The legendary musician who would have The Beatles for his backing band tells Nasha Niva about rock’n’roll rule in Hamburg.
Sheridan (right) performing with The Beatles in Hamburg.
George Harisson, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tony Sheridan and John Lennon.
Tony does not want to be involved in showbiz, he likes to be a “vagabond”.
The Beatles’ First featuring Tony Sheridan is a must for Liverpool quartet amateurs. Legendary ‘beatles’ first visited a sound recording studio as Tony Sheridan’s backing band. He was the person The Beatles played their gigs at Star Club in Hamburg. Nasha Niva talked to Tony Sheridan about those glorious times.
NN: Why Hamburg became world’s rock capital in 1960’s?
All American and British sound recording companies, managers, DJs and VJs told rock’n’roll is doomed within a year.
Especially New-York music bosses strived to kill this genre. Then, British musicians started playing it in Hamburg. I left for Hamburg for two months and you see: now I live here. We played 8 hours’ gigs every night, month after month. There was no place like that anywhere else. Right in Hamburg we gave up copying classic rock’n’roll bands. We took the base and improvised.
Hamburg clubs were kind of music academies for young musicians and the music revolution of the 60’s started in Hamburg.
Classic Tony Sheridan & The Beatles
NN: You played with The Beatles, Gerry & The Pacemakers...
Everyone played with everyone then. The memories of war were fresh and Brits who went to Hamburg, “to enemies”, found it hard to integrate into German society. But we were just kids then, we were 20 and we understood we and German youths are not enemies at all.
Thanks to music, we didn’t choose hatred for one another. Hitler’s 12-year-rule destroyed all creative: there was no literature, no arts. All was forbidden.
There was a cultural starvation in Germany. They gradually discovered jazz, rhythm’n’blues. However, no one played rock’n’roll when we came there.
When you first met The Beatles, could you predict they would become such stars?
No-no-no! When you’re 20 and you meet guys as young as you, and you all are keen on music and have enormous ego. You try to create something together, find your place, make everything around move.
No one thought about the future of The Beatles. All thought rock’n’roll would die in a moment. The Beatles were depressed, say saw no way out.
NN: Was it hard to play eight hours on end?
Very hard. But we had to somehow survive, be peppy all the time.
NN: What about money?
We earned as much as bank clerks.
NN: Is it true Ringo Starr started with you, not with The Beatles?
Yes, it is. Ringo was very lazy. When he played with my band, we always had to rap on him to urge Ringo play better.
Drummers usually are lazybones. In Hamburg, The Beatles played with Pit Best. He was a very important person at their German period. There would have not been The Beatles without Ringo Starr. There would have been a plain band, they wouldn’t have created this chemistry and magic with some other drummer.
Pit cannot understand his main achievement was giving green light to Ringo. Simply this is worth being born! Pit, however, it still upset with his fate.
Sweet Georgia Brown
NN: George Harrison told that everything he could he had learnt from you.
Well, I don’t know. No one taught us and this was our problem. We educated ourselves listening to Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, we took the bits of our knowledge anywhere we could. But when you play eight hours in a row, at some moment you realize: here it is, it sounds! It’s something new, something you invented yourself.
NN: John Lennon had always had a sharp temper. Did you notice it in Hamburg?
John had a hard childhood: his mother died, his father left the family... George Harrison had the happiest childhood, and Paul was also Ok. In his childhood, Paul managed to take in all music ever existed — and this made him The Beatles’ best musician.
We all were born during the WWII, and it did change us, staying with us for good. After the war, there was no light in our lives until we discovered rock’n’roll. Especially, when we heard Elvis. We spent the energy — that is usually spent on girls — to make that music ours.
NN: After the tremendous success of The Beatles in the UK, why didn’t you return?
They asked me to go together with them. They said we look good together, we sound good and we may continue doing the same in Liverpool. But I said “no”. I had a contract in Hamburg, why should I come back...
When The Beatles became super famous, I was glad for them. Still, when I and my colleagues listened to their first singles Love Me Do and Please, Please Me, we could not understand: what’s that? They play some rubbish.
Whom do they record Love Me Do for? Teenage girls? But it was their strategy: to change the image and music. All sound recording companies refused them, EMI was the only who agreed to work with The Beatles. Their producer George Martin is a real magician, but even Mr. Martin could not imagine what The Beatles would turn into. After their first singles, The Beatles started playing prodigy music.
NN: But you also changed your sound in the 60’s?
Yes. I always liked jazz by Ray Charles. We all listened to American music when we were kids. There were many American soldiers in England, they were returning from Germany. They brought their music with them and that was the first time I listened to jazz, Frank Sinatra.
The difference between the Americans and the English was colossal. The British never smiled and the Americans were positive and girls liked them.
Star Club again after 50 years
NN: You played at war yourself, in Vietnam.
I stayed there for 18 months and I almost went mad. It’s difficult to stay sane at war. I soon understood music doesn’t make you fight, music makes you want back home. Once we played White Christmas on the Christmas eve and the soldiers were just crying...
In late 1967 English newspapers wrote I was killed in Vietnam. I mailed my mother I was safe at once, but she would not believe and I had to make a whole trip to Germany to make her sure I was alive.
Once she couldn’t believe I was going to Germany to sing for “enemies” and then that I would sing for Americans at the next war.
What are you busy with now?
You know, I’ve never wanted to become a star, I’ve always been a vagabond. I’m not interested in getting into charts — I perform, I record music. I recorded with my wife, but she passed away last September. I cannot recover hitherto, I still take it hard... I went to India, was looking for a guru.
Being in showbiz, jumping from one label to another ahs never been my way. I love to be free. I perform all around the world.
By the way, in St. Petersburg, Russia, I had a chance to play with Belarusians.
The guy I worked with in Russia once told: “I’ll bring you two marvelous guitarists.” They came from Belarus and we got on perfectly together. Unfortunately, due to financial reasons we did not manage to stay together to record an album in several months. I would very much like to do this: these guys inspired me.
I can’t recall their names, but if they read this interview, they will turn up.
That very gig in St. Petersburg
NN: Do you stay in touch with Paul and Ringo?
Not really. I wanted to attend Ringo’s 70th birthday, but had some other business to do. I met him some years ago, when he visited Hamburg. We chatted about our young years, discussed our old friends ... But this, frankly speaking, is very boring.
You know, Paul is sentimental. He likes to recall all these “old times”, but I live in today and do not like to remember Hamburg