Friday, February 24, 2012

More Wrecking Crew Memories

We've had LOTS of Wrecking Crew coverage again lately in Forgotten Hits ...   

So it was ESPECIALLY sad to get the news on Wednesday about the passing of Billy Strange.

Here are some of your recent comments about Billy, The Wrecking Crew (including the new book and the as yet unreleased film), the participants and artists whose lives they affected like The Beach Boys, Nancy Sinatra ... and a few others!

Speaking of The Wrecking Crew .... and this week's FH piece on "These Boots Are Made For Walking"   

-- David Lewis

Musicians Hall of Famer Billy Strange, songwriter for Elvis and Sinatra, dies at 81

Posted on by Peter Cooper   

Sept. 29, 1930 - Feb. 22, 2012

Musicians Hall of Famer Billy Strange, a songwriter, guitarist and arranger who aided the hit-making efforts of Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra, has died in Nashville at age 81.
“My dear friend, the legendary guitarist / arranger Billy Strange passed away this morning in Nashville,” Nancy Sinatra wrote on her Twitter page. “My heart is shattered.”
Mr. Strange wrote the musical arrangement for Sinatra’s smash, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,” directing standup bass player George Burghofer to play the song’s signature sliding descent.
Mr. Strange also played the haunting guitar part on Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” a minimalist recording popularized in the new century as part of the soundtrack for the Quentin Tarantino movie Kill Bill. And he helped arrange “Somethin’ Stupid,” Ms. Sinatra’s duet with father Frank Sinatra.
For Presley, Mr. Strange contributed hit compositions including “A Little Less Conversation” and “Memories.” He also wrote Chubby Checker’s hit, “Limbo Rock.”
A member of the “Wrecking Crew” of Los Angeles-based session musicians in the 1960s, Mr. Strange played guitar on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, as well as on recordings by The Everly Brothers, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Nat King Cole and many others.
Mr. Strange was raised in Long Beach, Calif., and he was performing on local radio with his father and mother as a young boy. He began playing guitar at age 14, and touring with other musicians at 16.
Though he worked in the rodeo, as a truck driver and as a stunt man in his 20s, he settled into a musical life, performing early on with Spade Cooley, Roy Rogers, Count Basie, Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant and others.

His striking guitar work soon caught the attention of major producers, and he became an essential member of the informal group known as “The Wrecking Crew.” And he released a series of solo works in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that highlighted his unusual tone and musicianship.
When Presley came to Los Angeles for sessions, he employed Mr. Strange as a player and arranger, and the two became fast friends, riding motorcycles together and sitting and playing with baby Lisa Marie Presley together.
Mr. Strange moved to Middle Tennessee in the early 1970s, and in Tennessee he ran a publishing company for Frank and Nancy Sinatra.
Our timing IS impeccable, isn't it?!?!  (lol)  Seriously 'though, it's REALLY sad to hear about the passing of Billy Strange ... his music touched our lives in SO many ways.  (Honestly, I had NO idea how much GREAT music he was involved with ... or had a hand in writing.)  And, here in Chicago, he had a #11 hit of his own with his version of "The James Bond Theme" in 1964.  (kk)

