JOHNNY KIDD (By Steve Walker)

Born Frederick Albert Heath, 23 December 1935, Willesden, North London
Died 7 October 1966, Radcliffe, Lancashire

Although the honour of the first true British rock'n'roll single goes to Cliff Richard's "Move It" in 1958, Johnny Kidd and the Pirates can justly claim to be one of the major British rock acts prior to 1962. Along with Cliff and the Shadows they had much influence on groups that broke onto the Beat scene in 1963. Travelling up and down Britain, come rain or shine, Kidd and his Pirates were the best known among the trailblazing instigators of what became "Beat" music, along with bands like Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, Neil Christian and the Crusaders and Screaming Lord Sutch and the Savages.

Johnny Kidd was born Frederick Heath in Willesden, North London, on 23 December 1935. (Not 1939, as has often been reported.) Caught up in the Skiffle craze that swept Britain in the mid-1950's he formed his own group, The Five Nutters. As rock'n'roll overcame the skiffle craze in the UK, so Johnny Kidd & The Pirates were born. Their first venture into the studio, on 18 April, 1959, produced the classic "Please Don't Touch", written by Johnny himself. The record was released on May 8th, backed with "Growl" which was thrown together during the session itself. Both numbers were credited to Heath and his then manager, Guy Robinson. This was all the more remarkable for at the time Billy Fury was the only other rock'n'roller writing (some of) his own material in the UK. Despite a lack of promotion due to a national strike the single reached an encouraging # 25 in the UK charts.

The original Pirates drifted apart. In January, 1960, newcomers bassist Brian Gregg and drummer Clem Cattini joined the group. They had started out backing Terry Dene and soon moved to the Beat Boys group providing backing for the Larry Parnes' stable, including Billy Fury and Duffy Power. Splitting with Parnes, Gregg and Cattini joined Kidd intending to stay until something better came along and the revised line-up began rehearsals while still looking out for a rhythm guitarist. Cattini drummed loudly and Gregg utilised a custom-built bass amp when they were virtually unheard of in the UK. Original "Nutter" Alan Caddy, who was developing into a fine guitarist adapted his style to fatten out the sound to compensate for the lack of a second guitar. This three-man backing group was partly inspired by the Johnny Burnette Trio whom Kidd admired.

The first chart entry by this revised Johnny Kidd & The Pirates line-up was a cover of Marv Johnson's "You Got What It Takes", which peaked at # 25. Then, on May 13, 1960, studio magic occurred. Brian Gregg recalls : "We were due at Abbey Road studios to record "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" as a single and the record company had given us the B side. On the day before the session, we went to the Freight Train coffee bar (Skiffle star Chas McDevitt's place) in Soho, went downstairs, sat on some Coke crates and wrote "Shakin' All Over" in six minutes or so. We recorded the song live - first take - and left the studios convinced it was going to be the B side."

Joe Moretti guested (he'd played on Vince Taylor's 1959 British classic "Brand New Cadillac") and supplied the memorable, chilling guitar figure. Caddy and Gregg's solid, dependable playing effectively anchored the song. Clem Cattini's "Thunderfoot" style was captured by Engineer Peter Sullivan close-miking the bass drum at a time when only independent maverick producer Joe Meek did this as a matter of course. The finished recording was an instant masterpiece, at once confident, atmospheric and hypnotic. Sullivan rang Johnny, remarking that everyone was knocked out by "Shakin' All Over" and it would now be the A-side. The single remains a landmark, not just in British pop, but also in the development of rock. The song made its television debut on Jack Good's "Wham!" show and the impact was such that it charted the following week. Ex-Nutter Frank Rouledge, who mimed the second guitar for the show, had invented the original phrase that inspired the song, as Johnny later explained:

"When I was going round with a bunch of lads and we happened to see a girl who was a real sizzler we used to say that she gave us 'quivers down the membranes'. It was a standard saying with us referring to any attractive girl...I can honestly say that it was this more than anything that inspired me to write 'Shakin' All Over'."

It was also a major hit, topping the UK chart, a rare contemporary accolade for such an innovative release despite being voted a "miss" on the BBC's "Juke Box Jury" show. It was covered almost note-for-note in Australia by Johnny Chester the same year and Normie Rowe a few years later. It has also been recorded by a myriad of artists since including the Pirates and Cliff Richard. SAO's own Bill Kennedy recorded the song's first north American release in 1962. By now, Kidd's increasingly R&B-styled vocals were at their most powerful. "Restless" with its moody Duane Eddy-style vibrato guitar and solid solo (Joe Moretti) was sufficiently different to reach number 18. 1961 saw Kidd charting with a cover of Ray Sharpe's "Linda Lu", but the Pirates jumped ship to join former merchant seaman Colin Hicks as the Cabin Boys, before joining producer Joe Meek's house band, later to become the Tornados of "Telstar" fame.

The new line-up of the Pirates included guitar hero Mick Green, but Kidd failed to chart in 1962. The year 1963 saw a revival of his fortunes with a cover of Arthur Alexander's "A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues", followed by the Merseybeat-flavoured "I'll Never Get Over You", which reached # 4 in the UK charts and, at the end of the year, "Hungry For Love". Johnny's 1965 releases included a reprise of his finest recording, under the title "Shakin' All Over '65". Kidd's revival of his finest moment may have been inspired by the success of Chad Allen & the Expressions, a Canadian beat group who had a sizeable US, then worldwide, hit with the number (they later adopted the name Guess Who).

Johnny Kidd died in a motor accident near Radcliffe, Lancashire, whilst travelling home from the previous night's gig at RAF Waddington. It was 7 October, 1966 and he was 30 years old. Plans had been made by EMI for Johnny to record a tribute album to his friend Gene Vincent - sadly we can only imagine what that would have sounded like.

More info / acknowledgements :

Further reading:
Keith Hunt, Shakin' All Over : The Life and Times of Johnny Kidd. Lane End, Bucks. : Magnum Imprint, 1996. 200 pages. Out of print.

Further listening:
- The Complete Johnny Kidd. EMI, CDKIDD1 (0 777 99948 2 3). 2-CD, 62 tracks. Released 1992. Or :
- The Very Best Of Johnny Kidd And the Pirates (EMI Gold 2281422). 2 CD's, 56 tracks. Released 2008.

Discography :

YouTube links (in chronological order):

Please Don't Touch:
You Got What It Takes + Longin' Lips:
Shakin' All Over:
Yes Sir, That's My Baby:
Restless (live on 'Saturday Club' with spoken intro by Johnny):
Linda Lu:
Hurry On Back To Love:
A Shot Of Rhythm And Blues:
I Can Tell:
I'll Never Get Over You:
Hungry For Love:

Steve Walker, January 2012

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

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