LA session legend and ‘Wrecking Crew’ guitarist Bill Pitman has passed away aged 102. Among his most famous work was The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, The Ronnettes’ Be My Baby, The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man and playing ukulele on B.J. Thomas’ Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.
Pitman is widely agreed to have been a core part of the rotating group of ‘first call’ L.A.-based studio players that became known colloquially as the Wrecking Crew, or The Clique, during the ‘60s and ’70s.
Record-keeping during that era was patchy at best, with players often going uncredited and recording multiple sessions in a day, so it is impossible to offer a complete picture of Pitman’s contribution to popular music, but it is fair to say it is huge.
Pitman is said to have given a young Phil Spector guitar lessons and later wound-up recording on many of Spector’s famed ‘wall of sound’ sessions.
The Wrecking Crew Facebook page shares an astonishing statistic...
“During one year, Pitman logged an astonishing 425 recording sessions, many of which resulted in multiple sides,” states a 2016 post, celebrating the guitarist’s birthday.
“Despite his contributions to chart-topping records by The Mamas & The Papas, The Everly Brothers, and Jan & Dean, Pitman found the rock music he was asked to play unmemorable; expressing genuine surprise when some of the tunes became wildly successful. Producers jokingly claimed that if Pitman thought a record was terrible, then they probably had a hit on their hands.”
In particular, Pitman – who was trained at Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Arts – became famed for his use of a Danelectro six-string bass guitar, using muting to create a percussive ‘tic-tac’ sound that was widely incorporated into hits of the era, including Pet Sounds.
In a 2018 interview, guitar icon Duane Eddy discussed Pitman with this writer, explaining his Danelectro sound, in the process.
“It just added to the record,” Eddy said. “Everybody did that in those days, putting the click bass on these records. For 40 years, Bill Pitman made a living doing that. He was a wonderful guitar player, so it was like driving a Ferrari to the grocery store! But, hey, he earned a great living and he got paid, just the same...”
Pitman was one of the subjects interviewed in the 2008 documentary, The Wrecking Crew, directed by Denny Tedesco (son of guitarist and Wrecking Crew member Tommy Tedesco).
It was a rare onscreen credit for a guitarist who also recorded multiple soundtracks, including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Dirty Dancing and Goodfellas, alongside episodes of Star Trek and themes for (the Dano-dominated) Wild Wild West series.