This is why the books and movie are important. Billy Strange's story lives on:
Guitarist, composer / arranger and singer Billy Strange died Wednesday (February 22) in Nashville from an unnamed illness. The Long Beach, California, native was 81.
As a member of Hollywood's "Wrecking Crew" of studio musicians, Billy played on sessions for Frank and Nancy Sinatra, the Beach Boys ("Pet Sounds"), the Everly Brothers, Jan and Dean and Nat "King" Cole. He arranged "These Boots Are Made For Walking" for Nancy as  well as "Something Stupid," her duet with father, Frank. He also arranged the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You."
As a composer, he worked with Mac Davis on tunes like Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation" and "Memories." A tune he composed (which he called "Monotonous Melody") later became "Limbo Rock." He provided the vocals for Steve McQueen in the movie, "Baby, The Rain Must Fall." His own recording on "The James Bond Theme" reached #58 in 1964, followed by "Goldfinger" (#55) the next year. In later years he moved to Nashville and ran a publishing company for the Sinatras. He was married to actress Joan O'Brien for two years in the fifties and at the time of his death he had been married for many years to country singer Jeanne Black ("He'll Have To Stay"). Billy was enshrined into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Musicians Hall of Fame two years later.
-- Ron Smith
I was probably 14 years old when I first met Billy Strange at a Dino, Desi & Billy recording session around 1965.  It was either at United or Western, I just don't remember exactly which studio it was since our Producer, Lee Hazlewood, used both with equal regularity.  The first thing that came to mind when I was introduced to him was that his name was so unusual and, well - strange, but I liked that we shared the same first name.  I thought that perhaps it was a professional or "stage name" because it was so odd to me but it was his real name.  Anyway, he was standing near a wall of the studio with some paperwork he was reviewing on top of a Leslie cabinet.  They were the musical arrangements or "charts" that he had written for the session players for the songs they were going to record that day.  I didn't know that he was also an amazing guitar player until I saw him credited on several of our subsequent albums.  For instance, he played a descending / ascending "fuzz guitar" line (that guitar sound was innovative at the time) on our "The Rebel Kind" single. Though I can't say I knew him well, I remember him being very nice to me at that first session and I guess that's how I'll always remember him - a kind man who was nice to me when I was just a kid.  Rest in peace, Billy.
Billy Hinsche 
And this from our FH Buddy Tom Cuddy ... reviews of the new Wrecking Crew book by Kent Hartman ...
Hidden Hitmakers 
The Lovin' Spoonful praised them in "Nashville Cats." The Kinks scorned them in "Session Man." ("He's not paid to think, just play.") Now Kent Hartman has written an entire book about session musicians, specifically a posse of players who flourished in Los Angeles during the 1960s and in various permutations contributed to the instrumental tracks for hit records such as "Be My Baby," "Good Vibrations," "I Got You, Babe," "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Light My Fire," "California Dreamin' " and "Bridge Over Troubled Water." 
"No single group of musicians," Mr. Hartman claims in "The Wrecking Crew," "has ever played on more hits in support of more stars than this superbly talented — yet virtually anonymous — group of men (and one woman)." Drummer Hal Blaine gave the Wrecking Crew its moniker and was "the unofficial dean of the whole bunch," whose most prominent members included Larry Knechtel, Carol Kaye, Tommy Tedesco, Al DeLory, Leon Russell and Glen Campbell. That Mr. Campbell, a session guitarist before becoming a singer and star in his own right, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and has embarked on a cross-country "Goodbye Tour" lends a special poignancy to the pages devoted to him. 
The Wrecking Crew operated, as Mr. Hartman aptly observes, at "the intersection of time and money." Because its members played expertly and efficiently, they saved many costly hours in the recording studio. The Wrecking Crew also enabled a group for which it ghosted to stay out on the road, performing lucrative live gigs while the session musicians kept the home fires burning and cut the track for the group's next smash hit. (Occasionally the order was reversed. Mr. Campbell was a Beach Boy before he was the Rhinestone Cowboy.) This division of labor maximized revenue but stirred resentment within bands like the Byrds, the Monkees and the Grass Roots, some of whose members insisted on playing on their own records. (The nerve!)
The Wrecking Crew thought as well as played. It was Mr. Blaine's idea, for instance, to slam automobile snow chains against a cement floor in order to heighten the percussive intensity of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," whose grandiose arrangement was inspired, in part, by Phil Spector's production of the Righteous Brothers' rendition of "Old Man River." Mr. Hartman's chronicle is chock-full of such nuggets. I, for one, had never recognized that the "chink-chink" guitar chords in the background of the Byrds' "Mr. Tambourine Man" echo those in the foreground of the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry, Baby" and were played by the same session musician, Jerry Cole. 
Mr. Hartman has many tales to tell — the circuitous route, for example, by which a song that Billy Strange, another Wrecking Crew guitarist, composed in five minutes and contemptuously called "Monotonous Melody" eventually became a hit for the Champs and then for Chubby Checker as "Limbo Rock." (When Mr. Strange received a royalty check for $63,000, he was sure someone had made a mistake.) Or how guitarist Don Peake, the sole white member of the Ray Charles Orchestra before his Wrecking Crew days, avoided arrest for violating Alabama laws against racial mixing only after Charles insisted to state troopers that Peake was Spanish. Peake wore brown makeup for that evening's performance, just in case. 
The book flags somewhat as the 1960s progress and the songs featuring the Wrecking Crew become less innovative and more middle-of-the-road: "Up, Up and Away," "Love Will Keep Us Together," "(They Long to Be) Close to You." But the stories of the session men who played for them offer fascinating, fly-on-the-Wall-of-Sound insights into Phil Spector and the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson as their genius bloomed in the recording studio and then withered into self-indulgence and paranoia. 

