Billy Fury was born Ronald Wycherley on April 17th 1940, in the Wavertree area of Liverpool. A bout of rheumatic fever at the age of six and again at about 16 led to lengthy periods in hospital and finally resulted in a permanently damaged heart. While working on the tug-boats his interest in music, already stimulated by the family enviroment and piano lessons at ten years of age, was further fuelled by listening to the American brought in by visiting seamen from trips across the Ocean. Especially this new music, Rock 'n' Roll, started to make an impact on young Ron. In actual fact Billy's parents had bought a guitar for him from Frank Hennessy's, when he was about 14 of age. He taught himself to play the guitar and soon entertained his friends with his music.
Early in 1958 Ron entered the Percy F. Phillips' recording studio in Liverpool and cut a 78 r.p.m. acetate. Accompanied only by his guitar, he went through four Elvis Presley numbers and even one of his own self penned compositions entitled "Love's A Callin'". A tape of the songs and a photograph of the young man was sent to impressario Larry Parnes, the big man of British pop, who already had in his stable such names as Tommy Steele and Marty Wilde. Larry asked him to meet him at the Essoldo Theatre, in Birkenhead, when his current package show, the Extravaganza Show, with Marty Wilde headlining, would reach there.
On Wednesday, October 1st 1958, Ronnie and a couple of his mates took the ferry across the Mersey, a trip that was to change his whole life. Ronnie was ushered into Marty's dressing-room. With a guitar in his hand he sang two of his own numbers; "Margo" and "Maybe Tomorrow". Parnes was impressed by the youngsters talents and looks. After a rehearsal Ron walked on stage after the interval and sang two or three numbers, receiving a wonderful reception from the audience. Parnes signed him on the spot, and the next day he was heading to Manchester with the rest of the show. A star was born. But the name Ron Wycherley didn't have the right sound for a pop star.
Billy's career skyrocketed right from the start; within days he signed with Decca Records, recorded his first disc, the self penned "Maybe Tomorrow", which charted in February, spending 9 weeks on the charts, peaking at No. 18. By the end of April 1959 he had already made his television debut as an actor, playing a bit part in the ARTV play "Strictly For Sparrows" (plugging his first single, naturally), appeared on the television pop show "Cool For Cats" and made his radio debut on the BBC Radio show "Saturday Club". He also established himself as a regular on Jack Good's legendary "Oh Boy!" television show.
During the last months of the decade Billy appeared several times on Jack Good's latest pop vehicle "Boy Meets Girl", a TV show where American rock 'n' rollers Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran made their UK debuts. On January 24, 1960, Larry Parnes' latest rock spectacular "The Fast Moving Anglo-American Beat Show", a 12-week, twice nightly, UK tour, started at the Gaumont Theatre, in Ipswich, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran headlining. Also on the bill with Billy, Joe Brown, Tony Sheridan Trio, Georgie Fame and Billy Raymond. The tour ended in tragedy when Eddie Cochran got killed in a car accident while on his way to the airport and back home to the US. On March, while Billy was still on the road with the americans, his fifth single "Colette" entered the Hit Parade, spending 10 weeks on the charts and reaching the number 9 spot - so far his biggest hit.
Encouraged enough by the sales of "Colette", Decca planned for a 10 inch LP, "The Sound Of Fury", recorded in April 1960, with Jack Good handling the production. The album contained ten songs, all written by Billy, some of them under pseudonym Wilbur Wilberforce, and was the first real British rockabilly record. The album and a single "That's Love" lifted from it, both made the charts in June, the album reaching the 18th place and the single the 19th place at it's best.
The year 1961 started with a cover of the Rivileers' "A Thousand Stars" and Marty Robbins' "Don't Worry", both reaching the tail end of the charts, but it was "Halfway To Paradise" that really made him a major star. The Goffin/King song had been a minor hit in the US for Tony Orlando, but Billy's cover is now considered the definitive version. It entered the charts in May and stayed there 23 weeks, peaking at No. 3, earning Billy a Silver Disc for passing the 250,000 sales mark in August. This was the first session produced by Dick Rowe and Mike Smith for Billy, with Ivor Raymonde in charge of musical direction - a combination that would produce most of Billy's big hits. While the single was racing up the charts, an LP was hurriedly assembled and issued through Decca's subsidiary label Ace of Clubs.
One of the greatest moments in Billy's life was when he and Larry went to Hollywood to meet Elvis Presley whilst he was filming "Girls, Girls, Girls", to present him with some Gold and Silver Discs for UK sales on behalf of the Disc music paper. Billy spent an entire day at the Paramount lot, had his picture taken with Elvis and flew back home with a song from the film; "Because Of Love" became Billy's 14th hit.
Billy made his silver screen debut in the 1962 low-budget movie "Play It Cool", a drama about a struggling rock band, Billy Universe & The Satellites (!), involved with a runaway heiress, played by Anna Palk. The director of the film, Michael Winner, had so far directed minor trash/exploitation stuff like "Shoot To Kill" and "Some Like It Cool" and went on further success with the "Death Wish" movies in the 70s. "Play It Cool" was a box office hit and saw a US release the next year. A soundtrack EP from the film was launched and it was a huge success, spending 45 weeks in the EP charts, eventually reaching No. 2. The single "Once Upon A Dream", also from the film, reached No. 7 on the charts in August.
In March 1965 Billy made a short visit to the US, making his american TV debut on ABC-TV's "Shindig". Even though it was the year of the British Invasion in the States, Billy never made it over there, no matter that he was a Scouse singer, and certainly better than most of his competitors.
Billy's contract with Decca was running out and in April 1966 Billy entered Decca's West Hampstead studios for the last time. Instead of waxing a big production number, he tried something different - "Don't Let A Little Pride Stand In Your Way" was a commercial failure. As a swansong for the company "Give Me Your Word" was released in July 1966. During the last week of December Billy signed a five-year recording deal with Parlophone, recording 11 singles for the label over a period of three years.
In 1968 Billy engaged a former fashion model Judith Hall, and on May 31st 1969 they got secretly married at Esher Register Office, in Surrey. Billy's best man was his manager Hal Carter. Later the couple went off on honeymoon to Majorca. Unfortunately the marriage didn't last long and they divorced in 1973.
In December 1971 Billy underwent his first major heart surgery at the National Heart Hospital, in London.
In August 5th 1972 Billy appeared at the Wembley Stadium at "London Rock'n'Roll Festival", sharing the bill with Little Richard, Gary Glitter, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Haley, Bo Diddley, Heinz etc. The year ended with filming of David Essex/Ringo Starr movie "That'll Be The Day" at the Isle of Wight. Billy made a cameo appearance in the movie as "Stormy Tempest", a 50's holiday camp ballroom singer, more or less reflecting his own image from the early days. The movie premiered in West End in April 12th 1973 and was a huge success, as was it's soundtrack album which spent 7 weeks as No. 1 on the charts. The album contained a mixture of oldies together with some specially-recorded material, including 5 tracks by Billy.
On March 7th 1982 Billy collapsed at his farm with critical kidney and heart condition and was paralysed down one side and lost his eye sight temporarily.
The year 1983 looked bright for Billy; a brand new album was on it's way, plans for a nationwide tour with Helen Shapiro were made and he taped six songs for the Channel 4 TV show "Unforgettable". On January 27th after working late in the studio, Billy returned home and collapsed during the night. He was found unconscious the next morning and rushed to a hospital. This time he lost his battle and died at the age of 42. A week later his funeral were held at the St. John's Wood Church in London.
Courtesy of Nalle Westman & Chris Eley
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