Obituary: Tony Sheridan / British singer fronted early Beatles records

May 21, 1940 - Feb. 16, 2013

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Tony Sheridan, the British guitarist, singer and songwriter who was the star on the Beatles' first commercial recording -- they were the backup band -- died Saturday in Hamburg, Germany. He was 72.

His death was announced by his daughter, Wendy Clare Sheridan-McGinnity.

Although Mr. Sheridan's involvement with the Beatles was brief, it proved crucial to their career. They met in 1960, when the Beatles -- then a quintet that included the late John Lennon, Paul McCartney and the late George Harrison on guitars, the late Stuart Sutcliffe on bass and Pete Best on drums -- arrived in Hamburg to work as a club band.

Mr. Sheridan, already an accomplished performer, was also playing in Hamburg, and the Beatles both admired his work and emulated his performance style. At times, they performed together, and in recent years Mr. Sheridan claimed to have arranged for Ringo Starr's first performances with the group.

Mr. McCartney took over as bassist when Sutcliffe left the band at the end of 1960, and Mr. Starr replaced Mr. Best as the group's drummer in 1962, the year when Sutcliffe died.

In the spring of 1961, the German producer and composer Bert Kaempfert offered recording contracts to both Mr. Sheridan and the Beatles, with the intention of using the Beatles as Mr. Sheridan's backup band, but with the option of recording them separately as well.

During sessions in Hamburg in 1961 and 1962, Mr. Sheridan and the Beatles recorded nine songs together. Mr. Sheridan sang seven of them -- "My Bonnie," "The Saints," "Why (Can't You Love Me Again)," "Nobody's Child," "Take Out Some Insurance On Me, Baby," "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "Swanee River."

The other two were purely Beatles performances: "Cry for a Shadow," an instrumental by Lennon and Harrison, and "Ain't She Sweet," with Lennon singing.

When the first single from the sessions, "My Bonnie" -- a rocked-up version of the folk ballad, "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean" -- was released in Germany on the Polydor label in October 1961, Beatles' fans in Liverpool flooded local record shops with requests for the disc.

One shop manager, Brian Epstein, decided to see what all the fuss was about, and caught a performance by the group at the Cavern, a club not far from his store. He quickly persuaded the Beatles to hire him as their manager, and within a year, he got them a recording contract of their own with EMI. They recorded their first album, "Please Please Me," 50 years ago this month.

Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity was born in Norwich, England, on May 21, 1940. He began studying the violin when he was 7.

Switching to guitar in the early 1950s, he formed his first band in 1956. Moving to London in 1958, he found work as a session musician and toured Britain with several American performers, including Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran and Conway Twitty.

In 1960, he took a band, Tony and the Jets, to Hamburg, where he took up residency at the Kaiserkeller and later at the Top Ten and the Star Club, clubs where the fledgling Beatles also appeared.

Mr. Sheridan toured Europe with Jerry Lee Lewis, Chubby Checker and other American musicians in the mid-1960s, and in 1967 he undertook a tour of American military bases in Vietnam. During that visit, he was mistakenly reported as having been killed in an attack in which one of his band members died.

He returned to Hamburg in the early 1970s, and when the Star Club reopened in 1978, he performed there with members of Elvis Presley's TCB Band as his backing group.

His most recent recordings include "Vagabond" (2002) and a DVD, "Chantal Meets Tony Sheridan" (2005), which includes the only recording of "Tell Me If You Can," a song Mr. Sheridan wrote with Mr. McCartney in 1962.

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