Shakin' Stevens Biography
Last updated: 06/30/2012 12:00:00 PM
Born in Cardiff, South Wales, Shakin' Stevens, the Singer/Songwriter also known as Shaky, started his career as a rock 'n roll singer, covering all genres of music. He worked with several bands, playing venues around South Wales, eventually forming a band that became known as Shakin' Stevens And The Sunsets. The truth about how he came by his name, whatever you may read; when he was in his teens, a mate was messing about in the street. Suddenly he played air-guitar, announcing “Ladies and gentlemen – Shakin’ Stevens And The Sunsets !”. Shaky thought it was a wacky name, and much later adopted it for his stage name – although when he turned solo, the Sunsets set. His mate never went into the music business, but he loves to tell the story…..
Stevens was hardly an overnight success. In ’69 they turned professional (they gave up their “day jobs” – which were many and varied) and played the London circuit and Colleges, Universities and venues throughout the UK and Europe, on the same bills as such artists as Ian Dury (then performing as Kilburn And The High Roads), Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup, Deep Purple, Chuck Berry, Georgie Fame, David Bowie and The Stones, to name but a few.
During the seventies they recorded albums and singles for labels which included EMI (the album 'A Legend' being produced by Dave Edmunds at Rockfield Studios) and CBS in the UK, with Dureco and Dynamite in Holland, and continually gigged in Denmark, Sweden and Holland (where the band had a large following). In 1972, they were voted The Top Live Band in a New Musical Express poll.
Prior to the band breaking up in late '77, Stevens signed as a solo artist to Track Records (Track was well known for such artists as Jimi Hendrix and The Who), and released the single 'Never' in 1977, followed by 'Somebody Touched Me', both produced by Mike Hurst. Despite good reviews, the singles failed to make any significant impact on the UK charts. (Although many years later Hurst and Stevens learned that ‘Somebody Touched Me’ was a Top 40 hit in Australia.)
That same year, while gigging with the band at The Greyhound, in London, Stevens was approached by Jack Good to co-star in his West End musical, Elvis, alongside PJ Proby and Timothy Whitnall. The musical ran for 19 months as a multi-award-winning show. Accolades included Evening Standard 'Best Musical' Award and the SWET Awards. In 1978, a single 'Justine', and then an album entitled 'Shakin' Stevens' were released by Track Records, featuring members of Sounds Incorporated (previously managed by Brian Epstein) which showed Stevens with a harder-edged vocal performance. The album was recorded ‘live’, straight to tape, in one day, at Island Studios - in the next studio to Bob Marley. “It was like one big party,” Shaky said, “the studio was full of people, food and booze.” But at that time Track Records was experiencing difficulties, and within a few months Track went into liquidation.
In mid '78, back-stage in his dressing-room at the Astoria, Stevens was approached by (the late) Chris Brough, who then signed him to CBS on the Epic label on a long term, world-wide basis. Three singles, produced by Mike Hurst - Chris’s partner at that time - were then released but without any real success. Continuing in his role in the West End musical, 8 shows a week, Stevens then featured in Jack Good's live version of the revamped hit shows 'Oh Boy' at the Astoria, performing 2 shows on his 'day off' each Sunday; which later led to similar shows being televised in '79 and throughout the following year.
After many years of touring, making records and paying his dues, the beginning of the 80's was to become a major turning point in Stevens' career, establishing him as a unique international artist – working with some of the most astute rock and country blues-aware musicians in Britain. Despite the trend out of the Punk era and into New Wave, Electronic and the New Romantics, Stevens’ resulting sound was glossy enough to appeal to those weaned on Smash Hits, but one that retained enough of rock’s basic energy and excitement to gain the attention of an adult audience who could relate to his music.
He was to work with producers including Rod Argent (of Argent), Peter Collins, Stuart Colman, Dave Edmunds, Pete Hammond, Christopher Neil, John David and Nicky Graham.
