“It was very strange. Tommy Steele got voted “Top Guitarist of the Year” but we all knew that it was Bert Weedon who did the playing!"
An Anonymous Session Musician 1958
In the mid 1950’s a new type of singer appeared on the music scene – the teen idol. They were young, appealing and some of them were even able to hold a tune. With a little work and a change of name to something meaningful like Danny Trouble, Billy Sincere or Ricky Livid, they and their managers hoped to open a door to fame and fortune. The problem was for all their toothy smiles these performers weren’t smart enough to turn the lacklustre songs of the time into hit records. The Dannys, Billys and Rickys needed a new type of musician to support them. They had to be young, talented, in step with rock ‘n’ roll music and above all busting at the seams with new and exciting ideas. These were the players who would come up with the musical licks and hooks that would catch a listener’s attention and hold it. These were the musicians who could turn garbage into gold and in the coffee bars and skiffle cellars of Soho they found them – the session men.
Joe Moretti was born on the 10th May 1938 in Glasgow. An ambitious and talented guitarist he came to London in November 1958 to try his luck in the developing rock ‘n’ roll scene. He arrived with £11 in his pocket, a suitcase full of clothes and a small collection of pots and pans. Joe’s first destination was the ‘2 I’s’ coffee bar in Old Compton Street, Soho, a place that he later described as “the fuse for the explosion that was to come in the World of U.K Rock and Roll.” It was in the small basement of the ‘2 I’s’ that aspiring rockers came to strut their stuff in the hope of catching the eye of a potential manager or record producer. “It was meant to hold about 40 people but it was always packed with people standing shoulder to shoulder. The heat & the sweat!!”
With only mediocre three chord strummers as competition Joe Moretti’s ability on the guitar was immediately recognised and on his first night in London he was signed to go on tour with “The Cabin Boys” backing Tommy Steele’s brother, Colin Hicks. Although Colin Hicks’s career stopped almost as quickly as it started the tour gave Joe the chance to meet and play alongside other prominent musicians and singers.
In January 1959 he was invited to play on a recording session with Vince Taylor, an average singer from Isleworth with an average song called “Brand New Cadillac”1. Recognising its limitations Joe Moretti quickly created a catchy opening riff, and two exciting solos. Powered along by Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking on bass and Brian Bennett on drums, both of whom were later to join the Shadows, Joe turned “Brand New Cadillac” into what is probably Britain’s second authentic home grown rock ‘n ’roll record. Although it appeared on every jukebox in the land it failed to get those all important air plays on the BBC. The corporation refused to play it because the lyrics mentioned two brand names – Cadillac and Ford – and according to their rules that was advertising. The record only just crawled into the bottom of the Top Twenty. In 1979 the song was covered by The Clash on their album “London Calling.” In recent years Vince Taylor’s original 1959 version of “Brand New Cadillac” has been described as Britain’s first “Punk” record!
Britain’s first authentic home-grown rock ‘n’ roll record is almost certainly “Move It” by Cliff Richard, released in August 1958. A highlight of this song is the distinctive intro created by another session musician Ernie Shear.
In the spring of 1960 Joe worked the same magic again when he was asked to play on a recording by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates of a song called “Shaking All Over”. As well as providing a blistering solo on the track Joe also came up with a compulsive and repetitive introductory ‘riff’. On the 16th June 1960 it reached No 1 in the U.K charts. Eventually “Shaking All Over” was covered by over 40 other artists, all featuring the same powerful lick originated by Joe Moretti. Unfortunately this was of little benefit to Joe. Although he had been offered a 10% slice of the record’s profits he declined it in favour of the standard session fee of £7.10.0d plus an extra £1 for an overdub. Joe added a ‘shimmer’ effect by sliding a cigarette lighter up and down the guitar strings. When “Shaking All Over” went global, Joe went ballistic!
Throughout the 60’s and 70’s Joe Moretti was in high demand as a session musician. In July 1961, he enjoyed a minor hit with “Hall of the Mountain King” with Nero and the Gladiators. This too was banned by the BBC for being “detrimental to Edvard Grieg” who wrote the original music. In 1963 Joe played on “Scarlett O’Hara” and “Applejack”, Top Ten hits for Jet Harris and Tony Meehan. Joe claimed later that Jet was “too ill” to actually play on the recordings himself and the guitarist you hear is not Jet but Joe. In February 1965 Joe went to No 1 with Tom Jones and “It’s Not Unusual” and in February and May 1967 he was in the charts again with “Mellow Yellow” by Donovan and “Don’t Sleep in the Subway” by Petula Clark.
Joe and his wife Pina eventually retired to Johannesburg in South Africa where he died on the 9th February 2012. In the history of popular music Joe and session musicians like him will never receive the same recognition or accolades as the stars they supported but without them UK pop music would not be the force it is today. I don’t think that they were in it for fame or fortune. It was the fun and challenge that particularly attracted them. For Joe it would be reward enough if the next time you hear “Shaking All Over” you say, “That’s Joe Moretti!”
“A session guitarist must have all round ability, because the work is tremendously varied… he must be a good, fast and accurate reader and have plenty of courage because he will often walk into something beyond his ken which he’s never come across before.”
Joseph Edward Moretti – 10th May 1938 – 9th February 2012
There is very little footage of Joe in action but here is one YouTube clip from 1960 when Joe, just 21 years old, went to Italy to support rock ‘n ’roll legend Gene Vincent. Let’s go Joe!
Joe’s 1960’s masterpiece “Shaking All Over” by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates on YouTube.
— from Martyn Day