The Wrecking Crew 
By Kent Hartman
St. Martin's, 292 pages, $25.99

Mr. Hartman makes a nearly fatal error, however, by seldom quoting directly from the more than 100 interviews he conducted except to re-create, with dubious accuracy, decades-old conversations. Instead of letting these musicians get a word in edgewise, he translates his interviews into his own narrative voice, which is riddled with clichés and swollen with hyperbole. Was "Eve of Destruction" really "one of the most important songs in popular music history"? Was recording-studio owner and engineer Bill Putnam the "one person in the history of popular music [who] could ever be compared to Leonardo da Vinci in terms of his breadth of accomplishments"? 
To make matters worse, Mr. Hartman frames his vignettes as if they were soap operas: Bass guitarist Carol Kaye "knew what a burden it was for her [mother] to simply put enough food on the table each day. But Carol never complained, even when she had but one pair of shoes to her name." Or grade-C movies: "Sitting in a small booth inside a bustling twenty-four-hour diner on the Sunset Strip late one summer night, Billy Strange knew it was time to think about getting sober."
Denied their individual voices, the members of the Wrecking Crew remain almost as anonymous as they were on the hits they recorded. Mr. Hartman compounds this problem by never describing their distinctive musical styles. What distinguished Mr. Blaine, for example, from peers like Bernard Purdie in New York or Gary Chester in New York? For that matter, how did Mr. Blaine's drumming differ from that of Earl Palmer, with whom he often double-teamed and who was the only black musician associated with the Wrecking Crew? Mr. Hartman can't be bothered to discern and therein lies one of the many tales that "The Wrecking Crew" leaves untold.
Mr. Emerson's books include "Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era 

When following the recent Forgotten Hits link to research the new Wrecking Crew book I found a review that contained a strange comment I do not understand. In the editorial reviews section, a review from Publishers Weekly had the following sentence " Eight years later, Campbell joined the Champs, whose “Limbo Rock” Chubby Checker would soon record as “The Twist." If anyone can explain this line regarding Chubby I would be very grateful.   (Charlie)
How ironic that this comes up now.  (Honestly, I didn't know that Billy Strange had composed "Limbo Rock", first calling it "Monotonous Melody"!!!  He then watched his hit climb up the charts by two different artists!)  Meanwhile, that comment as offered by Publishers Weekly simply isn't true.  The Champs recorded an instrumental version of "Limbo Rock" in 1962 that climbed to #33 on the pop charts.  (As far as I know, Glen Campbell never appeared on ANY of the hit records made by The Champs.  In fact, in the past I have referred to The Champs as the group most famous for members who passed through their line-up AFTER their hit-making days were over!  In addition to Campbell, you can count '70's soft-rock superstars Seals and Crofts amongst their members.)
Chubby Checker recorded a VOCAL version of "Limbo Rock" that climbed the charts a few months after The Champs' instrumental version fell off ... it had absolutely NOTHING to do with "The Twist" ... originally recorded by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.  Checker's version of "Limbo Rock" ended up topping the charts ... one of THREE Number One Records that Chubby Checker earned in Cash Box Magazine in 1962!  (The others were the reissued "The Twist" and "Slow Twistin'", a record that also featured labelmate Dee Dee Sharp.)  When you read little erroneous tidbits like that, you cannot help but wonder how accurate the rest of the book is.  Note Doug Thompson's similar comment below.  (kk)

