BY SELENA FRAGASSI | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
When The Beatles landed in America in 1964, everything changed. The mass hysteria for four boys from Liverpool had teenage girls ripping at their hair and boys cutting theirs into mop tops, and it soon reshaped Top 40 radio, which became consumed by a flock of imported artists that repackaged overlooked American blues and rock ‘n’ roll into number-one hits. It was The British Invasion.
THE BRITISH INVASION 50th ANNIVERSARY TOUR When: 7 p.m., March 7 Where: City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph Tickets: $60-$75 Info: (312) 733.9463; citywinery.com/Chicago
Fifty years later, the movement is celebrated in a special performance that brings together some of the era’s greatest singers and songwriters to one stage, including master of ceremonies Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon fame, The Moody Blues and Wings alum Denny Laine, Brian Epstein’s protege Billy J. Kramer, The Searchers’ Mike Pender, The Hollies’ Terry Sylvester and duo Chad & Jeremy.
Three of the night’s acts comment on their favorite memories of coming to America, the artists that shaped them and The Beatles connection that started it all.
BILLY J. KRAMER
Coming to America: “I came before The Beatles in 1963 on a promotional tour with Brian [Epstein] that also featured Sonny & Cher. Later doing The T.A.M.I. Show in L.A. with James Brown, Marvin Gaye, The Beach Boys and Chuck Berry was an incredible experience.”
The American influence: “As a kid in England I was influenced by listening to Radio Luxembourg. They [spun] all these American records from Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Ricky Nelson and Roy Orbison.”
The Beatles connection: “I knew them from playing the same venues like The Cavern and Iron Door. It was actually John Lennon who said to ad the ‘J’ to my name to give it some zip. The fact that he also wrote “Bad To Me” for me was a big opportunity.”
Coming to America: “It meant a lot to do so. I used to have a poster of New York on my wall and a copy of “DownBeat” with all the jazz clubs I wanted to go to circled in case I ever got there. Our first trip we arrived at Idlewild Airport (now JFK) and there were screaming girls chasing us around. We played the World’s Fair at the Unisphere and there was a body of water between the audience and us, but girls swam across it to get to us. It was fabulous.”
The American influence: “Inevitably The Everly Brothers. Every duo looks to them as the archetype.”
The Beatles connection: “Paul and I became friends because he dated my sister and ended up living in our family home. He wrote the song ‘World Without Love,’ which was our first hit. Giving us the rights was huge because who knows what record they would have put out and how it would have done.”
Coming to America: “The Moody Blues came once to do a Murray the K show at the Brooklyn Fox. They were trying to get us on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” but something fell through and that would have made a hell of a difference.”
The American influence: “The first American artist I worked with was the blues harmonica player Sonny Boy Williamson. The Moody Blues was his backing group when he toured Europe. Chuck Berry was at the same show and he used my amplifier, I’ll never forget that.”
The Beatles connection: “Of any band of that era we were probably the closest to them. George was our neighbor. We went en masse to a lot of clubs to see American acts like The Byrds, Hendrix, Bob Dylan. Paul was always trying to help people out and recommending singles to us. The song ‘Penny Lane’ was a play on words and there’s an influence there; it has a very similar song structure to The Moodies’ ‘Go Now’ if you think about it.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.
BELOW: Chad (Stuart) and Jeremy (Clyde) perform Summer Song at the Convenant Presbyterian Church in Chatham, NJ, in 2010.