Billy Strange, Session Guitarist With the Beach Boys and Elvis Presley, Dies At 81
The music world was saddened on Wednesday with the news that songwriter and guitarist Billy Strange passed away on Wednesday in Franklin, Tenn. at the age of 81. As a member of the Wrecking Crew, Strange appeared on hundreds of rock records in Los Angeles during the 1960s.
Strange was possibly best known for his work with the Beach Boys, especially on the legendary album 'Pet Sounds.' According to Brian Wilson, Strange's 12-string guitar part on 'Sloop John B' was performed in the booth, not in the studio with the other musicians. After Wilson got the take he wanted, Strange came up with an idea for a harmony guitar part. "[W]e overdubbed that onto it and the whole track started to sparkle!" Wilson said in 1997. "It was like the difference between night and day. Really something."
But Strange was more than just an excellent guitarist who could play country, surf or jazz guitar with equal panache. He was an accomplished arranger who worked with, among others, Nat King Cole ('Ramblin' Rose') and Nancy Sinatra ('These Boots Were Made For Walkin'').
As a songwriter, Strange had several hits to his name, including two songs that reached Number One. Chubby Checker reached the top of the charts in 1962 with 'Limbo Rock,' and, in 2002, a remixed version of 'A Little Less Conversation' became a worldwide smash for Elvis Presley 25 years after his death. He also composed music for several of the King's movies in the late-60s.
Strange was born in California to a country music family. He began his musical career at the age of five singing on his father's radio show. As a teenager he moved to Texas and played western swing music before returning to California to begin his recording career with West Coast-based country singers.