In Memoriam|

Photo: Bill Pitman (courtesy of the Pitman Family) | William Keith Pitman (February 12, 1920 – August 11, 2022) was an American guitarist and session musician. As a first-call studio musician working in Los Angeles, Pitman played on some of the most celebrated and influential records of the rock and roll era. His mastery of the guitar placed him in high demand for popular music recordings, television programs, and film scores. The style and range of his playing covered a wide spectrum, from the distinctive ukulele in the Academy Award-winning song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head”, to a rich-sounding Danelectro guitar that gave The Wild Wild West its unique musical signature.

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By 1951, Pitman had grown confident that he could play as well as many of the guitarists in the jazz clubs of Los Angeles. While visiting a nightclub where Peggy Lee was performing, Pitman struck up a conversation with guitar virtuoso Laurindo Almeida, who was playing in her band. Their talk led to an audition, landing Pitman a job with Lee that launched his professional music career.

After three years with Lee’s band, Pitman accepted an offer to play on a radio program called The Rusty Draper Show. His three-year stint on that broadcast led to studio work when guitar player Tony Rizzi asked Pitman to sit in for him on a Capitol Records date. As word got around, musicians like Howard Roberts, Al Hendrickson, and Bob Bain would ask Pitman to play on sessions they were unable to attend. Eventually, the referrals led to producers calling Pitman directly to fill a guitar chair, resulting in lucrative studio work that would last for decades.

During the latter part of the 1950s, Pitman sat in on sessions for established recording artists like Mel Tormé, Buddy Rich, and Red Callender. However, rock and roll was gaining popularity, and a chance encounter with Phil Spector placed Pitman among the earliest members of an elite group of session players.

In 1957, Bertha Spector asked Pitman if he would teach her son how to play jazz guitar. After three months of lessons, Phil Spector continued to struggle with the concept of meter, leading both student and teacher to conclude that Phil was probably not cut out to be a musician.

The following year, Spector cut a demo for a song he had written, and then asked Pitman if he would play it for his colleagues on The Rusty Draper Show. The song, called “To Know Him Is to Love Him”, generated considerable interest, and was eventually financed. Shortly thereafter, Pitman received a call from one of Spector’s representatives asking him to play on a recording session for the song at Gold Star Studios. The record became a huge hit, causing Pitman to be invited to all future Phil Spector recording dates. When Spector produced the enormously popular record “Be My Baby” in 1963, he named the jam session on the flip side “Tedesco and Pitman”, after two of his favorite guitar players: Tommy Tedesco and Bill Pitman.

Given the popularity of Spector’s records, Pitman and the other musicians who created the Wall of Sound became the first choice of nearly every major record label in Los Angeles. Hal Blaine would later call this group The Wrecking Crew, and their anonymous talents accompanied musical artists from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra.

When Columbia Records decided to take a gamble on a new band called The Byrds, they insisted on seasoned musicians being brought in to record the instrumental tracks for the first single, because the band had not yet musically gelled. Consequently, the personnel who joined Roger McGuinn in CBS Columbia Square on January 20, 1965, were session players Larry Knechtel, Blaine, Jerry Cole, Leon Russell, and Pitman. In three hours they recorded two songs, one of which, “Mr. Tambourine Man”, became a hit. However, when sessions for the band’s debut album began in earnest, Terry Melcher was satisfied that the group was now competent enough to record their own instrumental backing.

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Pitman’s main studio guitar was the Gibson ES-335 with a Polytone amplifier. On some of the rock and roll records, he used a Fender Telecaster with a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier. Other instruments included a twelve-string guitar, Fender bass, Gibson mandolin, and a Bacon tenor banjo. Pitman tuned the mandolin and banjo like a guitar, and was careful to warn producers that he could only play those two instruments in the guitar range.

I’m not a mandolin player. I’d tell them I could double on it, but if they really wanted someone to play the mandolin, they should get a mandolin player. I could play rhythm on it, and even notes, but I always made it clear that I was a guitar player. But we all had five or six instruments because they didn’t want to spend the money. And they’d get a lot out of one guy.
— Bill Pitman, Interview with Jim Carlton

The Danelectro guitar work for which Pitman became famous started when he saw the instrument at a music shop shortly after its introduction. His practicing caught the attention of Ernie Freeman who asked him to play the Dano on a recording date. The success of that session eventually led to his playing the Danelectro on Jack Nitzche’s “The Lonely Surfer” and the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds. It provided him with five years of recording work on the television program The Wild Wild West. Following his discovery of the Danelectro, Pitman estimates that he played the instrument roughly forty per cent of the time for the rest of his studio career.

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Pitman was married to Mildred Hurty from 1947 until their divorce in the 1960s; they had three children. He and his second wife, Debbie Yajacovic, married and divorced twice in the 1970s. He married Janet Valentine in 1985 and adopted her daughter from a prior relationship.

Pitman lived in La Quinta, California. He spent his retirement playing golf at the local country club, and occasionally participated in panel discussions of The Wrecking Crew documentary film. He died under hospice care at his home on August 11, 2022, aged 102, from complications of a fall.

Read a fuller biography here:

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Our music community continues to lose our talented artists to COVID-19, suicides, murders (another rapper shot & killed) – staggering loses. We are going to miss them so much. If you want to know more about any of the musicians we lost, please check them out at http://www.wikipedia.com

August 2022
17: Eison, 40, Malaysian singer and actor, fall.

16: Kal David, 79, American blues guitarist and singer; Matti Lehtinen, 100, Finnish baritone singer; Firangiz Rehimbeyli, 62, Azerbaijani singer and actress.

15: Steve Grimmett, 62, English heavy metal singer (Grim Reaper, Onslaught, Lionsheart); Hans Magnusson, 73, Swedish saxophonist (Thorleifs), bone cancer; Tokollo Tshabalala, 45, South African kwaito musician (TKZee), epileptic seizure.

14: Egle Martin, 86, Argentine singer, vedette and actress; Svika Pick, 72, Polish-born Israeli singer and songwriter (“Diva”); Butch Thompson, 78, American jazz pianist and clarinetist.

12: Ebrahim Ghanbari Mehr, 94, Iranian musical instrument maker; Zelito Miranda, 68, Brazilian singer; German Vitke, 53, Russian poet and songwriter.

11: Darius Campbell Danesh, 41, Scottish singer-songwriter (“Colourblind”, “Rushes”, “Incredible (What I Meant to Say)”); Mohamed Huzam, 52, Maldivian playback singer (Sitee, Hifehettumeh Neiy Karuna, Hinithun); Bill Pitman*, 102, American guitarist and session musician (The Wrecking Crew), complications from a fall; Shimoga Subbanna, 83, Indian playback singer (Kaadu Kudure), cardiac arrest.

10: Karina Vismara, 31, Argentine folk singer-songwriter, cancer and kidney failure; Abdul Wadud, 75, American cellist.

9: John L. Eastman, 83, American entertainment attorney and legal advisor (Paul McCartney), pancreatic cancer; Jussi Hakulinen, 57, Finnish musician and singer-songwriter.


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