The Dakotas were most closely associated with Liverpool-born singer Billy J. Kramer. They had a history before that, however, as well as a striking lineup on their own, separate from the developments in Kramer's career. The original group hailed from Manchester, and were put together as a backing band for Pete MacLaine. At that time, from 1962 through January of 1963, they were comprised of Mike Maxfield (lead guitar), Robin MacDonald (rhythm guitar), Tony Mansfield (drums), and Ray Jones (bass). In early 1963, just as the Beatles were finished with their second single, "Please Please Me," their manager, Brian Epstein, was looking for a backing band for his newest discovery, Billy J. Kramer. He had been playing and singing part-time with a band called the Coasters, but wanted to turn professional, at Epstein's insistence. The Coasters declined to follow him, and a new band was needed. Enter the Dakotas, who parted company with Pete MacLaine to sign with Epstein. He was not yet renowned as a world-beating success, but he did have two bands, the Beatles and Gerry & the Pacemakers, cutting records for Parlophone, one of which, "Love Me Do," had already charted modestly. It was an attractive offer, and they became Kramer's band. They were a very solid group, well able to adapt to the requisite Merseybeat sound not only as it had existed up to early 1963 but as the Beatles were altering it with their records and their success -- rock & roll balladry, with room for smooth vocals and even harmonies, became obligatory, along with a band sound that left room for some elegance as well as a good attack. Kramer hit with his first five singles, and in the process of becoming a star, the Dakotas also got their chance in the spotlight. They scored a success with their instrumental version of "The Cruel Sea," and also saw some action on "Magic Carpet." In July of 1964, the first major lineup change took place, as Ray Jones was pushed out on bass. Robin MacDonald, who had been playing rhythm guitar, shifted over to bass, and the Dakotas added a second lead guitarist in Mick Green. Green was a musician in a unique situation -- he had never inaugurated a band's sound, tending to come into lineups that already existed; when he did so, however, as in the case of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates, he inevitably boosted their sound by many decibels and punched up the virtuosity. He was among the first of a new generation of hot rocking British guitarists, separate from blues virtuosos like Eric Clapton, and able to attack his instrument with distinctive riffs and variations in several different idioms, all of which came out well in the studio and even better in concert. His arrival in the Dakotas' lineup gave the group a unique double-lead guitar configuration that made them a power to contend with on-stage, although ironically, he only played on one hit with Kramer, "Trains and Boats and Planes." Kramer's string of hits ended in mid-1965, but he and the Dakotas were still a major live act, in England and even more so in America, where "Trains and Boats and Planes" made the Top Ten. In August of 1966, Tony Mansfield left the band, and ex-Pirate Frank Farley joined on drums, lasting until September of 1967 playing the cabaret circuit after concert work disappeared. By that time, Kramer's star had faded, and the Dakotas split in late 1967. Robin MacDonald and Mick Green became part of Engelbert Humperdinck's backing band, while Kramer kept on working for a time with the Remo Four, a perennial replacement band, having succeeded the Searchers as Johnny Sandon's backing band. In the mid-'70s, Green and Farley became the core of a re-formed Pirates, who continued to perform and record into the '90s.
The Dakotas' four-track 1963 EP Meet the Dakotas combined the A-sides and B-sides of their first two singles, "The Cruel Sea"/"The Millionaire" and "Magic Carpet"/"Humdinger." All of the tracks (unlike the Merseybeat ones they cut as the backup group to Billy J. Kramer) show them to be a very accomplished instrumental group in the style of the Shadows, with perhaps some Ventures influence, too. Easily the best of the four is the taut and eerie "The Cruel Sea," which made number 18 on the British charts, though American listeners might be more familiar with it via the Ventures' cover version. Though the Dakotas did release five singles in the U.K., they never put out an album, making this rare EP, oddly, the lengthiest Dakotas release. The four tracks, fortunately, were all included on the Billy J. Kramer compilation The EP Collection, which otherwise features material from Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas that appeared on mid-'60s EPs.