Tony Sheridan, the early British rock ‘n’ roller whose mentorship and recordings with the Beatles would cement his name in rock history, died on Saturday in Hamburg, Germany. He was 72.
A native of Norfolk, England, Sheridan first broke into the music business as a session musician in London during the late 50s’, performing on the BBC (where he was allegedly the first to perform with an electric guitar on British TV) and gigging with the likes of rockabilly stars Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochrane (Sheridan narrowly avoided riding along for the car crash that killed the latter). He moved to Hamburg to take up residency in the city’s famed Reeperbahn rock clubs in 1960, and met the Beatles there.
The young group — then featuring Pete Best on drums, to be replaced later by Ringo Starr — took to Sheridan quickly. Although he was scarcely older, Sheridan’s deeper level of experience made him something of a mentor figure to the moptops, and he introduced them to choice R&B tunes as well as live performing secrets, including the use of amphetamines to fuel marathon seven-hour club performances. The Beatles would often serve as Sheridan’s backing band.
A marquee attraction at the Top Ten Club, Sheridan and the Beatles — briefly renamed the Beat Brothers in Germany — were signed to contracts with German producer Bert Kaempfert and recorded a number of songs, including an early John Lennon-Paul McCartney composition. “My Bonnie,” a rocked-up arrangement of the standard “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” was the pick of the litter, released by Polydor in 1961. According to legend, demand for the record caught the attention of Liverpool record store manager Brian Epstein, who would subsequently become the Beatles manager and svengali.
Sheridan’s recordings with the Beatles have been re-released in a number of different guises over the years, most recently in the 2012 double-disc set “The Beatles With Tony Sheridan: First Recordings” for Time-Life.
As the Beatles went on to unprecedented global success, Sheridan released “A Little Bit of Tony Sheridan” in 1964 and toured as a sideman for various early rock legends. In the late ’60s, he played for GIs in Vietnam, where he was mistakenly reported as having been killed.