Rock & roll with a cutlass between its teeth. 

I was ten, before the Stones and Beatles gate-crashed Britain’s cosy little hit
parade, I remember lamenting the lack of authentic rock & roll bands we had
in England. In fact, looking back at it all these years later, I’m quite
impressed by my fledgling musical standards back around 1960. Not too bad for a
pre-pubescent kid.
The teenage Cliff Richard circa 1958 plus Elvis sneer
Where America had Elvis,
we in Britain had Tommy Steele. Where America had Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis
and Little Richard, we had … the Bachelors, Wee Willie Harris and Screaming
Lord Such. We also had Lonnie Donegan, not that I’m going to bag Lonnie.
a trip down Memory Lane
As I’ve said before, UK
music has much to thank Lonnie Donegan for. With his rocking covers of American
icons like Lead Belly and Josh White, Lonnie’s rip-roaring skiffle inspired
everyone from the Beatles and Stones to Led Zeppelin and Queen. However, by
1959, Lonnie was delving into the novelty song arena, with tracks like “My Old
Man’s A Dustman” and “Does Your Chewing Gum Lose Its Flavour (on the bedpost
overnight).” All very amusing, but it meant a sticky end for Lonnie’s
skiffle-cum-rock career.
Into the breach, in
1958, stepped an 18-year old, with an Elvis sneer and bad attitude, called Harry
Webb, now better known as Cliff Richard. Cliff’s debut hit, “Move It”, is
generally acknowledged as Britain’s first authentic rock & roll record. Cliff’s
English backing band, The Drifters, later became The Shadows; and to me “Move
It” was Cliff and the Shadows best record together. It’s worth a listen for old
time’s sake.
Unfortunately for
British rock, Cliff found religion and was soon pumping out middle of the road
niceties like “Summer Holiday” and “Bachelor Boy”. Just after Cliff’s epiphany,
thankfully, came another Londoner who saved the day with a second authentic
British rock & roll song. He was five

Johnny Kidd: Lemmy’s favourite

years older than Cliff and had an
equally uninspiring name: Fred Heath. But, boy, could Fred Heath rock. Fred’s
first record, released in 1959 under the name of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates,
was “Please Don’t Touch”. Kidd’s own composition, the record charted in the
UK’s low twenties and is largely now forgotten; but it was taste of better things
to come from Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. Again, for old time’s sake, hear this
fledgling UK rock & roll  track below.

Don’t Touch”
If you’re interested in
musical trivia, Motorhead and Girl School recorded Kidd’s “Please Don’t Touch”
together in 1980, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates being one of Lemmy’s favourite
Born in 1935, Johnny
Kidd started performing in a Lonnie Donegan-style skiffle group, around 1956.
More than anyone, Kidd was the one true bridge between British skiffle and the
British rock bands who conquered the world from 1963 onwards. Totally influenced
by the blues, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were covering African-American blues greats
like Willie Dixon, before the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Them and Cream. Here’s
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates’ 1961 version of Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want To
Make Love To You”.
Just Want To Make Love To You”. Johnny Kidd, 1961
Johnny Kidd and the original Pirates
Unlike Britain’s other
pre-Beatles rock & roll imitators, Johnny Kidd didn’t try to sing with a
put-on Elvis accent. He sang rock with his own unique style and led one of the
first bands to feature two guitarists, bass player and drummer. Led Zeppelin,
who later mirrored Kidd’s line-up, can be heard on tape covering numerous Johnny
Kidd and the Pirates classics during their early rehearsals. Undoubtedly, Johnny
Kidd set the rock benchmark in the UK and Kidd’s composition “Shakin’ All Over”
is universally considered to be the one true British record that genuinely
matched the Americans for authentic rock & roll. Give it a whirl here and,
remember, this is from 1960 – more than two years before the Beatles first UK
All Over”. Johnny Kidd,

Get your kicks … with Johnny and the Pirates
“Shakin’ All Over” hit number one in the UK in
August 1960 and has since been covered
by hundreds of artists
including Van Morrison, Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin, Jack White, The Who, Humble
Pie, the Beach Boys and even Mae West. (And Mae didn’t do a bad job either, if
you can be bothered checking her rendition on You Tube.)
All Over” spreads its wings
In 1965, the Canadian
band, Guess Who, covered “Shakin’ All Over” (they weren’t The Guess Who then) topping Canada’s chart and reaching 22 in the
USA. In Australia, Guess Who’s version also reached 22; but the track was then
covered by Aussie Normie Rowe. Rowe’s version of “Shakin’ All Over” was one of
Down Under’s biggest-selling singles of the 1960s in a decade that included the
Beatles and all the rest of the British Invasion.
Australia’s most famous
band, AC/DC, once said the main riff of their famous “Back In Black” track was
taken from the original Pirates’ version of “Shakin’ All Over”.
Joe Morrett
Shakin’ All Over’s opening riff and guitar work was all Joe
I wonder if this was
because AC/DC’s Young brothers originally hailed from Scotland and I know from
experience how amazingly supportive Scots musicians are of their countrymen.
The Pirates’ guitarist
who invented the riff and played on “Shakin’ All Over”  was a fellow Scot (with a touch of Italian by
the sound of it) called Joe Morretti. And since Angus and Malcolm Young
wouldn’t emigrate to Australia until five years after Kidd and the Pirates
topped the British charts, this theory isn’t as obtuse as it first sounds.
Joe Morretti, as a
matter of interest, later played on Tom Jones’ “It’s Not Unusual” and Chris
Farlow’s classic, “Out of Time”. Indeed, I remember Joe from my time at CBS
when he played guitar on Leslie Duncan’s “Sing Children Sing” album in 1971. Joe
alas died a couple of years ago.
Johnny Kidd and his
band certainly influenced many British musicians who went on to great things
internationally. The Who’s Roger Daltry abandoned his guitar when he heard
Morretti’s replacement in the Pirates, Mick Green. Green’s brilliant guitar
work on stage made Daltry decide, from then on, to concentrate on singing.
Mick Green, in turn,
influenced English guitarists from Pete Townsend and Jimmy Page to Wilco
Johnson of Dr. Feelgood. (See post of 27 February 2014). In fact, the Essex
band, Dr. Feelgood, took their name from a Johnny Kidd and the Pirates cover of
a song called “Dr. Feelgood”, by the American blues singer and pianist, Willie
Lee Perryman (1911 – 1985).
end of the road
Like many rock &
rollers before him, Johnny Kidd lost his life in a car crash at a young age.
This was in 1966, when Johnny was just aged 30. By then rock & roll had
become (it seems blasphemous to say this now) unfashionable; and Kidd’s last
big hit was a pop ballad called “I’ll Never Get Over You” in 1963.
Almost overnight, after
his death, Johnny Kidd seemed to have become forgotten. He was there and
suddenly he wasn’t. He was hardly mentioned in the media after that and, so it
seems, sadly remains mainly forgotten to this day. Thankfully, Kidd’s music has
more than stood the test of time and, thanks to the internet, those of us who
remember him can continue to spread the word.
If you’re interested in
hearing more about Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, and have half an hour to spare,
here’s a link to an excellent BBC Johnny Kidd documentary:
The wreckage of Johnny Kidd’s car and unfortunate press cutting. Kidd died in Lancashire during a tour