Bill Pitman, Wrecking Crew Guitarist, Dies at 102

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Bill Pitman with his Danelectro guitar (Photo via Denny Tedesco)

Bill Pitman, a first call guitarist who played on such hit recordings as the Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” with the Los Angeles-based session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew, died yesterday (August 11, 2022). His passing at age 102 at his home in La Quinta, Calif., was announced by Denny Tedesco, the director of The Wrecking Crew documentary film, and son of the studio guitarist, Tommy Tedesco.

His wife, Janet Pitman, told The New York Times he died after several weeks of hospice care in Palm Springs following a fall that left him with a fractured spine.

In his tribute, Denny Tedesco wrote, “Growing up, as a little kid, I always knew who Bill Pitman was. He was my dad’s friend who played guitar and golf with him. It wasn’t until I got older did I understand the impact that he made.”

The B-side of the Ronettes’ smash “Be My Baby” was an instrumental dedicated to Teddy Tedesco and Bill Pitman

Tedesco interviewed Pitman for The Wrecking Crew when he was “82 years young.” Pitman, the son of a bass guitarist on staff at NBC Television in New York, was born on Feb. 12, 1920. When the younger Pitman got out of the military, he moved to Los Angeles, where he became a student-teacher at the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music intending to get a degree. Married, with a child on the way, he instead took a job at a factory to help make ends meet. A chance meeting with a musician led to his first career break when he successfully auditioned to become a guitarist in Peggy Lee’s band. “That was the start,” he said.

After he purchased a Danelectro guitar – “it had such a range, with a neck this long!” – he began to get calls for more studio work. Pitman became a favorite of producer Phil Spector and, with The Wrecking Crew performed guitar, with Tommy Tedesco, on the Ronettes’ 1963 recording, “Be My Baby.” The jam session on the single’s b-side was named “Tedesco and Pitman.”

In 1965, when Columbia Records was cutting the Byrds’ debut album, the label used session musicians from The Wrecking Crew including drummer Hal Blaine, keyboard player Leon Russell, and Pitman, among others, to accompany Roger McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker guitar on “Mr. Tambourine Man.” The single reached #1 on the Hot 100.

Pitman subsequently played his Danelectro guitar on scores of recordings including such hits as the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” He also performed music for the TV series The Wild Wild West for five years. “That was fun because I really got to play the instrument the way I envisioned when I bought it,” he said.

Pitman was also accomplished on bass guitar, ukulele (which he used on B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head” used in the film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), and banjo.

Related: Musicians that we’ve lost in 2022

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  1. Adam60z
    #1 Adam60z 12 August, 2022, 23:29

    The most famous nonfamous guitarist ever!

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