By Ian & Lauren Wright
“In 1963, jetting from London to New York at 500 miles per hour was something this mere 20-year-old was totally unprepared for.
“As our Pan Am Clipper 101 touched down at Kennedy, the pilot announced it was 3 p.m., sunny and 68 degrees. Looking at a row of clocks showing times in capital cities across the world in the Immigrations Hall, it dawned on me I hadn’t changed my watch from U.K. time.
“It was eight at night back home, and we had been following the sun across the Atlantic. Back at home my mum had just finished watching “Coronation Street” (still the top TV soap opera in the U.K.) Dad was just off to the pub for a pint, and kids across Great Britain were enjoying the bonfires and fireworks of Guy Fawkes night. (Fawkes was a terrorist who, in 1605, attempted to blow up the Houses of Parliament).
“With guitar case in hand and wearing a midnight-blue silk-and-mohair suit, knitted tie and Cuban-heeled boots, I was the first British pop star to land in America, but nobody took the slightest notice as Brian Epstein and I cleared customs and took a cab to the Delmonico Hotel. Crossing the George Washington Bridge, I saw the Manhattan skyline for the first time. To think I had left my hometown of Liverpool only 16 hours ago, where it was, as per usual, grey cold, raining and depressing. New York shimmered in the warm afternoon sunshine, like a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Everything was Technicolor. I’d found my Utopia!
“The Delmonico Hotel was 32 stories of dream style. Brian had his first meeting with Ed Sullivan, who lived there in a fantastic apartment. I’d never seen anything like this back home in the north of England and just couldn’t believe anyone actually lived in a hotel. Brian wanted a prestigious address to conduct meetings, presentations to the media to promote the upcoming visit of The Beatles and my solo career with Imperial Records, so our headquarters for the next 10 days was The Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Fancy coming from a terraced house in Liverpool with an outside netty (toilet) to Park Avenue with five-star luxury on an unimaginable scale.
“Brian Epstein was aware of the huge popularity of the Bubble Gum/Ivy Leaguers and thought I fitted the boy-next-door image of Fabian, Dion, Ricky Nelson, Bobby Vee and Bobby Rydell. Only recently have I come to understand one of Brian’s motives for this New York visit. He took me to New York as insurance — an alternative if The Beatles failed in the “Land of the Free.” To this same end, Brian approached Tommy Roe to become his manager, but Tommy was committed to a stint in the military reserve in California.
“The first visitor to our Waldorf suite was the promoter Sid Bernstein, who had booked Carnegie Hall for The Beatles’ first U.S. concerts, but so far no tickets had been sold. Brian was deeply concerned The Beatles were not going to make it in America and he was determined to promote them to everyone and anyone who would listen.
“One of Brian’s main concerns was the lack of airplay on New York radio stations. Our next visitor, Murray The K, a local DJ, introduced himself: ‘Hiya Mr. Epsteeen I would like to promote your boys.’”
“With a withering cringe Brian said, ‘It’s pronounced Ep Styne.’ Sid said under his breath, ‘Shit, Esptein is good enough for me. Who does he think he is?’ Brian made all the right moves and invited all the right folks, but after our 10 days, we left Utopia with nothing. During the overnight flight back to England we worried about what would happen now. Brian had invested heavily in America. He craved success in the States, liked the way they did business and most of all wanted the huge numbers which were not available in the U.K.
“Within a couple of months the answers to all our conundrums appeared. The second week in February 1964 saw The Beatles hit #1 with “She Loves You” and Billy J. Kramer at #7 with “Little Children.” The British Invasion had begun.” \
Billy J Kramer will celebrate his 66th birthday on Aug. 19. Recently he collaborated with children’s author/ illustrator/ composer, Sandra Boynton on her book/music CD — certified gold by the RIAA — “Dog Train,” on which he recorded “Cow Planet.” Sandra told me, “I just had to have Billy on the recording. His record of ‘Little Children’ was the first disc I ever bought, and I’ve been in love with him since I was nine.” Billy just released a 123-track, four-CD set on EMI which includes lots of unreleased material.
For those of us who were there back when, these tunes will transport you back to your first kiss, first dance and missing the last bus home. There is now a richness in his voice. Listening to “The Twelfth Of Never,” “Tennessee Waltz” and “Twilight Time,” it’s easy to understand why Brian Epstein could envisage him being a solo artist playing Las Vegas and the cabaret rooms of New York.