Johnny Kidd (singer)
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (April 2012)|
|Birth name||Frederick Albert Heath|
23 December 1935|
Willesden, North London
|Died||7 October 1966
near Bury, Lancashire
|Genres||Rock and roll, Beat|
|Associated acts||Johnny Kidd & The Pirates|
Johnny Kidd (23 December 1935 – 7 October 1966) was an English singer and songwriter, the front man for the rock and roll band Johnny Kidd and the Pirates. He was one of the few pre-Beatles British rockers to achieve worldwide fame.
Kidd was born Frederick Albert Heath in 1935 in Willesden, North London. He began playing guitar in a skiffle group c. 1956.:53 The group, known as "The Frantic Four" and later as "The Nutters", covered primarily skiffle, pop and rockabilly. Simultaneously Heath was proving to be a prolific writer; penning most of 30 songs in over three months. Heath's 31st song would prove to be the group's break.:53
In 1959 Heath and his band were given a recording test for their first single, a rocker titled "Please Don't Touch". A contract with HMV quickly followed and the group were then informed during the session that their name "Freddie Heath and the Nutters" would be changed to Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.:53–54 "Please Don't Touch" would reach the low twenties of the music charts. Although it is not as well known as Kidd's later song "Shakin' All Over", it is a stand-out among other British rock songs of the time.:54 Unlike Billy Fury or Marty Wilde, Kidd does not sing in an imitation voice of Elvis Presley or one of his American contemporaries. The song also bears a smooth harmony and contains no clear references to the rockabilly style.:54
Kidd's most famous song as a composer was "Shakin' All Over", which was a No. 1 UK hit and the bands finest hour in 1960. Kidd's own version did not chart outside of Europe, but two cover versions did: The Guess Who topped the Canadian charts (and hit No. 22 US) with their 1965 version of "Shakin' All Over", and in Australia, Normie Rowe topped the charts with it later the same year. The song was originally to be a B-side to the Ricky Nelson cover "Yes, Sir That's My Baby". Kidd was told that a self-penned song could be used and together with The Pirates the new number was written in the basement of the Freight Train coffee bar the day prior to recording.:55 In addition to Kidd (vocals), Alan Caddy (guitar), Clem Cattini (drums) and Brian Gregg (bass) session guitarist Joe Moretti was called in by Kidd and Caddy to play lead guitar. It was Moretti who created the songs signature sound by sliding Brian Gregg's cigarette lighter up and down the fret-board of his guitar.
"Shakin' All Over" was a UK no 1. It has been covered by The Who on the classic Live at Leeds album. Iggy Pop also included it on his solo album Avenue B. Other covers have included Vince Taylor and the Playboys, the rock group Humble Pie and The Swinging Blue Jeans. The fact that the song continues to be covered some 50 years after its first recording is a testimony to Kidd and the Pirates.
"Shakin' All Over" marked the peak which Kidd would not reach again. Future records did not fare as well in the charts. In 1961 Cattini, Caddy and Gregg left the band and would later play for Joe Meek in The Tornados. Kidd now assembled a new band of Pirates. Johnny Spence was now added to bass, Frank Farley to drums and later Mick Green would become guitarist. The band now toured extensively throughout England and into Europe. Adopting a more Beat influenced style, the group reached the British Top 5 with "I'll Never Get Over You" (#3) and split chart action with The Searchers with "Hungry For Love" (#20) in 1963; both songs were penned by future pop impresario Gordon Mills, then of The Viscounts. The four piece band would prove to have a profound effect on another touring band at this time. Watching Kidd perform in the center front of the stage, with Farley directly behind him on drums and Spence and Green flanking him on either side, inspired Roger Daltrey the then guitarist of "The Detours" to lay aside his own guitar, dismiss his own groups' singer and concentrate on vocals. This allowed rhythm guitarist Pete Townshend to concentrate more on playing lead. In time a stage act had also emerged with Kidd and the Pirates dressed as actual Pirates. Kidd would don an eye-patch and carry a cutlass which he would swing around on stage, damaging the wooden framework, and high kick in time with the music of the band. By 1964 the "British Invasion" was taking shape and Kidd was left in the shadows.<:59 Kidd had another new group by this stage "The New Pirates" but recordings had now become covers of R&B and pop songs. By 1966 it would seem that Kidd was on the verge of a re-emergence but this was soon to be cut short.:59
Kidd died at age 30 in 1966, in a motor car accident on the A58, Bury New Road, Breightmet, near Radcliffe, Lancashire. The car in which he was travelling as a passenger had a head-on collision with one driven by Peter Metcalfe. Metcalfe's 17-year-old girlfriend, Helen Read, also died in the accident. Pirates' bassist Nick Simper, who later became an original member of Deep Purple, was also in the car with Kidd but he suffered only some cuts and a broken arm.
In hindsight Kidd was both musically and visually important for the rock music genre. Long before the likes of Paul Revere and the Raiders and Alice Cooper and other such performers dressed up for a performance, Kidd and his contemporary Screaming Lord Sutch were already doing so. Kidd and the Pirates were a transitional band. In a time before bands like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and The Animals, Kidd was recording music that placed increased emphasis on electric blues and R&B.:59 His records circa 1961–64 included Willie Dixon's "I Just Want To Make Love To You", Bo Diddley's "I Can Tell", Willie Perryman's "Dr Feel-good" and Richie Barrett's "Some Other Guy". These are songs that are not sung in imitation of the original recording artists but instead Kidd puts his own stamp upon the song. These were the types of changes that would become more crucial as British blues gained more ground in the early 1960s.:57–60 Many rock historians consider Kidd's UK Top 50 disc "A Shot of Rhythm and Blues" c/w "I Can Tell" (HMV POP 1088, December 1962) to be the sonic bridge between British rock and roll and British beat/British R&B.
- Perone, James E. Mods, rockers and the music of the British Invasion (2009) Westport: Praegar Publishers.