Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Music Review: The Beatles with Tony Sheridan–“First Recordings: 50th Anniversary Edition”

The Beatles with Tony SheridanThe Beatles With Tony Sheridan: First Recordings 50th Anniversary Edition

 In 1961, a promising English guitarist and singer with a reputation as a bit of a flake was offered a gig in Bruno Koschmieder's "Kaiserkeller" club in Hamburg, Germany. Sheridan had garnered a lot of attention in the UK for his guitar playing and had appeared on the BBC's Oh Boy, playing electric guitar and had backed a number of singers, reportedly including Gene Vincent and Conway Twitty while they were in England. He also played guitar for Cherry Wainer on her recording of "Happy Organ” but despite the work and a somewhat regular gig at London's "Two I's" club he was sleeping in doorways and developed a reputation for showing up late, forgetting his guitar and otherwise being a bit gone.

He had to head to the continent to work. On this gig in ‘61 his band left him shortly after they arrived, one can only assume because of his flaky ways. Now, Sheridan was amongst the first UK ‘stars’ to head to Hamburg in 1960 and the Moon Dogs (as the Beatles were then named) quickly became followers because Sheridan had had some popular success back home and was considered “a professional”. Further, a young George Harrison glommed on to Sheridan, never being one to not get a chance to study lead guitarists.

Beatles hamburg

When Sheridan's band abandoned him, he was fortunate that The Beatles were playing Bruno Koschmieder's other club, "The Indra". The Beatles jumped at the chance to back Sheridan and lend some vocals as well. In April 61, The Beatles who had had a now famous first trip to Hamburg in ‘60 where George was deported for being under age and Paul and then drummer Pete Best had been involved in burning down their room. In ‘61 they were on their best behavior and were booked into The Top Ten club and started backing Sheridan regularly. At this time the Beatles were a five piece with John on rhythm guitar, George on lead, Pete Best on drums and Stu Sutcliff on bass with Paul on piano, vocals and pretty much any other instrument needed. Shortly after their arrival Stu left the band to pursue a career in art and Paul moved to bass. It was probably May 1961 when German rock n roll star, Tommy Kent saw the Beatles at The Top Ten and a few nights later brought Bert Kaempfert into hear them. Kaempfert, a recording star and big band leader in his own right, was by this time the lead arranger and producer for Polygram Records. Tony Sheridan

On June 19, 1961 he signed The Beatles and Tony Sheridan to their first contract with Polydor – they were actually signed to Bert Kaempfert Productions but recorded on Polydor with Sheridan. Sheridan signed with Kaempfert at the same time as the Beatles, actually at the same kitchen table in Kaempfert’s kitchen, but later signed separately and directly with Polydor. The contract went into effect on July 1st and was to run through June ‘62.

Three days after the contract was signed, and after a night that ended at 3 a.m. for Sheridan and The Beatles, Kaempfert rousted them out of bed at 8 a.m. to record in what the Beatles described as “a school hall” but was actually a concert hall at a school in Harburg, south of Hamburg. here they setup a portable recording studio and recorded straight to stereo on a Telefunken two track tape recorder. Mixing was done on site, no over dubs. During the setup, John and Paul tried to get Kaempfert to listen to some of their own compositions. he wasn’t impressed. The Beatles and Tony Sheridan recorded seven tracks and experimented with different intro to “My Bonnie (lies over the ocean). Kaempfert chose “My Bonnie” and “When The Saints (go marching in)” for the first releases. On “My Bonnie” Sheridan took the vocal and George played lead guitar and Paul provided a ‘shouting’ in the background, with Sheridan taking the lead in the break. Eventually the tune was released with both a German intro and an English intro. By December the Beatles were back in Liverpool but Sheridan stayed on in Germany.

Back in Liverpool, having heard “Bonnie/saints” Brian Epstein quickly signed on as manager. He tried to get the Beatles, still under contract to Kaempfert/Polydor, a contract with EMI, who turned them down. Then he tried Decca. Decca eventually turned down the Beatles for another Epstein group, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes. At the same time, Kaempfert and Polydor weren’t much interested in resigning The Beatles, clearly surmising that Sheridan had the star quality. However, Kaempfert did want the Beatles to fulfill their commitment by backing Sheridan on a few more tracks to make an album. When The Beatles didn’t show up in Hamburg in January, Kaempfert used an orchestra to back Sheridan. In April, The Beatles with Epstein in tow returned to Hamburg to play the Star Club and fulfill their obligation for a second recording session with Kaempfert.

Sheridan Beatles

On May 24th, ‘62 The Beatles and Roy Young laid down backing tracks to the McCartney arranged “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Swanee River”, Sheridan over dubbed the vocal the next day. To this day, “Swanee River” has never been released and indeed the track is thought to have disappeared. While The Beatles were doing this, Epstein had finally agreed to a contract with George Martin and EMI. Ironically, on “Sweet Georgia Brown” Sheridan can be heard shouting, “Ahh, tell it to me Paul”. Since he was used to Paul playing piano on the tune live. It was actually Roy Young on the tape.

Two days after this the Beatles returned to Liverpool, and as they say, the rest is history. On June 6 they laid down the first tracks as The Beatles sans any other personnel, at Abbey Road studios. These first couple of sessions were done with Pete best as drummer, but by September best was gone and Ringo Starr was in. On October 4th, “Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You” was released. That fall The Beatles returned for their last two dates at The Star Club culminating with new Years Eve 1962. Sheridan stayed in Hamburg and recorded for Kaempfert/Polydor until 1967 but, alas, stardom escaped him. Sheridan poster

This album, released on November 8th, marks the 50th Anniversary of those first sessions. The deluxe packaging includes rare and candid Photos By Astrid Kirchherr,
Signed Contracts, And Personal Biographies
Handwritten By Each Member in 1961 as they wrote them out for Kaempfert at his kitchen table. In the handwritten bios, John is listed as the sole leader of the group. he also lists that he has written maybe four songs with Paul. Paul says seventy songs. Lennon also lists in his official bio for Polydor that he was thrown out of Liverpool College Of Arts.

For all of us Beatles fans, this is a treasure trove of nostalgia. It is a two disk set with all the different versions of the eight songs that comprised the Kaempfert/Polydor contract. Both the original stereo versions and the later mono releases. There are of course, the Sheridan tracks that were first released, as well as tracks such as “Ain’t She Sweet” with just the Beatles listed as performers and John singing lead. There are both U.S. versions (which when they were eventually released here were over dubbed with different guitars to find that edgier sound the Beatles had later on, but was toned down for Kaempfert)and  there are European/UK versions of some songs and some with German intros and then English intros.

The recording quality is out standing for records this old, and yet they haven’t been “cleaned up” to such a degree that they lose the heart of the music as the lads originally laid it down. All in all, a must have for any Beatles fan and serious record collector, and the booklet is something else to get lost in.

The Dirty Lowdown

Copyright © 2011 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved

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