Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock

Billy Wayne Craddock was born in North Carolina, in June of 1939. At the age of six he had learned how to play the guitar and prior to reaching his teens had made a name for himself via a contest that showcased local talent.

Having been given the nickname, ‘Crash’, which reportedly related to his style of play in the arena of football, Billy formed a rockabilly band, The Four Rebels. His performances bore the influence of the legends of country, most notably Hank Williams and Ray Price. However, when he was signed to record for Columbia Records, in 1958, he became marketed as an idol to teenagers and recorded tracks that were aimed at appealing to them.

Try as he and Columbia might, to win over the American teenagers, Billy’s only entry to the singles chart was the plaintive “Don’t Destroy Me”, in November of 1959. Even then the single appeared for just one week, at No.94. Nevertheless, his recordings were receiving airplay in Australia and in December of that same year “Boom Boom Baby” entered the Top 40 at No.26 and for three weeks, from the 9th of January in 1960, sat atop the chart.

To capitalise on his initial success there, ‘Crash’ Craddock toured Australia with such stars as The Everly Brothers and Bobby Rydell. “I Want That” followed “Boom Boom Baby” and reached No.3 before “Well Don’t You Know” peaked at No.8.

“One Last Kiss” entered the Australian chart, in February of 1961, and spent a week at No.1 in March of that year. I have always found it somewhat incredulous that recordings of this calibre, being such prime examples of early rock, did not feature on the charts of Billy’s homeland.

Because of this continued lack of success on a much more lucrative market, Billy resorted to working at menial jobs until the opportunity arose for him to seek success within the sphere that initially influenced him as a lad.

Between 1971 and 1989 Billy ‘Crash’ Craddock entered Billboard’s country chart with forty-one singles. Of these, three ascended to sit at No.1: “Rub It In”, in 1974, “Ruby Baby” in 1975 and “Broken Down In Tiny Pieces”, in 1977.

“Ruby Baby” was a cover of an early composition by the legendary pairing of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, which had originally reached No.10 on America’s rhythm and blues chart for The Drifters, in 1956. Dion had also taken the song to No.5 (R&B) and No.2 (pop) in 1963.

Tommy James (and The Shondells)

Given his first guitar at the age of nine, it was just a matter of time before Tommy James formed his own band, The Shondells. When Tommy was just thirteen he led the group, from Michigan, in recording sessions. One such session produced the single, “Hanky Panky”, in 1962.

Although “Hanky Panky” met with some regional success, in 1963, it was not to be until 1966 that the recording suddenly became a favourite of a disc jockey in Pittsburgh, that the ditty’s popularity spread not only nationwide, but globally.

Buoyed by having a No.1 under his belt, Tommy James moved to New York City where he linked up with the songwriters and producers, Ritchie Cordell and Bo Gentry. He also took the opportunity to finalise the remainder of the group whose members were also to become involved in the process of songwriting.

Tommy James and The Shondells, as this band became known, began to release original recordings that have since passed the test of time. Recordings which were to grace the American pop chart on nineteen occasions between 1966 and 1970.

In addition to “Hanky Panky”, Tommy James and The Shondells, took “I Think We’re Alone Now” to No.4 in 1967; “Mirage” (No.10 in 1967); “Mony Mony” (No.3 — No.1 in Britain — in 1968); “Crimson And Clover” (No.1 in 1968); “Sweet Cherry Wine” (No.7 in 1969) and “Crystal Blue Persuasion” to No.2 in 1969. Songs such as “Crystal Blue Persuasion” emerged during that relatively brief window in time when the movement which advocated peace and love, gave rise to the general belief that the world would become a better place.

The group demonstrated its diversity by moving from bubblegum to psychedelia to even voicing strains of protest at the height of the Vietnamese War, with its release of “Sweet Cherry Wine”.

It was in 1970 that Tommy James became a solo artist. Between then and 1981, he had eighteen recordings enter the American pop chart. By far the most successsful of these being “Draggin’ The Line”, in 1971. Of the remainder, “Three Times In Love” peaked at No.19, in 1980.

Among my favourite recordings by Tommy James and The Shondells, I have to give mention to the bright and breezy “Gettin’ Together”, from 1967, and the psychedelic “Sugar On Sunday” (1969). The band released ten albums in all. Tommy followed these with a further three during his time as a solo artist.

Joan Jett and The Blackhearts revived “Crimson And Clover” in 1982. English rocker, Billy Idol and the British band, Amazulu, did likewise with “Mony Mony” in 1987, and, in this same year, Tiffany covered “I Think We’re Alone Now” with mediocrity.

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