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.

Brain Wilson: A Creative Mind At Work

The Behind The Sounds series on YouTube presents informative clips that illustrate the creative process behind the recording of Beach Boys songs. By editing together audio of the session, pictures and text it gives you an idea about how Brian Wilson worked together with the studio musicians and the Beach Boys.

TV-Documentary About Electric Bass Legend Carol Kaye

In 2004 Pekka Rautionmaa produced the 52 minutes music-documentary “First Lady Of Bass” about electric bass innovator Carol Kaye for the Finnish broadcaster YLE. There’s a long extract of it on YouTube.

Carol Kaye started her career as jazz guitarist in the late nineteen-forties. In the late nineteen-fifties she started working in the music studios of Los Angeles, playing guitar for legends like Sam Cooke and Ritchie Valens. In the early sixties she picked up the electric bass. Thanks to her talent of creating catchy bass lines, her music reading ability and her versatility in all kinds of styles, she soon became the number one electric bass player in Los Angeles.

Carol Kaye recorded among others for Elvis, Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, The Byrds, The Monkees, The Doors, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Count Basie, Hampton Hawes, Mel Tormé and Barbara Streisand. Her TV and movie credits include Mission Impossible, Hawaii 5-O, M*A*S*H, Streets of San Francisco, In The Heat Of The Night, Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid, Bullitt and Sugarland Express.

In the documentary Carol Kaye demonstrates her electric bass and electric guitar playing and plays together with Brian Wilson. There’s a lot of interesting first hand information about the studio musicians of Los Angeles who played on many great pop, rock, easy listening and soundtrack recordings.

The extract on YouTube contains quotes by Perry Botkin (composer/arranger), Don Peake (guitar player/composer) and sound engineer David Gold, co-owner of Hollywood music studio “Gold Star” where among others Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Herb Alpert and Phil Spector recorded.

To my knowledge the documentary is not available on DVD.

‘Variety’ Gives Music Docu ‘The Wrecking Crew’ Thumbs Up

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There’s a positive review of the music documentary The Wrecking Crew on the Variety website. The documentary features some of the Los Angeles studio musicians who recorded many of the hits of the nineteen-sixties.

The film features legendary musicians such as Carol Kaye, Plas Johnson, Tommy Tedesco, Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine, Don Randi and stars like Nancy Sinatra, Cher, Brian Wilson and Glen Campbell.

The Link Between Glenn Miller And Brian Wilson

Paul Tanner
photo: RS Theremin Homepage
Paul Tanner: trombonist, professor and inventor of the Electro Theremin

The link between Glenn Miller and “Beach Boy” Brian Wilson is trombonist Paul Tanner who played in Glenn Miller’s big band in the nineteen-thirties and forties.

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In 1966 Paul Tanner (born 1917) played on Brian Wilson’s milestone composition “Good Vibration”. But he didn’t play trombone, he played an electronic device called “The Box” (also called “Electro-Theremin”) that sounds like a Theremin. You can hear it on “Good Vibrations” about 25 seconds after the beginning at the start of the first chorus (”I’m picking up Good Vibrations …”). If the sound should remind you of classic science fiction and suspense movies your feeling is right. The sound of the Theremin was very popular on film soundtracks in the fifties and sixties. Its eerie and longing sound is ideal for these genres.

The Theremin is an electronic instrument that is played without being touched. The player has to move his hands in front of it to master the pitch and to control the volume. In 1919 the Theremin was invented by Leon (Lev) Sergeyevich Termen (1896 – 1993) in the USSR. Termen lived in the USA from 1927 until 1938. His life story is more exciting then a suspense movie. Some sources say, that he was a soviet spy. Why he left the USA in 1938 is unclear. Some say, he was kidnapped, others claim he was in financial trouble or homesick. After his return to the USSR he became a political prisoner for a while. On this amateur video (from Paul Lansky’s page) you can see a demonstration of the Theremin by Leon Termen himself. The Giant Gila Monster

Back to trombonist and inventor of “The Box” Paul Tanner. When the big band area came to a halt he started working as trombone studio musician in Los Angeles. During one recording session with a Theremin player, Tanner noticed that the Theremin was hard to play. So he developed together with Robert Whitsell “The Box” which was easier to play than a Theremin. From then on he was often hired whenever the Theremin sound was required.

You can here Paul Tanner playing his “Box” on the TV shows “The D.A.’s Man” and “My Favorite Martian”, and on the movies “The Giant Gila Monster” and “Strait-Jacket”. Listen to a piece of soundtrack from The Giant Gila Monster (WAV format from Badmovies).

Music for Heavenly BodiesTanner recorded an LP with his “Box” called “Heavenly Bodies” in 1958. Listen to Somewhere (Real Media format – taken from www.electrotheremin.com). Paul Tanner is not only famous for his trombone playing and “The Box”, but he was also a professor at UCLA, wrote many educational books about jazz and a biography (”Sideman”) about Glenn Miller.

For more information about Paul Tanner please go to Electro-Theremin, RS Theremin Homepage and Space Age Pop.

More information about Lev Termen’s unbelieveable life story: 120 Years of Electronic Music and Thereminvox.

Theremin on YouTube: A BBC TV report and Theremin live TV performance from 1953.

Lost & Sound writes about Theremin’s grand-niece Lydia Kavina, a Theremin virtuoso: Theremin Artist Lydia Kavina

The Birth Of A Beach Boys Song: Brian Wilson And Studio Musicians At Work

This lovely video re-creates the making of the Beach Boys song Salt Lake City. It gives a rare insight into the way Brain Wilson used to produce songs together with the great Los Angeles studio musicians in the sixties. Some of the best play on this song: Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, Plas Johnson, Howard Roberts and many more. Here’s a bit for trivia lovers: guitarist Billy Strange for once plays the tambourine.