Billy Kramer (real name, William Howard Ashton) was an apprentice fitter for British Rail – He was also the lead singer for a Liverpool group called The Coasters when Brian Epstein spotted them playing at The Cavern.
The Coasters did not want to turn professional so Epstein bought Kramer’s contract from his ageing manager Ted Knibbs for the princely sum of £50 and teamed him up with accomplished Manchester band The Dakotas – who included Elkie Brooks‘ brother, Tony Mansfield on drums.
Given access to several compositions by Lennon and McCartney (four of the first five singles were written by the duo), most of which were unused by The Beatles themselves, Kramer & The Dakotas embarked on a brief but spectacular career as hit-makers.
Do You Want To Know A Secret? was issued on 26 May 1963 after a harrowing recording session where double-tracking and George Martin‘s patchy piano tinkling hid a nervous Billy’s shortcomings, particularly on the falsetto line “I’m in love with you-oooooo”.
Another Beatles-penned hit, I’ll Keep You Satisfied, saw the year out in fine style as did a high placing in the New Musical Express‘ chart survey and its prediction of a golden future for Billy J, specifically on the silver screen.
Epstein wanted the group to continue recording Lennon and McCartney compositions because the formula clearly worked. But Kramer had heard a song he intended to record, written by American composers Mort Shuman and John McFarland. He defied Epstein and Little Children became his biggest-selling single ever.
Ray Jones left the group in July 1964 and Macdonald switched to bass allowing the dynamic Mick Green (ex-Johnny Kidd & The Pirates) to come in as lead guitarist.
Following the failure of their last few singles, Kramer left The Dakotas in 1967 for an ultimately unsuccessful solo career. After a stint compering the pop show Discotheque he later moved to the United States.
From 1973, Kramer toured with a re-formed Dakotas on the oldies-but-goldies circuit. He also recorded a dozen or so solo singles – all without success.
Billy J. Kramer
Rhythm guitar, bass