The Searchers were formed by John McNally in 1957 as another skiffle outfit inspired by Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line.” Taking their new name from the 1956 John Ford western, The Searchers, the band had many rivals including the Wreckers and the Confederates, both led by Michael Pender (guitar, vocals), and the Martinis, led by Tony Jackson (guitar/vocals). By 1959, McNally and Pender had joined forces and were working as a duet; later in the year, Jackson joined as the lead vocalist and Chris Crummy replaced drummer Norman McGarry and changed his name to Chris Curtis. Coincidently McGarry replaced Ringo Starr in Rory Storm And The Hurricanes. Tony Jackson customized his bass guitar but found playing the four-stringed instrument distracted him from singing lead so Johnny Sandon (born Billy Beck) was invited to become lead singer. The Searchers became a Liverpool dance hall favourite but Sandon left in 1962 to join the Remo Four. Jackson took over the vocals and the band continued to play cover versions. Tony Hatch signed the lads to Pye Records signed them in 1963 and they released their first hit single “Sweets for my sweet” (Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman) a cover version of the Drifters hit.
The Searchers featured a 12-string guitar with close harmony and strong vocals and the sound worked. This was perfect for standards such as “Love Potion No. 9" and “Farmer John” which became firm favourites at their live performances and featured on their first album.
Later in 1963 came their second single for Pye Records which was composed by Australia’s adopted son, Tony Hatch under the pseudonym Fred Nightingale. The track was called “Sugar And Spice".
In 1964, their third single was written by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono and had been recorded by American singer Jackie DeShannon. It was a brilliant record and enjoyed some chart success but when the Searcher brought out their version, there was just no comparison. The song was "Needles And Pins" and it established the group as an international success.
Ironically the distinctive 12-string guitar sound which was very much the Searchers sound became a key ingredient in the success of the Byrds. The Americans lifted the riff from "Needles And Pins" and transformed it into the main riff of "I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better." What do they say about copying, as the highest of flattery?
The next couple of years were busy for the group who appeared to turn out the hits every three months or so. "Don't Throw Your Love Away" (cover version of the Orlons) came out in April of ’64, followed by “Some day we’re gonna love again” which was the groups’ summer hit in the UK. Both songs were a sophisticated departure from the earlier records but still distinctively The Searchers.
The rich Rickenbacker guitar work was seen to notable effect in the next single which took the Searchers back to the Number One position, this time it was a Jackie DeShannon composition, and in my humble opinion, the best Searchers recording, "When You Walk In The Room."
At the height of their popularity Tony Jackson, whose falsetto vocals had contributed much to the band's early sound and identity, left and his replacement was Frank Allen a former member of Cliff Bennett And The Rebel Rousers (another good Liverpool group) . The next single was protest song written by Malvina Reynolds and was called "What Have They Done To The Rain'. It was a folky style Searchers which proved too radical for their UK fans but sold reasonably well in the US.
In 1965 the band recaptured their old sound with the plaintive "Goodbye My Love", which took them back into the UK Top 5, but the band had peaked.
In 1966 The Searchers came to Australia and co featured with the Rolling Stones. They toured extensively and came to Perth and a good time was had by all, although Frank Allen later described the double billing as "a combination as weird as teaming Vlad The Impaler with Mother Theresa". After the tour Chris Curtis left the band through exhaustion. He later revived and went on to produce records for Paul and Barry Ryan as well as playing a key part in the formation of Deep Purple. By 1967 the Searchers had become a cabaret band and the group have continued to work and record, although there were several line up changes until Mike Pender and John McNally finally split up in 1985, so there now The Searchers and Mike Pender’s Searchers with the likelihood somewhere in the world tonight, the Searchers will be entertaining a live audience. Sadly the original members, Tony Jackson and Chris Curtis are now dead. Of all the sixties bands, The Searchers had by far the most distinctive sound. Not until Queen came along a decade later was there a group who were so easy to identify and love or loath them you could not deny their contribution. Sadly their inability to write songs and adapt to changing music tastes left them behind but through the decades the band in its various guises have worked regularly thrilling their audience to the sound of the Searchers. Their early back catalogue sounds remarkably fresh over four decades later.
Worth a listen:
Love Potion No. 9
Sweets for my sweet (1963)
Needles and Pins (1964)
When you walk into the room (1964)
Rock Island Line (1956)
I’ll feel a whole
,br> Reviewed 1/03/2016