Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas shared a manager and a well-known record producer with what many consider rock's greatest band, the Beatles. They joined the British Invasion for a time in the 60's and reached the top ten more than once.
Billy J. Kramer was born William Ashton in Liverpool in 1943. He sang with local groups as a teenager, most notably one called the Coasters. He was noticed by Brian Epstein, who was the manager of the Beatles in their early days. Epstein signed Kramer to a recording contract with Parlophone and installed him as the lead singer of a group of talented musicians from Manchester called the Dakotas. It proved to be a winning combination.
The Dakotas included Mike Maxfield on lead guitar, Robin McDonald on rhythm guitar, and Ray Jones on bass. Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas went into the studio with soon to be legendary record producer George Martin, who was already working with the Beatles. Martin thought that Kramer's voice could use some improvement but nevertheless suggested that the group cover a Beatles standard, Do You Want To Know A Secret. Martin played the piano himself on the recording and double-tracked it. The result was a song that became enormously popular in Great Britain and reached the number two position on the charts in 1963. The fledgling group and their marvelous record producer followed up with more of the same, and watched as Bad To Me went to number one in the UK and I'll Keep You Satisfied to number four that same year. Mike Maxfield reached the top twenty on his own in 1963 with The Cruel Sea, an instrumental patterned along the lines of British pop sensations the Shadows. The British Invasion of the shores of America was beginning to get underway, and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas had positioned themselves quite well.
The group was successful with a number of songs that had been written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney of the Beatles. In addition to Bad To Me and I'll Keep You Satisfied, another such song on that list was From A Window. The group released Brill Building songwriter Mort Shuman's Little Children backed by Bad To Me, and both songs hit the top ten in the United States in the Spring of 1964. They also scored in the UK with Burt Bacharach's Trains And Boats And Planes, a song that would later be a hit for Dionne Warwick.
The success of the Beatles inevitably helped groups such as Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. Music moved onwards in the 60's and they began to decline somewhat in popularity. They broke up in 1966.
Kramer moved from Parlophone to the Reaction label. He released The Town Of Tuxley Toymaker and Sorry, but they did not do well. He began performing on the club circuit and continued performing in the ensuing decades.
The run of Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas lasted about four years, through the heart of the British Invasion period of 60's pop music. Little Children and Bad To Me are perhaps the songs that are best remembered by fans of this notable UK beat group.
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