Born Michael Barrattt, 4 March 1948, Cardiff, South Wales
A highly effective live performer, Shakin' Stevens was the biggest selling artist in the 1980s in the United Kingdom, with 30 Top Thirty hits to his credit. A unique feat for a singer steeped in the rock n roll sounds of the 1950s. But that success didn't exactly come overnight. When he had his first number one in 1981, he was already 33 and had twelve years in the music business behind him.
Shakin' Stevens is the stage name of Michael Barratt, who was born in 1948 in the Cardiff suburb of Ely (South Wales), the youngest of thirteen children. After leaving school unqualified, he became a window cleaner and a milkman. He formed his first amateur rock and roll band around 1966, with some school friends. Originally named the Olympics, then the Cossacks, the short- lived band finally became The Denims and played gigs in South Wales. Barratt began his professional performing career in 1969, fronting Shakin' Stevens and the Sunsets, created and managed by rock and roll promoter and impresario Paul 'Legs' Barrett (no relation). The Sunsets were a 1950's-styled rock n roll outfit from Penarth (South Glamorgan) who invited Stevens to join them after he had been an avid fan of the band for several years. The group recorded six albums between 1970 and 1976. The first of these was produced by fellow Welshman Dave Edmunds and was optimistically titled "A Legend". The band found success hard to come by, at least in their native Great Britain. By 1972 the Sunsets had built up a reputation as a wild stage act and some of their singles were minor hits on the European mainland. They gigged regularly in Germany, Denmark and Holland.
In 1977, after seven years of constant touring and recording, "Shaky" was spotted by Jack Good, who recruited him as one of the three actors to portray Elvis Presley in the West End musical "Elvis". The show ran for 19 months and won several awards. Stevens appeared on TV in the revived "Oh Boy" series and in "Let's Rock", the 30-week follow-up series.
Track Records signed him to a solo contract, but went into liquidation soon after the release of his first LP, simply called "Shakin' Stevens", in April 1978. But he soon found a new home at CBS, recording for their Epic label. His first Epic album was titled "Take One" (early 1980). Produced by Mike Hurst, it contained cover versions of 12 somewhat obscure rock n roll songs from the 1950s and early 1960s, including the Buck Owens number "Hot Dog". This was selected for single release and became his first UK chart entry, with a peak position of # 24. For the next four albums, production duties were taken over by Stuart Colman, who also played bass guitar (as he did on "Take One"), along with ace guitarists Albert Lee and Mickey Gee, pianist Geraint Watkins and steel guitarist B.J. Cole. The "Marie Marie" LP repeated the formula of "Take One", but the real breakthrough came with the third Epic LP, "This Ole House", released in March 1981. The title song was not exactly rock n roll in its original version by Rosemary Clooney (a # 1 US hit in 1954), but Shaky gave it a rocking treatment that took him to the top of the UK charts for the first time. "Shaky", the next album, was another classy production and topped the UK LP charts during a 28-week run. It spawned three Top 10 singles with "You Drive Me Crazy" (# 2), "Green Door" (# 1) and "It's Raining" (# 10). Success continued with "Oh Julie" (# 1) and three other Top 10 hits in 1982. By this time Stevens no longer depended on material from the 1950s and began to write more and more of his own songs.
Shaky's fourth and last number one was "Merry Christmas Everyone" in 1985. Not only did he have hits in the UK, but also in Germany, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, Belgium, Poland, Austria, Switzerland, Ireland, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. In the USA, however, his chart success was limited to one solitary single, "Cry Just A Little Bit" (# 67, 1983). After 30 UK Top Thirty hits between 1980 and 1990, things started to slow down in the 1990s, just two Top 40 hits in 1991-92. His last official releases on Epic (now owned by Sony) were in 1992, after which Shaky went into retirement for six years. In the meantime his compilation CD's sold very well, especially in Denmark.
Not surprisingly, his albums from the 1970s with the Sunsets were also reissued once he hit the big time, resulting in a long legal battle with the Sunsets over unpaid royalties.
Stevens returned to the live circuit in 1999 and continued to perform all over the world, but didn't record any new albums between 1991 and 2007. "Now Listen" (SonyBMG, 2007) showed a new side of Shaky, with strong country and blues influences. In July 2010 Stevens suffered a heart attack, which caused him to be hospitalised for two months. He made a full recovery and at present he is preparing a new studio album.
Official website : http://www.shakinstevens.com/
More info :
CD recommendations :
Acknowledgements : Shaun Mather, Wikipedia, the official website.
Dik, May 2014
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