A musician from Liverpool has been on my mind this week, but before I delve into the reasons why, ponder this question.
Which 1960s band from Liverpool, managed by Brian Epstein and produced by George Martin, had its first three singles hit number one on the British charts?
Nope, it wasn't The Beatles, but Gerry and the Pacemakers. They not only hailed from Liverpool, but shared the same manager and producer as John, Paul George and Ringo.
We lost too many great and talented musicians in 2020, and now Gerry Marsden, of Gerry and the Pacemakers, is among the first losses of the New Year. He passed away on Jan. 3, 2021, of a reported as a heart infection.
Gerry and his fellow Pacemakers were part of that initial wave of the so-called British Invasion, when a slew of British bands followed The Beatles onto the American charts after the Fab Four made their initial breakthrough.
Some, such as the Rolling Stones and the Who, went on to achieve their own superstar status in the world of rock music — but there were a number of others, which, although not reaching such lofty heights as the aforementioned bands, still had talented singers and musicians in their lineups and have left some legacies of their own.
Paul McCartney remembered his old friend through a tweet.
"Gerry was a mate from our early days in Liverpool," McCartney tweeted. "He and his group were our biggest rivals on the local scene.
"His unforgettable performances of "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Ferry Cross the Mersey" remain in many people's hearts as a reminder of a joyful time in British music ...
"My sympathies go to his wife Pauline and family. See ya, Gerry. I'll always remember you with a smile. — Paul."
I've always had a fondness for Gerry and the Pacemakers, considering them one of my favorite British Invasion bands, even if the core group only recorded together a few years.
A friend taught me how to play the band's self-written song, "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying" on guitar, before I ever heard heard their recording. They'd been featured on "The T.A.M.I. Show" music documentary in a sort of musical duel of Chuck Berry songs with none other than Chuck himself. Of course, Chuck won, but Gerry and the Pacemakers still delivered an energetic performance.
And I got a kick out of how the band included a rocked-up version of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya" in their repertoire. Not even the Beatles covered Hank!
Gerry and the Pacemakers had the distinction of topping the British charts with their first three singles: "How Do You Do It?" followed by "I Like It" and what became the anthem of the Liverpool's football (soccer) team, an American song from the musical "Carousel," the ever-popular "You'' Never Walk Alone."
The Beatles, just signed to their British record label at the time, resisted their producer Martin's efforts to convince them to record "How Do You Do It?" —a bright, jumpy song written by Brit songwriter Mitch Murray.
Instead, John Lennon and Paul McCartney insisted on recording one of their own songs for their first British release, with Martin and the boys finally agreeing on "Love Me Do," a simple pop ditty, featuring a bluesy harmonic riff by Lennon, along with McCartney and Lennon's Everly Brothers-type harmonies at a few select points.
Gerry and the Pacemakers, led by singer, songwriter and guitarist Gerry Marsden, agreed to record The Beatles reject "How Do You Do It?" and saw their first effort shoot to number one on the British charts while The Beatles' "Love Me Do" stalled at No. 17. Of course, we don't have to feel too sorry for The Beatles, since they were soon to shoot into the musical and pop culture stratosphere.
While The Beatles still sell millions of recordings through various mediums going into the second decade of the 21st century, Gerry and the Pacemakers aren't quite as well remembered, at least not in the U.S.
Along with Gerry, the band also featured his brother, Freddie Marsden on drums, along with pianist Les Maquire and bassist Les Chadwick.
Gerry and the Pacemakers saw a string of hits on the U.S. charts, including songs written by Marsden, including "Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying," "Ferry Cross the Mersey" and "It's Gonna Be All Right" but saw nothing close to the fame achieved by their fellow Liverpudlians.
Still, in their native Liverpool, Gerry Marsden became a hometown hero, when his rendition of the Broadway chestnut "You'll Never Walk Alone," composed and written by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, made its way across the pond and into the grooves of Gerry and the Pacemakers' third record.
Liverpool is known for more than The Beatles — it also has a championship team in the Liverpool Football Club, affectionately know to hometown fans as the Reds.
Sometime soon after recording , Gerry gave a copy to the Reds' Manager Bill Shankly, who took it on a football-related trip with him. He played the record so much that sports reporters sent word home it was the team's new theme song.
Shankly soon thereafter appeared on the BBC's "Desert Island Discs" and picked "You'll Never Walk Alone" as one of the records he's choose to have with him if stranded on a deserted island.
Shortly thereafter, fans began spontaneously singing the song in the stands during matches. Soon, Gerry and the Pacemakers recording of "You'll Never Walk Alone" was played over the speakers during every home match of the Liverpool Football Club — and at many of their away games as well.
The title of the song is even now emblazoned atop the gates at Anfield, Liverpool's home stadium for the Reds.
Gerry Marsden announced his retirement in 2018, following an onstage collapse, in 2017. However, he made at least one last public performance, when he joined the English band Take That onstage at Anfield n 2019 for a rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" to celebrate the Liverpool team's victory in the Champion's League over their Tottenham rivals.
The Liverpool Football Club tweeted a reaction on Jan 3 no doubt speaking for many of the team's fans:
"It is with such great sadness that we hear of Gerry Marsden's passing.
"Gerry's words will live on forever with us. You'll Never Walk Alone."
Contact James Beaty at firstname.lastname@example.org.