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John Byrne
Johnny Guitar
August 18, 1999
Age 59
 
Motor Neurone Disease 
 
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OBITUARY 
       
 
 
     Johnny Guitar
    Musician, 1939-1999  

    He was one of the "nearly men" of 1960s pop music. He nearly made it big. Johnny Guitar, who has died aged 59 from motor neurone disease, was a founder member of Rory Storm and the Hurricanes, the first beat group to play at Liverpool's Cavern 
    club, the first to back Cilla Black, and a group which shared equal billing in Hamburg with the Beatles, who eventually hired the Hurricanes' drummer, Ringo Starr. 

    Guitar - real name John Byrne - was inspired to learn the instrument during the '50s skiffle movement. With his friend Alan Caldwell (the future Rory Storm), he formed an amateur group in Liverpool. As the Texan Skiffle Group, they won first prize at 
    a talent contest at Butlins, in Rhyl, in 1958. 

    By 1959 they had turned to rock'n'roll as Rory Storm and the Hurricanes and recruited drummer Richard Starkey. During 1960 they became one of Liverpool's most popular acts, playing at the Liverpool Jazz Festival, and then at the first "beat night" at the 
    Cavern. That summer the group were paid £25 a week each to play at Butlins, in Pwllheli, and decided to turn professional. 

    This was also when Richard Starkey became Ringo Starr, and Byrne was renamed Johnny Guitar in homage to the 1954 western movie of the same name. In October the group shared top billing with the Beatles at the Kaiserkeller in Hamburg.  

    In 1961 they were the first group with which Cilla Black sang. The song was Fever and the audience response was favourable but, as she later recalled, the group "could only play in one key and it certainly wasn't mine". These musical limitations (a later drummer once said that "Johnny Guitar was a brilliant rhythm guitarist as far as his right hand would go") would eventually contribute to the Hurricanes' demise, but now they were at their peak, being voted fourth most popular group in the magazine 
    Mersey Beat. 

    In the summer of 1962, disaster struck when Ringo Starr left to join the Beatles halfway through a summer season at Butlins, in Skegness. Johnny Guitar later recalled the morning when John Lennon and Paul McCartney turned up without warning at the 
    caravan shared by Ringo and Johnny. Ringo left Johnny Guitar with the caravan rent to pay (although he later made amends by paying a Hurricanes' tax bill). 

    By 1963 Rory Storm and the Hurricanes were on the slide. In the Mersey Beat poll they slumped to 19th in 1963 and 18th in 1964. They continued to perform around Liverpool, though, and played at the Cavern the night it closed, in 1966. The club went into liquidation and the group never received their £15 fee. 

    Soon afterwards the Hurricanes split up and a disillusioned Rory Storm died from an overdose in 1972. John Byrne joined the Merseyside ambulance service as a technician in 1974, and retired last year. He was twice married, with a son and daughter. 

    Dave Laing, The Guardian, London

    
  
 
       
 

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