Wednesday, January 27, 2021


Can there be a more evocative intro to a song? The pizzicato guitar plucks, with then the rolling riff of the lead guitar, sounding exactly how a shiver feels, creeping up your back(bone), standing all the hairs up on end. It's glorious. But the version you know is possibly not the version I know, the original failing to cross the atlantic at the time. Which is a pity, as it that rarity, a song of the early pre-Beatle 60s that can still hold its head up, undrenched in the syrupy strings that would spoil most of the UK's rock'n'roll output, often a tawdry and anodyne bowdlerisation of the real thing.

Johnny Kidd and the Pirates were huge during that short period of homegrown rockers, their calling card being their appearance, always in pirate costume, Kidd sporting an eyepatch and a cutlass. With the line up including the now legendary session man on drums, Clem Cattini, the guitar motif, both bits, was provided by one Joe Moretti, a Scot who also played on Vince Taylor's Brand New Cadillac. Number one in 1960, Kidd and his band couldn't hold on to that momentum, each further follow-up bringing diminishing returns, the line-up frequently changing until Kidd was killed, in a car accident, in 1966. For trivia lovers, also injured in that same crash was then Pirate, Nick Simper, later to be a founder member of Deep Purple. The Pirates weren't finished though, and I saw a revived version perform at the famous London pub venue, The Hope and Anchor, in the late 70s. A trio including the dynamic guitarmanship of Mick Green, he was one of the first players to play in a hybrid lead/rhythm style. Somehow, despite their age and portliness, they were lumped into the punk movement, mainly due the speed and precision of their sonic assault. Green was a key influence on Wilko Johnson, who picked up and ran with that style in first Dr Feelgood and then is his own band and with Ian Dury. I remember they did play Shakin' All Over that night, and I was bemused, knowing the song but not why they were playing it, other than the fact it was fast and ferocious. Green later became an integral part of Van Morrison's band, in the days when fellow 60's survivor, Georgie Fame was musical director and organist supreme. He died in 2010.

Wilko Johnson is then a link to the next version, courtesy his still fairly recent album with Roger Daltrey, the excellent Going Back Home, from 2014. Daltrey, of course, the then, the very much earlier and the still vocalist of the Who. Often cited as one of the best live albums of all time, their Live At Leeds, their version is a little slower and has a harder rock sound, with less roll. Legend has it that the only reason they played the song, was to get over the sometime confusion between themselves and Canadian band, the Guess Who, who had had a big North American hit with the song, in 1965. If a confused section of the audience were to muddle them up, and to call out for the song, it was easier to just play it, rather than have to explain. 

(By coincidence, and possibly for the same reason, guess what song the Guess Who played on their possibly less well remembered 1967 Live in Winnipeg opus? Good stuttering practice for a  later collaboration, too.)

Another noteworthy version was by from veteran rockabilly shouter, Wanda Jackson, who possibly shared a stage with Kidd at some time in the late 50s or early 60s. Better perhaps known for another song about shaking, she gave it a delightfully retro twang, including it on her 2011 collaboration with Jack White, The Party Ain't Over.

Quite why the emerging country and blues singer Eilen Jewell included it in her repertoire, on Sea of Tears, I do not know, other than that the idea was to reproduce the twangy tone of that time period, it suiting well her own material, if written nearly a half century later. But I'm glad she did. Still then an avid mix-tape maker, quirky covers were always a welcome discovery to slip alongside other songs I was trying to impress upon friends and family. It meant, in her case, I got to hear more of her own work, liking them and keeping up with her continuing career. Again, her cover is not a radical rewrite, but offered a little more of a western swing to it, with a decidedly more touchy vocal.

Johnny, Rog, Wanda, Eilen.

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