His first album released on the Epic label in 1980, was 'Take One', featuring the renowned lead guitarist, Albert Lee. Lifted from this album, the long awaited hit single, 'Hot Dog', was released in the same year - reaching #24 in the charts. Six months later he had a top 20 hit with 'Marie, Marie', which was the spark that ignited his European success. But it was the cover of a classic song that provided the real breakthrough in early ’81, when Shaky’s re-working of This Ole House, topped the UK chart and became a huge International hit. Originally penned by singer/songwriter, Stuart Hamblen, after finding the dead body of an old prospector in a tumbledown shack. “I hadn’t heard it before,” Shaky later explained. “I was going through some records and tapes with Stuart Colman, and there it was.” It was the recording by the US band NRBQ which first brought the song to his attention. As Fred Dellar, of Mojo, later explained, “The record tapped several audiences. Those who remembered it from the first time around, those who regarded it as a new song, plus the then emerging wave of new rockabillies who perceived it as their kind of material. As his audiences grew bigger and increasingly diverse, the demand for Shakin’ Stevens records grew. And Shaky continually rang the changes…..”. In ‘81 alone, he had two # 1 hit singles, also ‘You Drive Me Crazy’ reaching # 2, and his first ballad, 'It's Raining', which was a top 10 hit.
But Stevens was capable of making more than just hit singles. The diversity of his music meant that he additionally attracted an album-buying public, and in ‘81 he notched up three hit albums – including 'Shaky', which not only topped the charts but remained in the best-selling listings for 28 weeks. The following year marked his first self-penned # 1 - 'Oh Julie', which was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award. With many more hit singles and albums to follow, in the UK and internationally, Stevens was now firmly established on the trail to become the most successful UK singles chart performer of the decade.
In mid ’85, Maurice Oberstein – responsible for signing Stevens to CBS/Epic – moved to Polygram, with resultant staff changes in the label. At the end of the year Stevens released ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’. This track was due for release the previous year, but it was re-scheduled so as not to clash with the release of the Band Aid single. ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ deservedly became Stevens’ fourth #1; a Christmas Classic!
In ‘87 the news broke that CBS/Epic was to be taken over by Sony. That same year the album, ‘Let’s Boogie’ was released; taking its concept, and it’s name in part, from the single ‘A Little Boogie Woogie (In The Back Of My Mind)’ – but the idea did not materialise. It was then brought to Stevens’ attention that there were several of his hits never before released on an album, together with other live recordings which hadn’t been utiltised. As a result, side 2 contained a live medley of hits recorded at the London Palladium in December ’86, while side one consisted of a new album track, three hits, and ‘What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For’: a version which should never have been released. Stevens was not totally happy with the final outcome of this album. Also that year he experimented by recording the Supremes former hit, ‘Come See About Me’, which was followed in ‘88 with a version of the Detroit Emeralds’ soul hit ‘Feel The Need In Me’. Despite being a brave departure, musically, it still charted. Meantime Sony’s purchase of CBS/Epic was ratified in January 1988.
November ’88, the album ‘ A Whole Lotta Shaky’ was released. This album included the new, hit version of ‘What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For’ and other new recordings for the album, coupled with tracks recorded as far back as 1981. With such a collection of new songs, and tracks recorded over the decade (not specifically for this album), Stevens felt it did not quite gel as an album. Nevertheless, Sony/Epic released it.
Despite his forays into other styles of music for his single releases , he ended the decade as the Biggest Selling Singles Artist! To quote from the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles And Albums; “Shares with The Beatles (60s) and Elton John (70s) the distinction of being the most successful UK singles chart performer of a decade.”
With the start of a new decade in 1990, ‘I Might’ was released, with many airplays on radio, some stations rotating the track four times a day. With reports of lack of product in the shops it still made the Top 20, as did ‘The Best Christmas Of Them All’ at the end of the year. Changes within the label were now more noticeably coming into play; Oberstein’s earlier departure and Sony’s purchase of CBS/Epic, and it was becoming more apparent that the former commitment was perhaps dwindling. Later news that Muff Winwood was to leave Epic to set up S2, meant that those who had been instrumental in signing Stevens to the label had left or were leaving. Singles for 1990 continued to be released on the Epic label, but later became part of an album released on Telstar, in conjunction with Epic, that same year.
Stevens’ last official releases on the Epic label were in ‘92, and included the album ‘The Epic Years’, a digitally re-mastered collection of 25 of the hits. Despite the success of the previous ‘Greatest Hits’ album, which went platinum in ‘84, lack of promotion for the Epic Years resulted in a minor hit. The hit single ‘Radio’ was taken from the album; a new song, produced by Rod Argent and Peter Van-Hooke which featured Roger Taylor of Queen, on drums, and Rod Argent on keyboards.
