How the Beatles Got Brian Epstein’s Attention With ‘My Bonnie’
In October 1961, Brian Epstein was the manager of his family's music store in Liverpool when an influx of requests from fans came in for an imported single called "My Bonnie," by the Beatles.
Epstein was certain the song was actually by Tony Sheridan, an English singer who had spent much of his career working in Germany. But, it turned out, both parties were correct.
"We did a recording with Tony Sheridan, ‘My Bonnie’, for Bert Kaempfert, a band leader and producer," said Paul McCartney in the Beatles Anthology book. "It was actually ‘Tony Sheridan und die Beat Brothers.' They didn’t like our name and said, ‘Change to the Beat Brothers; this is more understandable for the German audience.’ We went along with it – it was a record."
"It’s just Tony Sheridan singing, with us banging in the background," John Lennon said in 1963. "It’s terrible. It could be anybody."
Even if it could have been anybody, it was still the Beatles' first official commercial release. The band had been in residence at the Top Ten Club in Hamburg, Germany when Kaempfert hired them to back Sheridan. In June 1961, with Pete Best still on drums, they also recorded a b-side track, "The Saints," a lively rock version of "When the Saints Go Marching In." But it was "My Bonnie," a rocked-up rendition of a traditional Scottish song which reached No. 5 on the German singles charts, that made waves back home in Liverpool.
"We found this record in Germany by a guy called Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers," recalled Alistair Taylor, Epstein's longtime assistant, "the boys were just a backing group, and one day Brian came into the shop and he said, 'By the way, do you remember that record that we sold so many of, that band the Beatles?' So I said, yeah. So he said, 'Well, they're playing at the Cavern. Let's go down and see them, and we'll see what they're like.'"
"Brian heard that we were playing 200 yards away," said McCartney. "So he came to the Cavern and the news got to us: ‘Brian Epstein is in the audience – he might be a manager or a promoter. He is a grown-up, anyway.’ It was Us and Grown-ups then."
Epstein was impressed, and it was shortly thereafter that the Beatles signed a five-year management contract with Epstein in January 1962. That same month, "My Bonnie" was released in Britain, this time credited to the proper band name, much to the delight of early Beatles fans.
"I hadn't had anything to do with management of pop artists before that day that I went down to the Cavern Club and heard the Beatles playing, and this was quite a new world, really, for me," Epstein remembered. "I was immediately struck by their music, their beat, and their sense of humor on stage. And even afterwards when I met them I was struck again by their personal charm. And it was there that really it all started."