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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2002/07/23
by Mike Gruenberg

Billy J. Kramer

When I was fifteen years old, I first heard the Beatles. Since then, I have made it a point to collect their music on virtually every possible source. My collection of Beatle tunes includes vinyl, 8-Tracks, cassettes, reel-to-reel and now, CD’s. I also collect memorabilia related to them and as such have created a hobby that is most entertaining. Whenever friends of mine dispute certain facts about the lads, I am usually the one who is called to settle the difference of opinion.
Fame has its pluses and minuses. Obviously, famous people cannot go out in public without the thought of overzealous fans invading their privacy. On the other hand, as Mel Brooks said, "It’s good to be the king" which in this case, means that famous people would probably trade the inability to walk in the mall for the fame, wealth and power they possess. Lack of privacy is a small price to pay for these people.
I have always been fascinated by the ability of less than famous people to survive and make a pretty good living as a result of the famous people who have touched their lives. Our society is so hungry for the best singer or actor or athlete that we will go to any length to applaud and support persons who have come in contact with our heroes.
The Beatles literally have created a billion-dollar industry relating to any person, event or incident where a connection can be made to them. Beatlefest is a prime example of an event that takes into account people, places and things related to the lads from Liverpool. At the last Beatlesfest, I met Billy J. Kramer who was there promoting his new album, called "Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas at Abbey Road; 1963 -1966." (EMI 7243 4 935426)
Billy, born William Howard Ashton had the good fortune to grow up in Liverpool in the 60’s when that area became the focal point of every musician and manager in search of the next Beatles. Billy was an aspiring singer and performed regularly at the clubs in and around Liverpool. Brian Epstein, who managed The Beatles, was searching for new talent. He discovered Billy at the now famous Liverpool club, The Cavern and signed him to a record deal. Epstein decided to use the star power of his more famous client to help and enhance Billy’s career.
Virtually every aspect of Billy’s career was entwined with the Beatles. John and Paul wrote "Bad To Me", "I’ll Keep You Satisfied" and "From A Window." All these songs became huge international hits. Sir George Martin, the legendary producer of the Beatles produced Billy’s records. John Lennon was the one who suggested that Billy add the "J" to his name being in memory of his mom, Julia and his newly born son, Julian. He recorded all his albums and singles at the Abbey Road studios. On the other hand, Lennon/McCartney did not write "Little Children." It went on to be his most successful single.
When I met Billy, I found him to be gracious and friendly. We spoke briefly about his career and his new album. There are great photos and liner notes on the album. Apparently, EMI is getting on the Beatles-related bandwagon in producing a number of albums recorded at Abbey Road by such artists as the Hollies, Gerry & The Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer.
The album takes you through 28 tunes recorded by Billy from 1963 through 1966. The sound quality is excellent and the historical references written about each song are complete and informative.
Billy’s fleeting brush with the Beatles has served him well through all these years. He continues to perform and quite frankly, the years have been kind to him. It was a pleasure to meet him. In this case, the interaction between the famous and not so famous has worked out for performers and fans alike.
Billy J. Kramer Hit Songlist
"Do You Want To Know A Secret (‘63 UK#2)
"Little Children" (‘64 #7 Pop, UK#1)
"Bad To Me" (‘64 #9 Pop, UK#1)
"I’ll Keep You Satisfied" (‘64 #30 Pop, UK#4)
"From A Window" (‘64 #23 Pop, UK#10)

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