Friday, August 19, 2016

Wrapping Things Up With Billy J. Kramer

We had a great time talking with Billy J. Kramer a couple of weeks ago ... 

Today we bring that interview to a close ... I hope you have enjoyed our efforts. 

BJK:  After Brian died I went on to host a TV series in Manchester for about a year.  I worked with various bands over the years.  I worked with a band called Late, and it was very appropriate because they always were.  But they were a very good band and I'll be honest with you, they worked very hard for me and they did quite a few gigs with me and it could have paid off but I got a lot of overseas commitments and they got a record deal with Atlantic so we … we stayed friends but we went apart.  And I've just worked with a lot of different people over the years … a lot of very good musicians.  

kk:  Do you still keep in touch with any members of The Dakotas?   
[EDITOR'S NOTE:  At Brian Epstein's urging, Billy dumped The Coasters to work with The Dakotas, a tighter outfit, and that's who he had his greatest record success with.  Although this happened right before his recording career took off, I could have sworn I have seen some very early Imperial Records pressings showing Billy J. Kramer and The Coasters at some point in time.  -kk]  

BJK:  I keep in touch with The Dakotas - Mike Maxfield is not in good health so I call him up and see how he's doing every once in awhile, but unfortunately like Mick Green, who was in the band for awhile and was a GREAT guitar player, I think he never got the acknowledgement that he deserved but I first saw Mick with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates and I think he was about 16 or 17 and I thought to myself, "If ever I get the chance to work with him, I'm going to!"  And one of them left, the bass player, and I said, "Look, it's none of my business guys, but why don't you hire Mick Green?" and he was a phenomenal guitar player.  But funnily enough the only record he played on that was a hit was "Trains And Boats And Planes".  But we did a lot of rock stuff on the road together and I'm sorry that he passed away so early.     

kk:  You were part of something very big and very special ... and as I said before, NOBODY at the time thought this was going to last … and now it's 50-something years later and you're still playing to a full house doing those same songs … who had ANY idea that it could happen with this kind of life to it?   

BJK:  Longevity, yeah, it's amazing … and I still at times can't believe it.  I’m very grateful that I have lasted a long time … I will say that I've been blessed, first of all with good health and that's why I've been able to continue.    

kk:  I'm always curious … when it's going on, you're kind "in the moment" and you're kinda just livin' the life and that's the life at that moment in time … in hindsight I'm sure you look back with a lot more appreciation … but did you really have any idea just how huge the scope was when all of this was going on?   

BJK:  No, I didn't … no I didn't.  The funny thing is, you know, Liberty DeVito plays drums for me now and he says "We missed it, Billy", and I said "What are you talking about?" and he said, "We never looked at us."  You know what I mean?  We were part of it … we were playing … and to me, I was just like "What's going on?"    

kk:  But it is … it's like you're in the moment … and that's just normal life for you at that moment in time.   

BJK:  I also wasn't foolish … I mean, in my head I was always wondering "What am I going to do when the screaming stops?" and what I was going to do was be a good singer and a good performer and try and develop and I don't think I've done an especially good job.    

kk:  Oh I don't know about that … the fact that you're still up there performing all these years later and people are still coming out to see you proves that you've developed a craft that people still want to see and have deep affection for.  

BJK:  Well, you know, I really, believe or not, I get more appreciation now … I feel it more, you know?  It's really nice when people come up and say "We saw you with so and so and so and so you were great, and you did a great show tonight, thank you for the music … it really gets to me, you know?    

kk:  It's funny, because just doin' what I'm doing now, it still amazes me that I get to talk to some of these artists who I grew up just LOVIN' their music … you guys were somewhat unapproachable then … it's great to be able to look back at it now, knowing that it had an effect on all of our lives and to just be able to say "Hey, I really appreciate the music that you gave us … I loved it then and I still love it now … I bought all the records and I still listen to all the records."  

BJK:  (getting a bit choked up) It makes me feel … it makes me feel on top of the world … it makes me feel really … it gives me a better sensation now than what it did while it was happening.  And I really and sincerely hope that the people that are starting in the business now … I don't know that they're going to get … I don't know what's going to happen to them really.    

kk: Yeah, it's a lot tougher out there now to break into this business and make a go of it … and the music is available through so many sources … you can't make any money at it … you've got to go out and tour because that's the only way you can make money as an artist today … and, if you're successful, maybe through merchandising.  

BJK:  Well, I'm being really honest here … and I'm trying to be kind … but I don't know …    

kk:  I forget who told me this a few months ago, but it was one of the artists I was talking to and they said "I appreciate the standing ovations so much more now than ever  … because I know how much harder it is to get up out of your seat"  (lol)  

BJK:  Well, to me, to get a standing ovation is something that you have to work for.  Sometimes they come easy, sometimes they come hard.  But it's the biggest compliment you can have.  And it makes you feel good … and then I feel good about myself.  It's very rewarding … because then it was worth the effort. When you hear that song of mine, "From Liverpool With Love", it's got the words "If you were to ask me to do it all again, with all the good and with all the bad, I would."  Without a doubt, without question.  It's what I love to do.    

kk:  You were one of the artists selected to perform on The T.A.M.I. Show back in 1964 ... certainly this had to be a career highlight ... tell us about that experience and some other milestones that really stand out for you.  What are some of the career highlights?  

