Billy J. Kramer





Born William Howard Ashton on August 19th, 1943, Billy grew up in Liverpool, the soon to be Mecca of popular music of the 1960s. Upon leaving school, he became a trainee engineer by day and an aspiring singer by night, performing under the stage name Billy Kramer (with "Kramer" chosen at random from the telephone directory). Billy's performance at local Rock clubs as a rhythm guitarist for The Phantoms soon brought him to the attention of Brian Epstein. Acknowledging his Pop idol potential, Brian set out to add Billy to his growing managerial empire, which already included The Beatles and Gerry And The Pacemakers. Needless to say, Billy jumped at the chance to become a full-time entertainer and Epstein signed him to a six-year management deal. At the suggestion of John Lennon, Billy added the "J." to his stage name to give it more appeal, the "J." being in memory of John's mother, Julia, and for his newly born son, Julian.

Upon handing Billy a tape of what was to become the first in a succession of smash hits written especially for him by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, John apologized for the quality of the recording. John had to record "Do You Want To Know A Secret" in the toilet, as it was the only place where be could find any peace and quiet. With this tune, Billy and his backup group The Dakotas, claimed the #2 chart spot in England, topping the Beatles themselves. His first taste of success in America came with a song called "Little Children", which reached #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the Summer of 1964. The follow-up, "Bad To Me", a song written by two Americans, Mort Shuman and John Leslie McFarland, peaked at #9 just a few weeks later. Two more hits, "I'll Keep You Satisfied" (US #30) and "From A Window" (US #23), became international million sellers for Billy, and appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig, and Hullabaloo rocketed him to a place in Rock 'n' Roll history as a pioneer of the British Invasion.

The following year brought an end for the Beat Music boom, and the next Kramer single, "It's Gotta Last Forever", stalled at #87. His cover of Bacharach and David's "Trains and Boats and Planes" reached a respectable #12 in the UK, but could only manage to climb to #47 in America, where it was trounced by Dionne Warwick's rendition. The record turned out to be Kramer's swan song, as all subsequent releases failed to crack the Hot 100. Songs like "Twilight Time", "Neon City", "We're Doing Fine", "You Make Me Feel Like Someone" and "Town Of Tuxley Toy Maker", all missed the charts in both the UK and the US. The Dakotas opted to bolster their sound with the inclusion of Mick Green, formerly a guitarist with the London band The Pirates who backed Johnny Kidd. This line-up cut a few tracks, including "When You Walk in the Room" and "Sneakin' Around", which failed to chart on either side of the Atlantic. The Dakotas' final effort with Kramer was the Blues-driven "Oyeh!", but it also flopped. After this series of failures The Dakotas split from Kramer in 1968. During the '70s, Kramer toured with a different Dakotas band, with sell-out concert appearances and standing ovations in England, Australia, Germany, Scandinavia and throughout the United States. Despite his popularity at live concerts, none of the material he released that decade could make a dent in the charts. Songs like "The Grass Won't Pay No Mind" in 1971, "A Fool Like You" and "Darling Come To Me" in 1973, "Stayin' Power" in 1974, "San Diego" in 1977, "Ships That Pass In The Night" in 1978, and "Blue Christmas" in 1979 were all virtually ignored. He didn't fare any better in the 1980s when "Silver Dream", "Sun Tan", "Rock It", "You're Right, I'm Wrong", "You Can't Live On Memories" and "Shootin' The Breeze" all failed to chart.

Billy J. Kramer had always felt that America was the home of Rock 'n' Roll, and he finally fulfilled a long time ambition in 1993 to move to the United States. He took up residence on Long Island, New York with his wife Roni, his two sons, and his dog Elvis, and continued to tour as a nostalgia act. In 2005, Billy recorded the song "Cow Planet" for Sandra Boynton's children's album, "Dog Train". A long time fan of Kramer's, Boynton had sought him out for her project because she said that the first album she ever bought was "Little Children", when she was 11 years old in 1964.

In late 2012, Billy was back in the studio for the first time in years to record a CD entitled "I Won the Fight" that featured several new songs written by Billy as well as some covers tunes. In 2013, he provided the introduction to the graphic novel The Fifth Beatle by Vivek Tiwary. The book was released that November and spent several weeks on the New York Times best-seller list, reaching #1 in its third week of release. In 2015, Kramer was part of the British Invasion 50th Anniversary tour, performing in the U.S. and the UK

Be sure to read Gary James' Interview With Billy J Kramer





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