Throughout the 80's and early 90's alone, Stevens had 39 hit singles, 37 of which were consecutive, and in the UK alone achieved four # 1s , three # 2s, 12 Top 5 hits, 15 Top 10s, 25 Top 20s, 30 Top 30s and 32 Top 40 hits. This unprecedented success was mirrored across Europe and in many territories world-wide. At that time, in the UK he had accumulated 277 weeks in the singles chart and consolidated all that success with a run of a dozen hit albums. He sold millions of albums and singles world-wide, earning him a multitude of Gold, Platinum and Double Platinum Discs, and a plethora of global honours and prestigious industry awards including Best Musical; thirty Top 30 hits in a decade (still unsurpassed by any other artist); being named best Singer/Performer at Midem, the international music convention. In Germany he picked up the unique Chartmaker award to commemorate four singles in the German chart at the same time – a record which remains unbeaten ! ; in Sweden he became the first international artist ever to receive a double Platinum Disc.
Many artists covered his recordings; among them worldbeaters such as Barry Manilow (who had a US hit with 'Oh Julie'), Eddy Raven and Sylvia taking 'A Letter To You' and 'Cry Just A Little Bit' to # 1 and # 9 in the Nashville charts. Stevens has also collaborated musically with a number of world renowned musicians including Roger Taylor, Albert Lee, Hank Marvin, Bonnie Tyler, Rod Argent and, more recently, Tony Joe White, also with some of the most astute rock and country blues-aware session musicians in both Britain and Nashville – producing hit, after hit, after hit….
By 1993, Stevens was out of contract, although continuing to tour. In ‘95 he decided to take time out to review his career and business affairs. Nevertheless, appropriate marketing strategies with a strong commitment in other parts of Europe proved that his compilation albums would continue to chart, achieving a # 1 in Denmark, and # 12 in Norway in ‘99 .
Embarking on another phase of his career, in ‘99 Stevens completed a successful tour of the UK, also performing in Europe, and was then invited to perform at the historic launch of The Welsh Assembly in May ‘99, delivering a one-off show at London's prestigious venue, The Shepherds Bush Empire the following October. Entering the new Millennium, he headlined at an open-air concert in his home town of Cardiff, performing to a live audience in excess of 100,000 – also broadcast nationally on BBC TV. In Spring 2000 Stevens repeated his success with another UK Tour, performing rock and country blues as well as new arrangements of his hits. In October 2000, he was paid tribute by the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters, when he was presented with a prestigious Gold Badge Award to commemorate his contribution to the music industry.
In 2002 Stevens was honoured by The Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, when he was awarded a Number One Gold Award to reflect his chart success. Other highlights include a performance in Austria in 2003, when he headlined to an audience of 200,000, and in 2004 topped the bill at the prestigious charity event of the Frankfurt Opera ball, then appearing in the tv celebration to mark 50 Years Of Rock, in Hannover. Stevens was then ranked as the 16th highest selling artist in the UK, ever, and also acknowledged as having had more number 1’s than any other Welsh artist. In 2004, he followed all this up with a further Number 1, Platinum selling hits, tv-advertised hits album in Denmark, and in 2005 with a further tv-advertised hits compilation album in the UK (‘The Collection’, charting at #4 in the UK) - which went Gold within nine days of release, and then platinum. Following his success in the hit tv show, Hit Me Baby One More Time (which was to promote ‘The Collection’ album), the single ‘Trouble’ was released in June 2005, straight into the Top 20. A stand-alone DVD of ‘The Collection’ followed, which charted Top 10.
A sell-out tour in the UK and Denmark in November and December 2005 (repeated in 2006), were followed by the completion of a new studio album – ‘Now Listen’. ‘Now Listen’ marked a distinct progression in Stevens’ career, a twelve-track album featuring new songs, many of which were co-written by Stevens.
