(Left to right) Billy Harner & Sally Starr
June 12, 2004
Something very special happened one day at West Jersey Hospital in Camden, New Jersey. Billy Harner was born. This future legend was brought home from the maternity ward to grow up in Pine Hill, New Jersey, a quaint little town nestled in the suburbs of Philadelphia. This small wonder was later to be nicknamed by Broadcast Pioneers member Hy Lit, as “The Human Perkulator” because of his strong voice and energy-packed stage performances.
Billy has said many times, “I think I started singing on the way out of my mother’s womb,” but it was his beloved Grandmother who landed little Billy his first pro gig by the age of six at the Avalon Yacht club on the Jersey shore. As would prove to be a regular reaction to Billy’s shows, the mixed crowd which included the rich and not so rich were blown away and couldn’t get enough of the young Billy Harner.
The singing appearances went on very successfully for about three years until Billy, at the age of nine, saw Gene Krupa live and decided he wanted to be a drummer and that's what he did. He played drums for various rock bands and also had a stint with the (quite famous at the time), South Jersey String Band.
It was at a Battle of the Bands competition when Billy, playing drums for his band, met a kid named Mickey who sang and played guitar for another band in the competition. After the contest Billy tracked down Mickey and said he wanted to be a singer again and they should form a duet. They did, and four months later they were picked up as, “Billy and Mickey" by Red Top Records, an enthusiastic label with a reputation for hard work, talent and success. It seemed like Billy and Mickey were on their way! However, after having an exciting ride with Red Top and Mickey, Billy who was still a teenager, set out on his own.
He was soon signed to Lawn Records, which is a subsidiary of Philly's Swan Records. Swan had a great crop of artists during that time period, including a new band from England…The Beatles. But the brazen and confident Billy Harner moved on to be contracted by several more record companies throughout his brilliant and hit strewn career.
These labels included Kama Sutra of the MGM & Paramount Records empire as well the famous Cameo Parkway Record Company. Billy Harner was the first white artist signed by Atlantic Records and connected with a hit song: “ Message To My Babe.“ Some of Billy’s other hits include: “Sally Sayin’ Somethin,” “She’s Almost You“ (written by Joe South), “I Struck It Rich,“ (written by the award winning songwriting team of Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff), “Homicide Dresser,““Human,“ “What About The Children“and more.
One could write a book, an inspiring, extravagant book about the life and times of Billy “The Human Perkulator” Harner. For instance, he was the last headliner to perform at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, where Billy and his band barely escaped as the famous landmark crumbled into the sea. The “Perk,” as his friends affectionately call him, was one of only a few white entertainers to take part in the Martin Luther King Freedom March.
He judged a Miss Nude America contest, and being the only clothed person in the hall, felt compelled to at least moon the audience while reading out the winner’s name. So, he did. And even though he had graciously turned down offers to sign with RCA and incredibly, Motown Records, Billy still managed to tour constantly and cut hit songs. At one point performing live at the Rainbow Room in Wildwood, New Jersey for 93 grueling nights in a row, taking the 94th day off to record yet another record in New York City. Then back on the road.
He refused an invitation to be a guest on "the Dating Game" TV show because he was married. There are so many more interesting things to say about "The Godfather of Blue-Eyed Soul," who still lights up a stage as bright as lightning. Like a combination of the late great James Brown and Mick Jagger, his live performances are nothing short of electrifying. Red Hot. And he’s better now than he has ever been. Billy hopes that all of his fans worldwide will enjoy his brand new CD titled “Billy Harner, The Human Perkulator, Then, Now and Forever!”
From the official archives of the Broadcast Pioneers of Philadelphia
Photo originally donated by Broadcast Pioneers member Sally Starr
Bio courtesy of Billy Harner's website
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