Tony Sheridan, Singer Who Lent Lead Vocals To First Beatles Recordings, Dead At 72
Lineup he worked with included John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison – with Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums.
By David Hinckley
Tony Sheridan, a journeyman rock ‘n’ roller who happened to sing lead vocals on the first recordings by the Beatles, died Saturday in Hamburg, Germany. He was 72.
He had reportedly been ill for some time and had recently undergone heart surgery.
A British native, Sheridan later settled in Germany, near Hamburg and the clubs where he and an early incarnation of the Beatles crossed paths in the early 1960s.
Both were British bands imported to play long hours of music for the raucous crowds at the Kaiserkeller and the Star Club in Hamburg’s seedy late-night district.
Sheridan and the Beatles, who were first known as the Silver Beatles, became friends and often played on each others’s sets.
The Beatles then included John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, at first with Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums.
German bandleader Bert Kaempert saw Sheridan as a potential star and arranged for a recording contract.
The Beatles were signed as his backup band. The nine songs that have surfaced from those sessions feature Sheridan singing lead on seven, Lennon singing “Ain’t She Sweet” and one instrumental, “Cry for a Shadow.”
Details from the sessions have been unclear over the years. All the Beatles didn’t play on all the songs, and both Sheridan and Lennon later said other songs were recorded that have never surfaced.
The biggest hit from the session was “My Bonnie,” which peaked at No. 5 in Britain. The label read, “Tony Sheridan With the Beat Brothers.”
A few copies were released on the Decca label in the U.S. In 2007, a mint condition black-label copy sold for $15,000.
Sheridan and the Beatles soon went their separate ways, with Sheridan moving more toward a jazz sound and the Beatles finding some success on the pop charts.
McCartney issued a statement after Sheridan’s death, saying, “Tony was a good guy who we knew and worked with from the early days in Hamburg. We regularly watched his late night performances and admired his style. He will be missed.”
Beatles historians have said the relationship went a little deeper, particularly between Sheridan and Harrison, who reportedly spent hours practicing guitar together.
Sheridan was born in Norwich and learned to play violin and guitar as a child, starting with classical music and graduating to rock ‘n’ roll.
He played in backup groups for touring American singers like Conway Twitty and Gene Vincent.
He later said he asked for a ride with Eddie Cochran and Vincent on April 17, 1960, but was turned down. The car crashed, killing Cochran and crippling Vincent.
Sheridan later would develop a reputation for erratic behavior and being difficult to work with. He was playing solo in Hamburg when he met the Beatles because the rest of his band had quit.
He continued playing music for the rest of his life, though he had only modest commercial success. He played last year at the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ Star Club appearances.
He is survived by three sons and two daughters.