The album displayed Shaky’s distinctive and gutsy vocals, together with strong country rock and blues influences, thus appealing to his fans while also attracting a new audience. Now Listen, written by Stevens with Tim Woodcock and Cliff Masterson, is an infectious song with a very catchy chorus. Stevens has also teamed up with fellow Welsh writer John David, for the memorable Lonely Too Long, and John’s haunting composition Somewhere In The Night. Stevens’ powerful vocals and new arrangements provide a brand new take on classic songs, including Rudi Clark’s Got My Mind Set On You, Burt Bacharach’s soul classic, Baby It’s You and Dave Bartholomew’s I Hear You Knockin’.
How Could It Be Like That - a hypnotic swamp-rock track, featuring the legendary Tony Joe White on lead guitar, and written by Stevens and Ronnie Harwood. It’s A Shame, co-written with John David and Jason Lee (Baby Jayn), demonstrates Shaky’s strong vocals with meaningful lyrics. Combine all this with the pure energy and excitement of the tracks Fire Down Below - with a gospel feel – together with his rousing versions of Pump It Up and Trouble, and finish it all off with Stevens’ anthemic new festival song Get Together, and you have Now Listen.
This very special album was a long time coming, but well worth the wait! Stevens had been resigned to SonyBMG by Rob Stringer – but before the release of Now Listen, Rob was promoted to Sony in the US, and with him went the UK and therefore Europe’s commitment. Nevertheless, a strong belief from Steve Tallamy of SonyBMG in Denmark, meant that the only release of this long-awaited album was to be on SonyBMG, Denmark, on 29th May 2007, which went straight in at # 8 ! Steve was right ! (but then, we knew that …. Thank you to all the team.)
Shaky then went on to tour Denmark, also performing in 4 shows at the NEC on RWL, followed by a tour of Romania and then BBC TV Northern Ireland, swiftly followed by a charity gig to raise money for a children’s hospice in Romania. For New Year’s Eve 2007/8 Shaky then headlined on Polish National TV, performing in Cracow Square, and to a record live audience of 200,000 ! Shaky was then asked to perform at the Gävle Konserthus, in Sweden, alongside Billy Bremner and Geraint Watkins. Billy and Geraint had worked with Stevens on his early recordings.
2008 also brought an invitation to perform at the legendary Glastonbury Festival, to open the Main stage on Saturday 28th June. The festival organisers announced that Shaky’s hugely successful appearance drew the biggest crowd and best reaction for an opening artist on the Pyramid / Main stage – EVER ! Then followed festivals in the UK and Germany, with more appearances and concerts lined up in Poland, the UK and a tour of Ireland, finishing the year at London’s Indigo2 on 13th December ’08.
As well as festivals in Europe, and a tour in Scandinavia, during 2009 Stevens finalised working on a 10CD box-set for Sony Music - The Epic Masters - containing original albums with bonus tracks, many of which had never before been on CD. All 147 tracks were digitally re-mastered (overseen by Stevens), and the set also included a 20 page booklet with a wealth of information about the making of the tracks.
The Epic Masters Box Set was released at the end of 2009, in readiness to celebrate the coming year of 2010 - the 30th Anniversary of Stevens’ first UK hit - and this occasion was also marked with a special, one-off gig at the 02 Academy Islington, on 8th December 2009. Both the limited edition release, and the gig sold out immediately…
As part of the ongoing 2010 celebrations, and to meet demand in the UK and Internationally, Sony have pressed further copies of the Epic Masters box set, and a UK tour put in place. Originally planned for October 2010, and re-scheduled following illness, the UK Tour will now commence on 4th February 2011, and will be followed by many one-off appearances at concerts and festival performances throughout Europe, as 2011 also markes the 30th Anniversary of Stevens amazing International success. These performances are not to be missed!
Shaky will be accompanied by a 10 strong band and will perform new arrangements of his hits and songs he has performed across the decades, from all the musical genres he has recorded with - rock, country and blues – plus a few surprises! All this, alongside new songs, which will appear on his new album slated for release later in 2011, will excite new and old fans alike.
Meantime, 2010 has also heralded another return to the album charts in Denmark and Sweden, where his album ‘The Collection has now topped the charts.
Stevens remains the UK’s 16th Highest Selling Artist in the history of the charts! To date he has spent a massive 460 weeks in the UK charts, alone – nearly 9 years! To add to this great track record, he has now gone back into the studio to record a new album, slated for release next year.
Shakin’ Stevens is certain to be around for many years to come…