Book: Do You Want to Know a Secret?
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.