I picked up "The Wrecking Crew" book over a week ago and started reading it immediately.  It is quite detailed and I'm enjoying some of the stories, having interviewed many of these amazing musicians over the years for various radio specials, including Carol Kaye (who was so very kind and generous to me.  I have the utmost respect for Carol); Glen Campbell; Nino Tempo (who was really more on Phil Spector sessions) and three separate interviews with Hal Blaine, who immediately after the first interview was finished, took me to a recording session he was playing drums on that night at Bell Sound in Hollywood with producer Joe Saraceno. 
I have, however, found a mistake on page 124.  I was friends with Denny Doherty of The Mamas and Papas the last few years of his life, and he always told me that "Harvey" was the name the group gave to the harmonic overtone that was created in the studio by their 4 part harmony.  He also says it was called "Harvey" in his wonderful play "Dream A Little Dream".  Kent Hartman, author of "The Wrecking Crew" book, says they called it 'harpy'. 
Personally, I believe Denny since he was there (even though he's no longer with us to speak for himself).  I do still have the tape somewhere in my archives.
Doug Thompson in Toronto
I will have to pick up a copy of this book.  Something as simple as this I can attribute to possibly mis-hearing the word, especially if some of these interviews were done over the telephone ... so that one doesn't bother me as much (although we ALL want the book to be as historically accurate as possible.)  Being unfamiliar with the term "Harvey" would ALSO contribute to some confusion.  The "Limbo Rock" comment above, however, is way off base ... but it sounds like it was attributed more to Publisher's Weekly than the author ... so this, too, might explain part of the problem.  I don't know whether or not the film has been screened yet up your way in Canada but it's an absolute MUST SEE ... especially since you've had the opportunity to chat with so many of the principle players over the years.  If you ever get down Chicago-way, I'd love to order pizza and offer you a private screening!  Thanks, Doug!
Yes, I have seen it ... and absolutely love it.  Denny and I have corresponded and he's trying to arrange a Toronto screening sometime soon.  I'm sorry Carole Kaye feels the way she does about the documentary, but she is a wonderfully talented musician and was extremely accommodating to me when I interviewed her a few years ago.  Carol rightfully deserves her place in history and should be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (I know, I know, let's not both of us get started on that).  If Hal Blaine's in there, then so should Carol ... and engineer Larry Levine (another modest guy who made history every day he went to work.  I spent an afternoon with Larry and his wife in LA and got several wonderful hours of stories on tape).
Despite the 'harpy' mistake, I am really enjoying "The Wrecking Crew" book.  These stories need to be out there for all to see and kudos to Kent Hartman and Denny Tedesco for getting' it done, son.
I usually get into Chicago in August for Beatlefest (oops!  I mean, The Fest For Beatles Fans.  Don't want to piss off Apple Corps), so we could have that pizza then.
Consider it a date!  I wish Carol were more supportive of the film ... it recognizes ALL of the artists who made The Wrecking Crew the incredible team of musicians they were back in the day.  And who knows ... with a little bit of luck, maybe Denny's film will be widely available by August.  Nothing would please me more!  (kk) 
We have received a fair amount of mail concerning Carol Kaye's negative attitude and response toward the film ... and it makes all of us sad, especially some of the artists who have worked with her in the past.  Without question, Carol was an integral part of the line-up ... scroll back and read some of our Wrecking Crew coverage from last week to see that virtually EVERYONE concerned has ONLY been complimentary toward her contributions and achievements.  But she seems to have this on-going "RAGE" of late when it comes to discussing this film these days (and toward Hal Blaine and Denny Tedesco in particular).  While I'm not on Facebook, I have heard from several folks who are that tell me that Carol regularly bashes the film publicly on her Facebook Page ... almost as if it were a personal vendetta of some sort ... and this is sad.