BJK:  The highlights?  Well, I think one of the highlights was watching The Stones follow James Brown.  

kk:  (laughing)  

BJK:  Because the whole show, we got to work with like Marvin Gaye, who I was a BIG fan of, and a lot of the other artists … I was a fan of ALL the artists that were on it … and I saw James Brown go on at the top of his game and blow the roof off and I never saw anything like it … and I felt so sorry for The Stones … it was a bit of an embarrassing situation.  

kk:  It was an amazing performance … an absolutely amazing performance … and it still plays that way today.
[Watching this never gets old ... we just put it in a couple of nights ago ... everybody is at the top of their game on this program ... if you don't own a copy, it's well worth picking up to see some of the biggest artists of the mid-'60's absolutely SLAY it on stage. - kk]    

BJK:  James Brown was unbelievable.  And they were all just very ordinary … I remember playing cards with them in the dressing room … grabbing hold of one of The Dakotas' jackets and saying "You can't go on stage like looking like that … you've gotta crease and iron it" … and stuff like that … it was tremendous.  That was a highlight … and another highlight, believe it or not was I came to live in America and then I went back to England and I did about eighty shows and I finished at The London Palladium and I thought The London Palladium was like to me, like this roast, and it stuck with me and I was kind of afraid of it but I felt like I went back and I felt that I had conquered it … so that was a big highlight.    

kk:  Well it was a very exciting time, no doubt about it.

VIDEO:  Billy J. Kramer performing on The T.A.M.I. Show

BJK:  It was a GREAT time … and I just met so many people … and worked with such great artists … I loved Roy Orbison and I worked with him … I just wished he would have lived because I would have loved to have see The Wilburys live.

kk:  Oh, can you imagine?  That would have been amazing … amazing.

BJK:  It would have been amazing, I think. 

kk:  One thing I have to tell you about the book … and I guess I should ask you first what prompted you to write the book?  Is this something you've been kicking around for a long time as far as telling your story?   What kind of got you into the idea of writing the book? 

BJK:  I started about three or four years ago to make some notes and I'd been to Santa Fe and I came home and I sat where I am now and I wrote the song "To Liverpool With Love" because I thought the 50th Anniversary is coming up … and I thought that The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame had been terrible to Brian Epstein … I think he should have been in it and I wrote the song "To Liverpool With Love" and I had the idea for the song and I just started writing it at home and my wife said to me, "That's catchy."  And I then recorded another song called "Sunset For Santa Fe" because you know that I love Santa Fe and it was right about this time that I thought maybe I should write my autobiography.  And then I was in California and I bumped into Frank Stallone and he said, "It's about time you wrote YOUR book, Billy" and I said, "I've been thinking about it but I want to find somebody good" and he said "Well, I tell ya, I know Alyn Shipton", who wrote the Harry Nilsson book and I said, "Do you think that he'd be interested?" and he said "I'll give him a call".  And he did and then Alyn called me and Alyn came across to the States and we got together on a number of occasions and then we did stuff on Skype and stuff on the phone and then I did some when I was in England as well.  It was difficult … I'm glad I don't have to do it again!

kk:  (laughing)

BJK:  And I'm glad you liked it.   

kk:  I really enjoyed it … and one thing I've got to tell you because you're probably thinking "Well, I'm telling my story … but I'm not really a writer … and I wonder if it's any good" and I just have to tell you that the way you so described Santa Fe in that book just blew me away.  I mean I've never been there and just reading you describe it made me want to go there so I could see it for myself.  I have to say you put it in the most majestic words and it was like a travelog and it just sounds gorgeous and somehow, someway, someday, I would just LOVE to go there to see it … it sounds so peaceful … and I the only way I can convey how deeply that struck me is to tell you that you vividly and perfectly described it in the most descriptive way. 

BJK:  Well, thank you, thank you … I'm very honored that you should say that … and it's just a place that my wife and I found together and we get the same feelings about it every time we go.  It's the Land of Enchantment. 

kk:  And I guess that's what I'm saying … you may not think of yourself as a writer but all I can tell you is that what you wrote absolutely touched me and made me want to see it for myself … so you absolutely drove that point home and I tip my hat to you because that was very well done … very well done.  As a guy who writes a lot, you always hope for some type of connection with your readers, your audience … and you touched me with the way you describe Santa Fe in your book.  

BJK:  Well, I think you'll like the song as well, if you haven't heard it. I'll send you a copy.  People can still get the CD … it's on my website and so is the book.  I had a great time making it after so many years.  
The song on my cd, "Story Of My Life", was covered here by Michael Holiday from Liverpool.  It was number one.  I can't remember the original but I did it as tribute to a really good singer who never got the recognition he deserved and it was a Burt Bacharach song … one of his early songs.  

kk:  Most of the early hits (through about 1965 / 1966) are readily available on CD ... but you've continued to record throughout the years and have released brand new material as recently as a few years ago.  Most of this material is out of print now I would imagine … how would fans go about discovering this music?  Is any of it available through your website?  Do you perform it in your shows today?  

