The Shadows are a great English rock & roll band whose influence is often overshadowed by their association with Cliff Richard. Many Music Man readers know that Richard was initially pitched as a young upstart rock & roll singer in the vein of Elvis Presley and Little Richard. From 1958 to 1968, when he had some of his biggest hits, his backing band was The Shadows, initially known as The Drifters
The Drifters became The Shadows due to pressure from the US vocal group known for Under the Boardwalk & Save the Last Dance for Me, among other soul classics. The following video is from the BBC 4 documentary The Shadows At Sixty (2020). The excerpt concentrates on The Shadows’ first big hit, Apache. Written by Jerry Lordan and first recorded by Bert Weedon, the song was re-imagined by The Shadows.
The video is notable for many reasons. It’s nice to see the band together and nosing around their old rehearsal space, it’s great to see how well the reunited band members gel together on Apache, and it’s a real treat to hear Hank Marvin demonstrating the legendary opening riff of The Shadows take on the song. Mike Gee Guitarman comments: “That clean twangy guitar sound never ceases to do it for me. It’s so pure, sweet & honest and there’s nowhere to hide like there is with distortion.”
Lead guitarist Hank B. Marvin (born Brian Rankin) is the most celebrated member of The Shadows. He influenced guitarists including David Gilmour, Pete Townshend, Neil Young, Brian May, Mark Knopfler, Andy Summers, Ritchie Blackmore, Tommy Emmanuel & Tony Iommi. The rest of the band are no slouches either. Joseph Amego comments, “Brian Bennett is a drummer I could listen to all day long.” Other comments praise other members, but let’s just listen to Apache without talking heads interrupting:
How cool is that! Apache has an exciting history. Songwriter Jerry Lordan says that he wrote the song after seeing the Western movie Apache (1954). He intended the song to be noble & dramatic and found Burt Weedon’s version too jaunty. While the release of the Weedon version was delayed by his record company, Lordan played the song on a ukulele for The Shadows, who recorded it and released it in July 1960.
Weedon’s version reached #24 on the UK charts. On 21 July 1960, The Shadows’ version breached the UK top 40 at #35. The song shot up the charts and soon displaced Please Don’t Tease by Cliff Richard & The Shadows, which had spent three weeks at the top of the UK charts. Apache was #1 for five weeks and spent 19 weeks in the Top 40. The song charted around the world, except in the US.
In the US, the band’s label, EMI of England, neglected to promote it as, prior to the “British Invasion”, the label believed that there was no market for UK rock and roll in the US. The Beatles had a similar problem with their early singles.
In the US, a cover of Apache by the Danish guitarist Jørgen Ingmann was heavily promoted by ATCO Records and peaked at number 2. In the US, many listeners still think of Apache as a Jørgen Ingmann song. Meanwhile, back in the UK, Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch wrote Mr. Guitar for Bert Weedon to compensate for overshadowing his version of Apache.
The Shadows association with Cliff Richard (born Harry Rodger Webb) was a blessing and a curse. At first, the band gained great exposure from being Richard’s rock and roll backing band. Later, as Cliff Richard drifted to the middle of the road and even into contemporary Christian songs, it became less “cool” to be remembered as Cliff Richard’s band. If you are interested in seeing the entire BBC4 documentary, here it is. Enjoy.