Guitar-Legend and Master-Arranger Billy Strange Celebrates 80th Birthday

Nancy Sinatra, Billy Strange (middle) and Lee Hazlewood in 2003.

Today Billy Strange celebrates his 80th birthday in Nashville, TN. Here’s a video interview with Billy Strange I did. He talks about working with The Beach Boys, Nat King Cole, Phil Spector and Nancy Sinatra.

Billy Strange helped the Beach Boys, Elvis, Frank and Nancy Sinatra and many others to make hits.

He was a number one studio guitarist in the music studios of Hollywood in the 1950s and 1960s. You can hear his guitar on songs like “Surfin’ U.S.A.”, “Sloop John B.” and countless other Beach Boys and surf songs. He’s also famous for playing the haunting guitar on “Bang Bang”, the song that was used by Quentin Tarantino in “Kill Bill”. His arranging skills made songs like “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”, “Some Velvet Morning” and “Something Stupid” immortal.

Billy Strange’s Fuzz Guitar Spices Up Ann-Margret Ballad

Singer Ann-Margret

Ann-Margret (Photo: unknown)

Guitarist Billy Strange

Billy Strange (Photo: The "Official" Billy Strange Fan Group on Facebook)

Recently I discovered a great fuzz guitar example on Westex’ blog Diggin’ It!!! performed by studio guitarist legend Billy Strange. He played a catchy fuzz guitar intro on Ann-Margret’s country-pop ballad I Just Don’t Understand from 1961 and added some more fuzz later in the song on the chorus and in the solo part.

Billy Strange is notorious for his fuzz guitar. In 1962 he played a driving fuzz guitar solo on the Phil Spector production “Zip-A-Dee-Doo Dah” by Bobb B. Sox and the Blue Jeans. To get the fuzz sound he used a very simple but effective method that he  explains in Tales Of Broken Guitar Amps.

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The Haunting Guitar Sound of James Wilsey

It’s one of the great guitar intros of pop music: the haunting guitar on Chris Isaak’s Wicked Games. The man behind the unforgettable guitar sound is James Wilsey.

Check out his great album “El Dorado”, that is packed with wonderful instrumentals. James Wilsey tastefully combines acoustic guitar shades from the nineteen-fifties and sixties. You can hear influences from surf guitars, guitars from Italian western soundtracks, a little bit of Billy Strange, Duane Eddy, the Shadows and t. But still Wilsey manages to create his own sound and style.

Sheila, Dalida And Mina: Bang Bang European Style

You could spend your whole life listening to cover versions of Cher’s song “Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” on YouTube – or at least one evening. Over the years Cher’s original was overtaken by Nancy Sinatra’s version with the haunting guitar played by Billy Strange, which made the song immortal. Besides Nancy Sinatra’s version of “Bang, Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and countless other versions, there were also many covers sung in foreign languages.

From all the non-English versions I stumbled upon, I’ve chosen three sung by European singers, who share several things: they all have pseudonyms ending on the same letter, sing in several languages, acted in movies and had very successful and long careers. I’m speaking of Sheila, Dalida and Mina.

Dalida’s and Mina’s versions are sung in Italian, Sheila’s in French. The videos were probably shot for TV shows, they’re all playbacks. Sheila’s and Dalida’s videos interestingly use the same footage of a girl and a boy who has a toy gun. Listen in Mina’s video to how different her voice sounds when she sings “bang, bang”, there’s much more reverb. And here’s the question of the day: How many guitar players can you count in Mina’s version? Have fun.

Sheila (1966)

French singer Sheila was born in 1945. Her real name is Annie Chancel. She was very popular in France and many other European countries during the nineteen-sixties and nineteen-seventies. Her popularity was so huge, that her name was used for a chain of clothing shops and for beauty products. She sang in several languages and was successful all over Europe. In the late seventies she became a disco star. Her disco hit “Spacer” was produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of the US funk group Chic. Sheila is still performing and recording.

Dalida (1966)

Dalida (1933-1987), real name Yolanda Christina Gigliotti, was a French singer of Italian ancestry who grew up in Egypt. She sang not only in French but also in Arabian, Italian, German and English. She started her career in 1956 at a singing contest in Paris, where she was discovered. From her first record release on she had an endless string of hit records in different styles of music all over the World. Her success in the music business was overshadowed by many private tragedies. She killed herself with an overdose of sleeping pills.

Mina (1967)

Mina, born in 1940, real name Anna Maria Mazzini, is an Italian singer. She sings in French, Spanish, Turkish, German and Japanese. She was discovered at a singing contest in 1958. During the nineteen-sixties and nineteen-seventies she was very successful in Italy and other European countries. Her regular performances on Italian television very much added to her huge success. In 1978 she stopped performing live, but kept on recording.

The Many Careers Of Glen Campbell

Guitarist, singer and Country Music Hall of Fame inductee Glen Campbell (72) who today releases his  album Meet Glen Campbell, had more then one career.

Together with Tommy Tedesco and Billy Strange he was one of the busy number one studio guitarists of Los Angeles during the nineteen-sixties. Among others he recorded for the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, The Mamas and Papas, Dean Martin and countless surf bands. He even replaced Brian Wilson on electric bass on tour in 1964 and 1965.

From 1966 on he became a country and pop star, releasing classics like Gentle On My Mind, By the Time I Get To Phoenix, Wichita Lineman, Galveston, True Grit, Rhinestone Cowboy, Southern Nights and many more. From 1968 till 1972 he was also a TV-star, hosting The Glen Campbell Good-Time Hour. Glen Campbell also acted in movies from time to time. In 1969 he was starring with John Wayne in the True Grit.

On his new album Meet Glen Campbell brings together songs by bands and artists as diverse as Travis, U2, Velvet Underground, Green Day, Tom Petty, John Lennon and Jackson Browne. With this album he also returns to Capitol records, the company he left in 1981.