Gordon Thompson is Professor of Music at Skidmore College. His book, Please Please Me: Sixties British Pop, Inside Out, offers an insider’s view of the British pop-music recording industry. In the post below he looks at the 10th of June, 1960. Check out Thompson’s other posts here.
North Americans often labor under the delusion that British rock and pop began with the Beatles and their historic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964; but the incubation of British rock began long before that whimsical moment in time. Of the numerous memorable characters roaming that primordial world, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates swaggered with the best of them and, fifty years ago, released their most significant recording: “Shakin’ All Over.”
As Freddie Heath (with the Nutters), the singer began his musical career playing skiffle, that British version of American jug band music; however, by 1959 he was ready to make the jump to playing rock ’n’ roll and to adopt a stage persona. Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were among the first of many British rock bands to make costume and stage props an important part of their show. Kidd for his part wore thigh-high boots and a cutlass; but his branding came in the form of an eye patch, which he would don at show time, transforming him into a larger than life character. Perhaps as importantly, his minimalist accompaniment (guitar, bass, and drums) influenced others, including a West London band that would open for the Pirates and become known as the Who.
Kidd had signed with EMI’s HMV label, which was managed by Walter Ridley. Fortunately for Kidd, Ridley had little interest or expertise in rock and left an ambitious junior artist-and-repertoire manager, Peter Sullivan, to handle the recordings. Sullivan, in turn, sought out Malcolm Addey, the young engineer who had been at the disk for Cliff Richard’s groundbreaking single, “Move It.” Sullivan envisioned what Kidd and the Pirates could do and Addey’s familiarity with guitars, amps, and drum kits helped him achieve that sound. All that was missing was a song.
The origins of “Shakin’ All Over”—one of the first real confirmations that the British had learned how to play and to record rock—began in a Soho coffee bar, the Freight Train (named for the Libba Cotton song). Kidd, along with guitarist Allan Caddy and bassist Brian Gregg, sat down and worked out the core of the song, borrowing ideas from Jerry Lee Lewis and Big Joe Turner, working them into the essentials of a classic. With their drummer, Clem Cattini, they would concoct the breaks while Kidd refined his delivery; but they wanted a fuller sound for the recording. They wanted another guitarist.
Joe Moretti remembers Kidd and the band walking into the Golden Egg, a diner that served as a musician hangout in Soho across the street from the famous 2i’s coffee house, the unofficial home of British rock. They convinced him to participate in the recording and, in a rehearsal, they told him they wanted a guitar introduction something like the one Ian Samwell had created for “Move It.” Moretti concocted a variation on the riff (which lies easily under the fingers), abstracting the pattern and creating one of the most iconic guitar lines in rock.
The day of the session, Peter Sullivan gave them their heads, and coached them. The guitar part that had served as the introduction now pervaded the entire song and the band fairly burst with energy. Drummer Clem Cattini became so enthused that he over-counted his drum break before the guitar solo, singing to himself has he played. Sullivan liked it, and left it on the recording. As a final touch, Moretti borrowed a cigarette lighter and dubbed in a slide guitar part for the refrain of each verse. HMV released the recording and it charted immediately, reaching the top of British recording charts in the first week of August, 1960.
The Pirates would undergo a number of personnel changes with this particular band eventually becoming the core of the Tornados, whose “Telstar” would become Britain’s first international rock hit in 1962. Kidd would die in a car crash in 1966, but “Shakin’ All Over” would be a hit in North America for the Canadian group, the Guess Who, and in Britain the Who would regularly include it in their concerts. Today, “Shakin’ All Over” occupies a special place in the core repertoire of rock ‘n’ roll.