Bill Pitman, Revered Studio Guitarist, Is Dead at 102

The guitarist who accompanied Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Barbra Streisand and others from the late 1950s to the 1970s and has been heard on countless Hollywood movie and television soundtracks over the decades. Bill Pittman died Thursday night at his home. In La Quinta, California, he was 102 years old.

His wife, Janet Pittman, said he died at home under hospice care after being treated for a four-week fall and fractured spine at a Palm Springs rehab center.

Virtually unknown outside the music world, but respected within it, Mr. Pittman was one of the members of what became known as the Wrecking Crew. As an ensemble, they turned regular recording sessions and live performances into extraordinary musical moments.

Examples abound: Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” (1966). Presley’s “Blue Hawaii” (1961). Streisand’s ‘The Way We Were’ (1973). ‘Be My Baby’ by The Ronettes (1963). ‘Good Vibrations’ by The Beach Boys (1966). Mr. Pittman played the ukulele in “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head” from Paul Newman and Robert Redford’s hit movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

During his nearly 40-year career, Mr. Pittman played countless gigs for studios and record labels and dominated the pop charts, but rarely credited the performers behind the stars. . Wrecking his crew did just about everything, including TV and film scores. Arrangement of pop, rock and jazz. A cartoon soundtrack. Everything was performed accurately and beautifully, both in the studio and on location.

“These were crack session players who moved effortlessly through many different styles – pop, jazz, rockabilly – but mostly in the world of the 2:32 hit records America listened to throughout the 60s and 70s. I did,” recalled Allegro magazine. 2011. “If it was a hit song recorded in LA, the wrecking crew would cut the track.”

We would fly from studio to studio, often doing 4-5 sessions a day. Crew members accompanied The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, The Monkees, The Mamas and the Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Ricky Nelson, Jean and Dean, and Johnny His Rivers. , Byrds, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, The Everly Brothers, Peggy Lee and nearly all of the prominent performers of the era.

The pace was relentless, Pittman recalls in Denny Tedesco’s 2008 documentary, The Wrecking Crew.

“I leave my house at seven in the morning and I’m at Universal from nine to noon,” he said. “Now you he’s at Capitol Records at one o’clock. Just in time to get there, jingles at four o’clock, date someone at eight, date the Beach Boys at midnight. And you’re doing it.” 5 days a week.”

Mr. Pittman has worked on Robert Altman’s Korean War black comedy M*A*S*H (1970), Amy Heckerling’s comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), and Emile Ardolino’s romantic musical drama Dirty Dancing. (1987) and Martin Scorsese’s gangster fable “Goodfellas” (1990).

On TV, Mr. Pittman’s Danelectro bass guitar was heard on “The Wild Wild West” for years. He also appeared in “I Love Lucy,” “Bonanza,” “The Deputy,” “Ironside,” “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In,” “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour,” “The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour,” and more. I worked on it. other shows. He is known for composing the music for the early episodes of the original Star Trek series.

Though generally indifferent to rock, according to colleagues, Mr. Pittman played rock well and occasionally expressed surprise at the success of his work in the genre. He was much more devoted to jazz, especially the work of composers and arrangers such as Marty Paich, Dave Grusin and Johnny Mandel.

Raised in New York City and had a music tutor since the age of six, Mr. Pittman returned home from World War II and headed west, determined to make a living out of music. He attended the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to study arrangement and composition, essentially teaching himself the skills of a master guitarist.

In 1951, at the club where Peggy Lee was singing, he met Laurindo Almeida, a guitarist who was leaving Lee’s band. After an audition, Mr. Pittman was hired to replace Mr. Almeida and his career took off.

In 1954, he joined singer Rusty Draper’s daily radio show.Three years later, he became a guitarist. Tony Lizzy Recording date for Capitol Records. That was his big break.

Rumors soon spread about a newcomer who could improvise at its best. Mr. Pittman said that during the sessions he became acquainted with guitarists Howard Roberts, Jack Marshall, Al Hendrickson, Bob Bain and Bobby Gibbons, and soon became one of them.

His fellow studio musicians included drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, Glen Campbell (before he embarked on a career as a hit-making singer), and bassist. Carol Kay When Joe Osborneand keyboardist Don Landy and Leon Russell (who also had a successful solo career). They coalesced around Phil Spector, a producer known for his “Wall of Sound” approach, who regularly hired them.

Although not publicly recognized at the time, the ensemble is today viewed with reverence by music historians and insiders. Blaine, who died in 2019, claimed to have named it the Wrecking Crew. But Kaye insisted he didn’t start using the name until years after the musicians stopped working together in the ’70s.In any case, there’s no disagreement about Mr. Pittman’s contributions. was.

In his book Conversations with Great Jazz and Studio Guitarists (2009), Jim Carlton called Mr. Pittman the mainstay of the crew. “No one personifies the unsung studio player quite like Bill Pittman,” he wrote. “Few guitarists have recorded more recording sessions, and few still enjoy being a legitimate part of the American soundtrack.”

William Keith Pittman was born on February 12, 1920 in Belleville, New Jersey, the only child of Keith and Irma (Kunze) Pittman. His father was his bassist on the staff of NBC Radio and his player who was a busy freelancer in New York. His mother was a Broadway dancer. When Bill was six years old, his family moved to Manhattan and Bill attended his Professional Children’s School.

When he was 13, his parents separated. His mother joined a company that made theater costumes. His father gave him guitar lessons and young Bill performed his 50 Cent gigs with later famous musicians such as trumpeter Shorty Rogers and drummer Shelly Mann. However, his studies at Manhattan’s Harlen High School did not go well and he dropped out.He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1942, became a radio operator, and traveled from India to China during World War II. Flew many resupply missions across the Himalayas.

Married Mildred Harty in 1947. They had three children with her and divorced in the late 1960s. In the 70s, he was married twice to Debbie Jayakovic and divorced. He married Janet Valentine in 1985 and adopted her daughter Rosemary.

Besides his wife, he is survived by a son, Dale. his daughters, Donna Simpson, Gene Langdon and Rosemary Pittman; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Mr. Pittman retired from sessions in 1973 and went on tour, giving concerts for several years with Burt Bacharach, Anthony Newley, Vicki Carr and others. In the late ’70s he moved to Las Vegas, where he joined the music staff at the MGM Grand Hotel, playing headliners well into the ’80s. He also continued to perform on film soundtracks until his retirement in 1989.

Pittman played professionally only once after retiring. Julius WechterLeader of the Baja Marimba Band. His Wechter, who died in 1999, had Tourette Syndrome and was an advocate for people with this disorder.

Mr. Pittman continued to write arrangements and continued to play music and golf at the age of 99.

“He plays guitar almost every day at home,” his wife said in a 2019 interview for this obituary. We only play jazz. It’s not rock’n’roll. ’” As for golf, “He can still beat me,” she said.

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