BJK:  Yeah, right … it's tough to get … but you can order the new CD "I Won The Fight" through my website.   
[I've listened to Billy's new CD several times … his voice is much deeper and richer now than you may remember … and I like the fact that some of the songs that he has written are very autobiographical … these hit home a lot harder after reading Billy's book "Do You Want To Know A Secret?", which is also available on his website.  Tracks like "I Won The Fight", "You Can't Live On Memories" and "To Liverpool With Love" all resonate with Billy's memories.  ("To Liverpool With Love" was a passionate plea to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame to recognize Brian Epstein.  When Brian was finally inducted a few years later, Billy re-recorded the track with the new lyrics acknowledging that Brian Epstein was finally a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.  Billy also cuts a new version of the Lennon and McCartney track "I'm In Love", originally a British hit for the Fourmost. Other personal favorites include "Breakfast In Marin", "You're Write, I'm Wrong" and a great cover of "Fallin' And Flyin'" from the hit movie "Crazy Heart', recorded as a duet with hristine Ohlman.  Pick up the book AND the CD and get yourself caught up with Billy's career these past fifty years.  (You'll even find a couple of photos by Michael G. Bush, a long-time Forgotten Hits Reader who I've known for over thirty years.)]

kk:  Let me ask you a little bit about some of the singers that you were inspired by growing up … who are some of your favorites?  Back in Britain there was a lot of "cabaret" ... and I get the impression somewhat that, from the stand point of longevity of a career, you actually may have thought about pursuing that avenue for extended success ... but who were some of the singers who first influenced and inspired you to become a singer? Was it mostly the American rock and roll artists?  Had you even thought about becoming a singer before then?  And who were some of your favorites?  

BJK:  There was a boom in cabaret … there was a circuit called Baileys and a lot of similar clubs all over the UK where people dined and gambled and danced and they where good places to play at.  It wasn't your typical Cabaret as most of the artists just did what they did on a lot of other gigs. I just did my hits and any other material I was into at the time and they were very receptive and a lot of them who saw you there were still in their teens.  When I first started I did chart stuff like The Everlys, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rick Nelson, Del Shannon and mostly American artists.  I loved Bobby Darin and a lot of the people I mentioned like Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison and Marvin Gaye … and later on, Otis Redding.  I loved Nat King Cole. I did a few Billy Fury songs, who was very popular in the UK …  Marty Wilde …  but my favorites were Eddie Cochran and Buddy Holly.  I did Ray Charles' "Hallelujah I Just Love Her So" and some standards we rocked up.  Emile Ford was an artist here and had a big hit with 'What Do You Want To Makes Those Eyes At Me For", for which I sang in the dressing room on my last UK tour with Adam Ross, who recently passed.  It's on my Facebook page as a tribute to a great person.  As a kid I liked some country like Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Red Foley and Earnest Tubb … Frankie Laine … Johnnie Ray … Marvin Rainwater … Sanford Clark, Jimmy Duncan and The Blue Grass Boys.  I liked Johnny Burnette, Dion, Jackie Wilson, Patsy Cline, Buddy Knox, Sam Cooke,  Major Lance, Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Elvis … he had it all … the looks … I never hear anyone saying what a great singer and a fantastic performer he was.  I also did things like Bobby Head's "Treat Her Right and a lot more I can't remember … it was a long time ago.   

kk:  I was fortunate enough to see Elvis perform here in Chicago a couple of times … of course it was in the '70's so it was his Vegas act … but there was still something magical about it.  The first time he walked out on the stage it was electric … you could feel it go through every body in the auditorium … there is really no way to describe it … just a genuine electricity … and lots of critics have written that Elvis sold out there at the end and he couldn't really sing anymore … but I'll tell you what, he sure sounded great that night … something I will never forget.

kk:  Now you’re going to be in Chicago later this month for The Fest For Beatles Fans - you've done quite a few of these appearances now - what's that like for you, meeting with fans of this music, a great majority of whom weren't even born yet when these records first came out? 

BJK:  Oh, I love it, you know … and you'd be surprised at how many people come to see you again and again … it's a very loyal audience that attends these things. 

kk:  Well, I'm hoping to be able to meet up with you there.  Now you'll be signing copies of your new book … but will you be performing there as well? 

BJK:  Yes, yes I will.

[The Fest For Beatles Fans ran last weekend, August 12th, 13th and 14th, at The Hyatt Regency O'Hare Hotel … unfortunately other commitments prevented me from being able to attend … but if any of our readers were there, we would LOVE to hear from you and will run your comments in a follow-up issue. -kk]   

kk:  Is there anything else that you would like to say to the fans before we wrap this up? 

BJK:  I just want to say a big thank you.  That's all I can say.  I've had a great life thanks to all the people out there.  There's been good and there's been bad but the fans have always been there for me.

I hope to see you there at the Fest and it's been a pleasure talking to you. 

kk:  And you as well … thank you again for taking the time to do this.  

BJK:  Thank you.

Two more personal favorite Billy J. Kramer tracks, both courtesy of the pens of John Lennon and Paul McCartney: