With Brian Epstein as their manager, Lennon and McCartney writing their songs and George Martin producing their records, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas had a big head start among the British invasion bands. And they made the most of it, putting out a steady stream of hit records between 1962 and 1966.
Epstein, who was already managing the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers, thought Billy J. had true pop-idol potential. But he didn’t like Kramer’s backup band, The Coasters, and replaced them with a group from Manchester known as The Dakotas. The name came from a promoter who wanted them to dress up as American Indians in concert. Kramer – born William Ashton – says he found his stage name leafing through a telephone book
Neither Kramer nor the group was betting they would succeed. They signed separate recording contracts with George Martin at Parlophone. Martin had them cover the Beatles’ “Do You Want To Know A Secret,” playing the piano himself on the recording. The song reached #2 on the British charts in 1963. They followed up with an unrecorded Lennon/McCartney song, “Bad To Me,” which reached the top of the British charts in 1963.
Kramer was sensitive about being in the Beatles’ shadow and decided to record an American-written song, “Little Children,” as the group’s next single in 1964. It was their biggest worldwide hit. From there, it was back to another Lennon/McCartney song, “I’ll Keep You Satisfied,” which went to number four in the UK. The group released “Little Children” backed by “Bad To Me” in the US, and both songs hit the top ten in 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.
While they certainly helped Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas in the early years, the Beatles also unintentionally contributed to their demise. By 1966, the Beatles were experimenting musically, releasing “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver,” and leaving many of their colleagues sounding stale in comparison. After a series of less-popular releases, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas parted company in 1966.
Kramer has recorded and performed around the world in the past 40 years and now lives on New York’s Long Island with his wife. In late 2012, he went back into the studio for the first time in years to record a new CD, I Won the Fight, which was released in 2013. The CD features some new songs written by Kramer as well as some covers. In 2013, Kramer provided the introduction to the graphic novel The Fifth Beatle, by Vivek Tiwary. The book spent several weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. In February and March of 2015, Kramer was part of the British Invasion 50th Anniversary tour, performing in the U.S. and the UK.
The Dakotas broke up in 1968 and re-formed twenty years later. They’re now a five-member band, featuring drummer Pete Hilton and guitarist Alan Clare, both formerly with Freddy and the Dreamers; UK musician and songwriter Toni Baker, frontman Ronnie Ravey and bass player Marius Jones.
Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas Video
Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas perform “Bad to Me” in 1965.
Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas’ Hit Singles
Release Date — Title — UK Top chart position — US Top chart Position
1963 Do You Want To Know A Secret? 2 –
1963 The Cruel Sea 18 –
1963 Bad To Me 1 9
1963 I’ll Keep You Satisfied 4 30
1964 Little Children 1 7
1964 From A Window 10 23
1965 Trains And Boats And Planes 12 –