The first song the broader world heard from the Beatles wasn’t one of the pop-music gems that seemed to flow so effortlessly from the pens of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, nor was it any of their versions of American R&B and blues songs that were a crucial component of their early repertoire.
It was a Scottish folk song, “My Bonnie," a recording made in 1961 — two years before Beatlemania erupted. On that record, Lennon, McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr’s predecessor in the group, drummer Pete Best, backed another British rocker, Tony Sheridan.
Sheridan, 72, died Saturday in Hamburg, Germany, according to an announcement from his family on Facebook.
Sheridan met the Beatles in 1960 in Germany when he was headlining clubs in the grittier parts of Hamburg at the same time the Beatles were honing their musical skills playing red-light district bars and clubs there. Soon he enlisted them as his backup band.
Upon seeing one of their performances, German producer Bert Kaempfert, who’d had his own No. 1 hit in the U.S. in 1960 with “Wonderland By Night," offered Sheridan the opportunity to record and to bring the Beatles in to play with him.
Those recordings were the group’s first commercially released studio recordings, and included “My Bonnie," a rocked-up treatment of a song usually played as a waltz. It became a minor hit when re-released in the U.S. after the group’s popularity exploded stateside.
Sheridan, according to later interviews, didn’t even like the song but it was a canny choice by Kaempfert, who chose it with a German audience in mind, knowing that many German youths had learned “My Bonnie" in school during English studies.
Sheridan also helped introduce the Beatles to the music of seminal American rockers such as Little Richard, who strongly influenced the direction of their own music. Even though he was only five months older than Lennon, Sheridan functioned as an older, wiser mentor — McCartney sometimes referred to him as “The Teacher" — because he’d gotten his career off the ground a little earlier, having formed a skiffle group in London in 1956, the year before McCartney met Lennon in Liverpool.