sheridan and his manager, Fascher, went to Vietnam to entertain the troops. Often he was playing with just his guitar for accompaniment, and as a result, he became self-sufficient, a competent one-man troubadour. Sheridan returned to Germany in 1969. He was made an honorary captain by the US Army.

In 1975 Sheridan's old associate, Paul Murphy, found the money for Sheridan to record a live concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. It went well but Sheridan's bad behaviour meant that a BBC special was dropped and the album was never released. He had better luck in 1978 when an album, Worlds Apart, was recorded with Elvis Presley's former backing musicians.

Sheridan was permanently dogged by his link to the Beatles and most of his later bookings were centred on Beatle festivals, where he sometimes performed with his son, Tony Jr. In 2002, Sheridan recorded an album of new material, Vagabond, produced by the Hamburg musician and historian, Ulf Kruger. Sheridan found happiness with his third wife, Anna Sievers, and settled in a farm house in the north of Germany. He was devastated when she died of cancer in 2011.

Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity (Tony Sheridan), singer and guitarist: born Norwich 21 May 1940; married three times (Hazel Byng, Rosi Heitmann, Anna Sievers); died 16 February 2013.

News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
artCultural relations between Sydney and Melbourne soured by row over milk crate art instillation
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features playground gun massacre
News
Two giraffes pictured on Garsfontein Road, Centurion, South Africa.
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations should be regarded as an offensive act
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm, actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
people
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

SCO Supervisor Electrical

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client based in the Midlands is looki...

Ecommerce Executive

£20000 - £24000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Ecommerce Executive Working with an...

Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply teaching - A great w...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices