Thanks to the research staff at Ace Records for the great story behind Bill Clifton‘s attempt to cash-in on the initial Beatles hysteria, 1963’s “Beatle Crazy” – probably the only Beatle tribute song done in a talking blues style.
Clifton, who was born into a wealthy family in Baltimore County, Maryland (a jurisdiction, by the way, that does not overlap with Baltimore City), defied family expectations about his professional aspirations and chose to pursue his passion for bluegrass music, leaving West Virginia University to sign with Blue Ridge Records as part of the Dixie Mountain Boys and perform live on WWVA’s “Wheeling Jamboree” radio program in the 1950s.
In 1963, Clifton left the States and re-located in England, settling in Sevenoaks, just outside of London with his wife and four children. Under the stewardship of a talent manager named Pat Robinson, he began securing radio and TV spots and, with the field virtually to himself, bought a Stetson hat in a London store to add a touch of authenticity to his cod Western image.
In November 1963, Robinson took Clifton into Regent Sound, a low-budget studio in London’s Denmark Street favoured by the Rolling Stones, to record “Beatle Crazy”, a song penned by Geoff Stephens, a schoolteacher from Southend striving to make it as a songwriter. Though somewhat overshadowed by Dora Bryan’s “All I Want for Christmas Is a Beatle” (the first known Beatle tribute), “Beatle Crazy” notched up steady and substantial sales well into the New Year and went on to become Clifton’s calling card during his three-year English sojourn (it was released in the States in April 1964).
Clifton eventually returned to America where he continued to perform at bluegrass and folk festivals in his role as roving ambassador for the bluegrass cause. Geoff Stephens would go on to to pen many hits including “The Crying Game” and “Winchester Cathedral.”
“Beatle Crazy” does feature a few great lines – such as, “These guys between them, they sure got some hair. I’m losing mine, don’t seem fair” – but the knockout punch comes at the end of the song, literally, when chemical weapons become involved: