Guitarist Billy Strange Talks About Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’

Nancy Sinatra, Billy Strange

Nancy Sinatra and Billy Strange

Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” is a masterpiece of minimalism. Just a voice telling a dark love story and a haunting guitar.

The man who played the haunting guitar is Billy Strange, a veteran studio guitar player, singer, arranger, composer and producer. He was so kind to talk with me about the birth of this enthralling song.

Lost & Sound: Did you arrange the song?
Billy Strange:
There was no arrangement. I just played what I thought was appropriate and Nancy liked the way it was sounding, so we recorded it.

L&S: Why did you decide to record it with just one guitar?
BS: It was just as if the song called for it. More than one instrument would have been too many.

L&S: What kind of sound effect did you use on the guitar?
BS: I used a tremolo effect. There is a small box that creates it, made by Vox, I believe.

L&S: Do you remember which amp and guitar you used?
BS:
The amp was my old Fender Twin and the guitar was the Gibson 335 that Nancy gave me

L&S: Where did you record it?
BS: It was recorded at either United Recorders or Western Recorders in Hollywood. The engineer was Eddie Brackett.

L&S: Did you and Nancy record live together or did you lay down the guitar first?
BS: We recorded it live with no overdubbing at all.

‘Bang Bang’ took a long time to make some noise
Nancy Sinatra’s version of the Sonny Bono written “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” was a sleeper. When it came out in 1966 on the LP “How Does That Grab You?” it didn’t make a big impact. Cher’s original version was a big hit, though. This changed dramatically over the years. Nancy Sinatra’s take on the song is better known today. The song had a late breakthrough in 2005 when it was used for the soundtrack of the Quentin Tarantino movie “Kill Bill”.

L&S: Do you have any special memories regarding the recording session?
BS: I recall that Nancy and I were both very pleased with the way it turned out. I think it was done in one take.

L&S: How do you feel about the fact, that the song became popular again thanks to the “Kill Bill” soundtrack?
BS: It was very gratifying that it was felt to be “the” song for the movie main title.

L&S: How would you interpret the lyrics?
BS: It is simply a very sad love song about lost love, as I see it.

(This interview is based on an email conversation.)

Billy Strange, Jeanne Black

Billy Strange with his wife, singer Jeanne Black

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Bass Guitar? Electric Bass? Fender Bass? Danelectro Bass Guitar?

Electric Bass

There’s some confusion about how to call the electric bass. Many people call it “bass guitar”. Let’s look at the basics: the electric bass is shaped like a guitar, has four strings and is tuned like a string bass. Nowadays there are also electric basses with five and six strings.

Until the late nineteen-sixties the electric bass was called by many “Fender bass”, because Fender was the first company to market electric basses on a large scale. During the late sixties the term “electric bass” became also common. The term “bass guitar” is a little bit confusing, because there’s also an instrument called “Danelectro bass guitar”, which is a six string guitar tuned one octave down.

In the fifties and sixties the Danelectro bass guitar was often used in combination with a string bass and was responsible for the “click” sound that you can hear on many country songs. For example on Patsy Cline’s “Crazy”. Usually the Danelectro doubled (playing unison) the string bass or the electric bass. The combination of string bass and electric bass was also popular in the sixties. A good example is “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”. Chuck Berghofer is on string bass, Carol Kaye on electric bass.

There are at least two famous songs that use a Danelectro and on which Carol Kaye also played: on the Richie Valens hit “La Bamba” you can hear Rene Hall on the Danelectro, Carol Kaye played the rhythm guitar. On “Wichita Lineman”, Glen Campbell plays a wonderful solo on a Danelectro he borrowed from Carol Kaye, while Kaye herself played the electric bass. And you can hear Carol Kaye playing the Danelectro on “The Beat Goes On” by Sonny and Cher.