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Music

Beatles mentor Tony Sheridan dies in Hamburg

He was the first person to appear with the Fab Four in a recording studio and was an influential figure during their formative years. British songwriter and guitarist Tony Sheridan has died in Hamburg at the age of 72.

Tony Sheridan, best remembered for his early collaborations with the Beatles during their Hamburg years in the early Sixties, died in Hamburg on February 16 from undisclosed causes. He was 72 . A statement posted by his family on social networking site Facebook read, "Our beloved father and friend! Thank you for your love and inspiration. You left us today at 12.00 pm."

Born Anthony Esmond Sheridan McGinnity in Norwich, UK on May 21, 1940, the British rocker was influenced initially by his parents' love of classical music. By age seven he had learned to play the violin, but by the mid 50s, inspired by the craze for rock and roll, he had switched his attentions to the electric guitar. Sheridan formed his first band in 1956.

Bookings at London clubs soon followed, as did appearances on the BBC television music program "Oh Boy." Sheridan quickly gained a reputation as a talented guitarist and reportedly appeared on stage with legendary rockers Gene Vincent and Conway Twitty during their UK tours.

In early 1960, Sheridan was touring the UK on a bill which included Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. When the two established rock and roll stars once refused Sheridan a lift to the next venue, it was a stroke of luck, as he escaped the road accident which killed Cochran and left Vincent badly injured.

Gaining a bad reputation

Arriving in August 1960, The Beatles spent the best part of two years gigging in Hamburg's clubs.

Despite his early promise, Sheridan's reputation soon soured in the UK due to his repeated tardiness and often showing up at venues minus his guitar. A booking by German club owner Bruno Koschmider set his career on a new path as he and his band decamped to Hamburg to play a string of shows. When his bandmates chose to return to England at the end of the engagement, Sheridan opted to remain in Germany.

The single my Bonnie (gemeinfrei)

One of the most expensive 45rpms: "My Bonnie"

Sheridan soon met another Koschmider booking there: a raw, young band called The Beatles, then starting a 3-month residency at The Indra Club. The four young Liverpudlians jumped at the chance to learn from the more established Sheridan. George Harrison in particular rehearsed endlessly with Sheridan to improve his own guitar playing.

The relationship rapidly became symbiotic: the Beatles often played back up for Sheridan, while he regularly appeared on stage with them. It was during one such appearance that Bert Kaempfert, a representative of Polydor Germany, saw the commercial potential in the lineup. Ironically, it was Sheridan who was singled out for stardom. The Beatles were relegated to backing band duties.

Tony Sheridan on stage with his band in the 1960s.

On two days in June 1961, the makeshift group recorded seven songs. The single "My Bonnie," credited to Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers, reached Number 5 on the German Hit Parade. Now one of the most sought-after pieces of Beatles memorabilia, the single is one of the most expensive 45rpms of all time. In 2007 a copy was sold at auction for $15,000.

A change of direction

Sheridan's musical style abruptly changed in the mid 60s. The move towards blues and jazz alienated much of his rock and roll fanbase. Performing for Allied troops in Vietnam in 1967, Sheridan was rewarded by being made an honorary Captain in the United States Army.

In the early 70s, Sheridan was responsible for a popular West German radio program which played blues music and reappeared on stage in 1978 at the reopening of Hamburg’s legendary Star Club.

He lived in Seestermühe, a village north of Hamburg, where, in addition to music, he also designed coats of arms. His last credit on a recording was on Dave Humphries 2008 album, "…and so it goes." Sheridan played on five of the album's eleven tracks.

Despite his achievements as a respected musician in his own right, it will always be his association with The Beatles during their earliest years that assures Sheridan a place in the music history books. Paul McCartney referred to him as "The Teacher" due to his influence on the foursome during their coming-of-age period.

DW.DE