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Do You Want to Know a Secret?

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When Billy J. Kramer’s record of Lennon and McCartney’s “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” topped the New Musical Express charts in 1963, he became the first singer in the world to have a number one hit with a Beatles song, apart from the Fab Four themselves. This success propelled the teenage Kramer into the fast lane, and he followed it with another five top twenty singles within the space of two years.

In this autobiography Billy J. Kramer (born William Ashton) tells his rags to riches story, from his working class childhood in Liverpool, via a British Rail engineering apprenticeship in the dying days of steam, to the racy world of international pop music. Managed by Brian Epstein, produced by George Martin, engineered by Hurricane Smith, and friend, confidante and colleague of the Beatles, Kramer gives a definitive insider’s account of the birth of the Liverpool sound and also the “British Invasion” of the US.

We follow him to the Star Club in Hamburg, to Abbey Road, into the BBC studios, and onto package tours and stage shows with the Beatles, Cilla Black, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Tommy Quickly and other stars of the age. He shares a dressing room with James Brown, and appears alongside other 1960s giants of the American music business. Kramer also brilliantly evokes the world of variety, as he goes behind the scenes with comedian Tommy Cooper, and learns about the stagecraft of artistes from another era.

On the surface, Kramer’s career seems like a dream come true, but there are dark secrets in the Kramer story. Even before he’d reached his twenties, he was already in the grip of drugs and alcohol, and there were constant tensions between him and his Mancunian backing band, The Dakotas. When the screaming stopped, he reinvented himself as a cabaret performer, and some of his best records were made during the years he was out of the limelight. He brought up a young family, but the drink and pills made his domestic life, and eventually his professional life, a struggle.

In this no-holds-barred account of his life, Kramer evokes the vibrancy of the sixties and reveals how he exorcised his demons and forged a new career in the US. He assembles his current band, shows a growing mastery of songwriting and recording, and returns to national tours, keeping the flame of the Mersey sound alive. The lifetime of experience he brings to his new songs infuses every page of this enthralling read.

Published: May 3, 2016


Section Chapter Authors
Acknowledgements Billy Kramer
Foreword Billy Kramer
Chapter 1
Little Children -- 1943-1958 Billy Kramer
Chapter 2
I'll Be on My Way -- 1958-1962 Billy Kramer
Chapter 3
Silver Dream -- 1963-1964 Billy Kramer
Chapter 4
We're Doing Fine -- 1963-1964 (part 2) Billy Kramer
Chapter 5
It's Gotta Last Forever -- 1964-1966 Billy Kramer
Chapter 6
You Make Me Feel Like Someone -- 1966-1967 Billy Kramer
Chapter 7
Twilight Time -- 1967-1970 Billy Kramer
Chapter 8
Gone Away -- 1970-1971 Billy Kramer
Chapter 9
You Can't Live on Memories -- 1972-1983 Billy Kramer
Chapter 10
I Won the Fight --1984-2006 Billy Kramer
Chapter 11
To Liverpool with Love -- from 2006 Billy Kramer
End Matter
Notes Billy Kramer
Recordings List Billy Kramer
Index Billy Kramer


In a neatly presented hardback illustrated throughout Kramer and his co-writer Alyn Shipton... tell the story of a Liverpool railwayman who became a leading figure in Mersey mania.
The Beat

He was the most handsome man on stage, and well-dressed too.
Ringo Starr

Seeing and hearing Billy J Kramer in the early days of what became known as the Merseybeat scene was an inspiration to all us teenagers in England. Here was a truly likeable, accessible gentleman, who had access to great songs, great writers and great musicians, who was one of us! At last someone real was taking it over!
Peter Noone

Billy J. Kramer’s story takes you on the full roller-coaster ride of British Invasion superstardom, rock and roll excess, sobriety, love, and music redemption. One day, William Ashton is a Liverpool railroad worker; the next day, he can’t go home because of all the screaming girls surrounding his house. His good friends, the Beatles, their mutual manager, Brian Epstein, Ed Sullivan, love affairs, drugs, alcohol…it’s a rock kaleidoscope of our 60’s icons, and, ultimately, Billy got to say: “I Won The Fight.” This is a don’t miss for any music fan...
Ken Dashow, DJ at WAXQ (Q104.3) New York City

Billy J Kramer and his band The Dakotas have always been an inspiration to me, especially when I was starting out. His voice and sound have always been unique. Billy’s a dear friend and one of the most humble people I know.
Peter Frampton

Billy is without a doubt the most unique, charming, welcoming and humble human being I've ever met. Within the first few days of working and hanging out with Billy, I felt like I had known him forever! His enthusiasm and youthful outlook are so inspiring and (thankfully) contagious. How can you not love a person who constantly lifts your spirits and is always inspiring? Billy's depth of feeling and thinking are beyond the norm.
Don Celenza, record producer

My friend Billy has seen it and has been through it all. He is a musical survivor. He is real and tells it like it is, ‘cause he has been there. If you are disappointed by the truth don’t ask Billy for an opinion. His only fault is his kindness. I love the man and consider him one of my best friends.
Liberty DeVitto, drummer

Refreshingly original, real, and important. We're fortunate indeed that Billy has given us such a vibrant, colorful, incisive, and fact-filled book. Grab a copy if you want to be aptly informed for your children or grandchildren - or, hey, just for yourself.
Paul Levinson

Kramer does not mince words and is equally frank about his fame as the dark side of it. For lovers of the Sixties music this book is definitely a must.
Keys & Chords

For all of us fascinated by British Invasion music, particularly the Merseybeat sound that erupted from Liverpool in the early 60s, this book is a must-read.
Pop Culture Classics

Anyone with an interest in the Mersey Beat era and the Liverpool music scene will want to read this excellent book.
British Beatles Fan Club Magazine