Musicians Hall of Famer Billy Strange, a songwriter, guitarist and
arranger who aided the hit-making efforts of Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys,
Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra, has died in Nashville at age 81.
“My dear friend, the legendary guitarist/arranger Billy Strange passed away
this morning in Nashville,” Nancy Sinatra wrote on her Twitter page. “My heart is shattered.”
Mr. Strange wrote the musical arrangement for Sinatra’s smash, “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’,”
directing standup bass player Chuck Burghofer to play the song’s signature sliding descent.
Mr. Strange also played the haunting guitar part on
Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” a minimalist recording popularized in
the new century as part of the soundtrack for the Quentin Tarantino movie Kill Bill. And
he helped arrange “Somethin’ Stupid,” Ms. Sinatra’s duet with father Frank Sinatra.
For Presley, Mr. Strange contributed hit compositions including “A Little Less Conversation” and “Memories.”
He also wrote Chubby Checker’s hit, “Limbo Rock.”
A member of the “Wrecking Crew” of Los Angeles-based session musicians in the 1960s, Mr. Strange
played guitar on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album, as well as on recordings
by The Everly Brothers, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Nat King Cole and many others.
Mr. Strange was raised in Long Beach, Calif., and he was performing on local radio with
his father and mother as a young boy. He began playing guitar at age 14, and touring
with other musicians at 16.
Though he worked in the rodeo, as a truck driver and as a stunt man in his 20s, he settled
into a musical life, performing early on with Spade Cooley, Roy Rogers, Count Basie, Speedy West
& Jimmy Bryant and others.
His striking guitar work soon caught the attention of major producers, and he became an
essential member of the informal group known as “The Wrecking Crew.” And he released a
series of solo works in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s that highlighted his unusual tone
When Presley came to Los Angeles for sessions, he employed Mr. Strange as a player
and arranger, and the two became fast friends, riding motorcycles together and sitting
and playing with baby Lisa Marie Presley together.
Mr. Strange moved to Middle Tennessee in the early 1970s, and in Tennessee he ran a
publishing company for Frank and Nancy Sinatra.
Survivor, cause of death and memorial service information is incomplete.
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