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Author Topic: Billy Strange, ’60s Session Guitarist, Dies at 81  (Read 3527 times)


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Billy Strange, ’60s Session Guitarist, Dies at 81
« on: February 25, 2012, 0546 UTC »
The New York Times

February 24, 2012
Billy Strange, ’60s Session Guitarist, Dies at 81

Billy Strange, a prolific Los Angeles session guitarist who recorded with Elvis Presley, Nat King Cole and the Beach Boys, wrote a No. 1 single for Chubby Checker and arranged Nancy Sinatra’s No. 1 pop hit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” died on Wednesday in Franklin, Tenn. He was 81.

His death, after a brief illness, was confirmed by his wife, Jeanne Black Strange.

A mainstay of the celebrated team of Hollywood studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, Mr. Strange played on psychedelic touchstones like the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” and Love’s “Forever Changes.” In 1962 he arranged and played on Cole’s hit “Ramblin’ Rose.”

He also contributed the eerie tremolo guitar figure — a reverberating mix of country, pop and surf music — to Ms. Sinatra’s late ’60s cover of Cher’s 1966 hit, “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down).” The record later appeared on the soundtrack to the director Quentin Tarantino’s 2003 action thriller “Kill Bill.”

“I have played every kind of music in the world,” Mr. Strange said in an interview in 2010 on an Australian Web site for Elvis Presley fans. “I’ve played rock and roll, did all the surf records, played with big orchestras. If they needed somebody in a small group who knew what the hell they were doing in the studio, that was me.”

Mr. Strange made numerous recordings under his own name, including instrumental versions of “The James Bond Theme” and the theme from the movie “Goldfinger.” Both singles stalled just outside the pop Top 40, in 1964 and 1965, respectively. He made a series of guitar albums during this period as well, but his signature accomplishments remained his contributions, as a guitarist, conductor and arranger, to the recordings of others, among them Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans.

Mr. Strange also wrote a number of hits, notably “Limbo Rock,” for Mr. Checker, as well as “Memories” and “A Little Less Conversation,” for Presley. Written with the singer Mac Davis, “Memories” was featured on Presley’s celebrated comeback television special in 1968. Mr. Strange also composed the musical scores for two of Presley’s late ’60s movies, “The Trouble with Girls” and “Live a Little, Love a Little.”

An occasional actor, Mr. Strange played the character of the steel guitarist Speedy West in “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” the 1980 film about Loretta Lynn starring Sissy Spacek. He appeared in an episode of the TV series “Rawhide” and sang the vocals for the actor Steve McQueen in the 1965 movie “Baby, the Rain Must Fall.”

William Everett Strange was born Sept. 29, 1930, in Long Beach, Calif. He began performing cowboy-themed material on the radio with his parents, George and Billie Strange, at an early age. He first played the trumpet, then the guitar.

At 16 he moved to Texas, where he performed in honky-tonks and dance halls before being hired to work with West Coast country artists like Spade Cooley and Tennessee Ernie Ford.

After more than two decades in Hollywood, Mr. Strange moved to Tennessee in the early 1970s to manage a branch of the music publishing firm of Frank and Nancy Sinatra. He was inducted into the Nashville-based Musicians Hall of Fame.

Besides his wife, Mr. Strange is survived by a daughter, Kelly Tomlin; two sons, Russell and Jerry; and several grandchildren.

Mr. Strange was the arranger on all of Ms. Sinatra’s hits in the 1960s, including “Somethin’ Stupid,” her No. 1 duet with her father, and “Some Velvet Morning,” a hit duet with Lee Hazlewood. Both records were released in 1967, and each bears Mr. Strange’s stamp, a freewheeling blend of pop and country sensibilities that he said stemmed from writing his arrangements on guitar instead of piano.


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