These incredible artists are FINALLY getting the credit they deserve, after being overlooked and hidden in the shadows for SO many years.  As I've stated before, embrace your legacy ... this music has been such a HUGE part of our lives ... let's not taint these memories with some bitterness and sour grapes now after all these years.  The Wrecking Crew were an "ensemble" ... it was through the collective efforts of ALL of these musicians and participants that this great music was created.  (kk)
In his new book "Where The Action Is!", Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon tells about working with The Wrecking Crew when he came out to Los Angeles to record the theme song "Action" for the hot new afternoon Dick Clark television series "Where The Action Is".
The theme song had already been recorded by Paul Revere and the Raiders, hosts of the daily music fest ... but Producer Dick Clark wasn't happy with their version of the tune.  He then had Del Shannon take a crack at it ... but still wasn't happy with the results.  Clark then exclaimed "This is a Freddy Cannon song" ... and Freddy was summoned into the studio to record his rendition.
Here, in Freddy's own words, are his recollections of that amazing session:
Producer Dick Glasser explained to me, "Dick Clark has a television show that is going on the air in ten days.  He has this song that he wants to use as the theme song, and no one can seem to come up with a version of the song that he likes.  Listen to it.  And, if you think you can sing it, we will rush to the studio, and we can cut it and get it over to Dick."
I said, "Alright, put it on."
He put it on once, and I listened very closely to the demo that had been sent over.  On the demo, it was Tommy Boyce (Tommy wrote the song with Steve Venet - kk) who was singing it.  When it finished playing, I said to him, "Put it on again."
He played it again, and by the second time around, I was singing it in his office.  That was all it took.  He said, "OK ... let's go cut it immediately."
We went right to the studio and there were the musicians they had assembled to do the record.  They were the top guys in the field:  Glen Campbell (guitar), James Burton (guitar), Leon Russell (keyboards), and David Gates of the group Bread (bass).  These were all of the studio musicians at United Western Studio in Hollywood.
I walked in there ready to rock and roll.  Dick Glasser played the Tommy Boyce demo for them to hear, and told them the key that I was going to sing it in ... which is the key of "C".  They listened to it, and what I saw happen, was something that I have never seen in my life.  They heard it one time, and they turned on the tape while they played it.  They finished it, and they did a second "take".  And, by the second "take", it was done.  That was it!  They absolutely nailed it!  After they did the second "take", they got up, they walked out of our studio, and into the next studio where they were recording with someone else!  They did it in two takes!  That was how good they were.
-- Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon
Hi Kent,
Just a quick response to some recent comments made about my attending a screening of the Wrecking Crew film in Vegas a few weeks ago.  I don't know anything about the behind-the-scenes squabbling, legal wrangling, name-calling, etc., nor do I care to know.  It's not my business and I have nothing to do with any of that.  I didn't make the film and I'm not even in it.  On a positive note, I am forever grateful to *all* the musicians involved in this film for the unforgettable music they have created.  My admiration for them will never change.  And just for the record (pun intended), my last name is spelled H-I-N-S-C-H-E.  
Thanks, Billy ... this seems to be the sentiment of most of the musicians and recording artists we've talked to, many of whom share their memories in the film. (I remember Billy Hinsche telling Forgotten Hits years ago about the first time he entered the recording studio as part of Dino, Desi and Billy to make their very first record ... and being shocked to find other musicians there to record the backing tracks.  He thought that a Dino, Desi and Billy record was going to be recorded by Dino, Desi and Billy!!!  Go figure!)  
Of course, that's just NOT the way music was recorded back then ... and while I'm sure that this HAD to be a major disappointment for these young teen-age stars, it was the fine musicianship of these seasoned musicians ... all studio wizards ... that helped their records climb the charts.  SO many artists who a big part of their success to the folks "behind the curtain" ... and I believe ALL of us are happy to see these guys finally get their due.  (kk)
And HERE'S a group Billy certainly spent some time with ... Hinsche was part of The Beach Boys' touring band for DECADES ... and was also proud to call Carl Wilson his brother-in-law!
Kent ...
The Beach Boys have released a video of their new recording of "Do It Again".  It will be part of their new unnamed album.
Frank B.
Click here: The Beach Boys Release ‘Do It Again’ Music Video
I know!  Of course you COULD have watched it here ... The Beach Boys Are Back! ... back on February 17th!!!  (And we got it posted a couple of days late as we were right in the middle of our Wrecking Crew mini-series at the time!)  I'm telling you ... it PAYS to check Forgotten Hits every day ... or you can just wait for the rest of the oldies world to catch up!  (kk)
Kent ...
Wouldn't it have been great to see Glen Campbell singing with the Beach Boys just one more time at the Grammy Awards ceremony this year?
Frank B.
From our review of The Grammys (published February 13th):
I couldn't agree more that artists like The Beach Boys, Paul McCartney and Glen Campbell SHOULD have been saluted in their hey-day ... but it IS kinda cool that these three "dinosaur acts" put on some of the best performances witnessed all night.  (And you're right ... Brian Wilson looked like he couldn't get off the stage fast enough once the song was over!)  My first thought when they flashed on Glen Campbell in the audience during The Beach Boys' set was, "Man, they should have invited HIM up there to play with these guys!!!  What a memorable performance THAT would have been!  (kk)
And, speaking of Glen Campbell ...
Glen was one of my favorite artists back in the day.  He even had his own TV show, and in my opinion it was because he had so much talent, there was no way to hold him back. It's sad to see him getting older and dealing with a failing memory, but isn't that part of life?  Let's enjoy his music while we still can.  It was great seeing him on the Grammys the other night -- I thought he did a fantastic job.  
Mr. C.
While surfing the cable stations on Sunday, I just happened to come across a GREAT documentary profiling Glen Campbell's farewell tour that also served as an overview of Alzheimer's Disease in layman's terms that made things very easy to understand.  I wasn't aware that two of Glen's children are performing with him on stage for this last hurrah ... and it was GREAT to hear him perform SO many of his hits up on stage, including many of those that WE consider to be The Forgotten Hits of the '60's.  Glen seems to be in fine voice and most at home when he's performing.  I didn't see any upcoming broadcast dates for this listed, but check your local listings to see if it'll be showing in your area.  A nice way to spend an hour with a guy who gave us SO much great music over the years.  By the way, if you've been fortunate enough to catch Glen in concert during his farewell tour, we'd love to hear from you.  I've read some EXCELLENT reviews!  (kk)
What sheet of paper is Lee reading from?
Well, I can't say for sure ... but I'm guessing it's probably an old Forgotten Hits Newsletter!!!  lol  (kk)
Always loved the
SAM PHILLIPS version from the PRET-A-PORTER soundtrack ... IT ROCKS!
David Lewis
Cher had the hit ... but Nancy Sinatra's version was the haunting one that gave the song some extra meaning.  I LOVED the way this was used in the "Kill Bill" soundtrack by Quentin Tarantino ... Quentin REALLY knows his music!  (kk)
Hey Kent,
Here is a video of Frank Jr. and Nancy Sinatra singing "Somethin' Stupid" on the Smothers Brothers TV show. Maybe this is how the rumor started about Frank Sr. acing his son out of the studio. I've got to say that I like the blend of brother and sister better than when the ol' man did it, but the pairing isn't any more weird, right? I'm usually pretty good at proofreading what I write, but I meant to say that I heard that Lee Hazlewood would only produce the record if Frank Sr. WOULD sing it, and not Lee, himself, but that was wrong, too, I guess. I think the song was a big hit, partially because the public thought it was "so cute" that father and daughter sang a sweet duet together.
John LaPuzza
What a GREAT clip!  (I can't believe I don't remember this ... I thought I remembered EVERYTHING from The Smothers Brothers television series!)  Great quality ... and a fun one to watch!  (kk)
And if you think singing love songs with your father is a little weird ... check out THIS clip of Nancy Sinatra singing a love song with one of her dad's best friends!  It's Nancy Sinatra and Dean Martin singing the Bobby Darin hit "Things"!