Gene Pitney - Biography
By Nick Castro
Gene Pitney is one of the most famous, and endearing songwriters and singers on popular American music. Pitney is famous for songs like, "Town Without Pity", "I'm Gonna Be Strong" and "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa". His style of mature pop songwriting was a cross generational hit. He has written many successful songs, including some that have made it into the top 40. He has worked with many of the top names in the music industry, including George Jones, famed country singer, and Al Kooper, famed session player.
Pitney, born Gene Francis Allan Pitney, was born in 1941 in Hartford, Connecticut. He studied music as a child and acquired skills on many different instruments including piano, bass, drums and guitar. He began playing with his own groups while in high school, including Gene & The Genials, which was the first band that Pitney led. The group, The Embers, recorded four songs for a small label but they were shelved and did not see the light of day until they were unearthed and issued on CD in 1990. Around this time, pitney also began to collaborate with Ginny Arnell and recorded and Jamie and Jane. They recorded two songs, "Snuggle Up Baby", Strolling", "Faithful Our Love" and "Classical Rock and Roll". In 1960, Pitney recorded under the name Billy Bryan, issuing the songs "Cradle of My Arms" and "Please Come Back". These records did not sell well and it was not until later ventures that Pitney would make his mark. Later that same year though he would begin to receive, what would prove to be, a long line of accolades and attention for his work.
Something happened to Pitney though that would change his life. He was studying electronics, a skill which later helped him to become a competent recording engineer, when he met music publisher Aaron Schroeder.Pitney got signed with Schroeder, who began to place Pitney's works with high profile artists, such as Roy Orbison and Tommy Edwards. Many of Pitney's songs became hits, lie when he wrote the songs, "He's a Rebel", recorded by The Crystals, "Rubber Ball", recorded by Bobby Vee, and "Hello Mary Lou", recorded by Ricky Nelson. Pitney soon dropped out of school to pursue his musical career, which was just beginning to flourish.
Soon Pitney would make his first attempts and recording under his given name, Gene Pitney. He recorded and released the songs, "(I Wanna) Love My Life Away", backed with the song "I Laughed So Hard I Cried". The a-side made it to number 39 on the charts. Schroeder had heard the demo of the song, and loved it. Pitney had recorded the tune in his own time and with his own money. Schroeder released on his Musicor label. Aside from the quality of the songwriting, Pitney was also developing a production sound, due to his knowledge of electronics, which was unique for the time. He utilized the early craft of overdubbing parts and assembling them n the mixing room, which was still somewhat uncommon at the time.
Schroeder was friends with Phil Spector, who produced Pitney's next record, "Take Me Tonight", which failed to chart and caused the team to lose a lot of money, due to Spector's extravagant process of recording, which included hiring countless union waged session musicians who were racking up costs at an astronomical hourly rate. Pitney's followup song though, "Town Without Pity" was featured in a film, and the song garnered Pitney an Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe Award.
It was in Pitney's next collaboration though, was with the songwriting team Burt Bacharach and Hal David, who would later be responsible for such iconic songs as, "Walk on By" and "I'll Never Fall in Love Again". For Pitney, they wrote the song, "(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance", which was featured in a movie of the same name, which was directed by John Ford. Unfortunately, the movie was rush released and Pitney missed his chance to be featured on the soundtrack. Undeterred, Bacharach and David saw potential in Pitney as a singer and continued to pen songs for him, including "Only Love Can Break a Heart", "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa" and "True Love Never Runs Smooth". "Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa" was the only one to chart. It made in up to number 5 in the UK on a single backed with the song "Lonely Night Dreams".
By 1964, Pitney was becoming a well known name in England and the young Rolling Stones wrote a song for him to record called, "That Girl Belongs to Yesterday", which went to number 7 in England and was the first top ten hit written by the Keith Richards and Mick Jagger songwriting duo. Ironically, it was the British invasion that forced Pitney to use his ingenuity to maintain a successful career in music. He began to record songs for the American country market as well as recording songs for foreign language markets, such as those in Italy, Germany and Spain. In Italy he scored a hit with the song "Nessuno Mi Puo".
By the mid-60's it was becoming obvious that Pitney was having a hard time reaching the top of the charts in his home country so he tried a new direction. He began a collaboration with famed country singer, George Jones, and together they record a series of successful albums, including For the First Time! Two Great Singers (1965 - Musicor), from which they scored the hit "I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night", and the album, It's Country Time Again (1965 - Musicor). This new direction was successful for the duo and brought Pitney back from the brink of obscurity. Unfortunately, this success would prove short lived.
Pitney began to turn, once again, to Europe to find his success and even Australia. He remained a highly sought after songwriter there into the 70's and scored a number of hits. He had a slight resurgence in the late 80's and 90's when he was worked with Marc Almond and Nick Cave. Pitney also performed at the Carnegie Hall in New York City the day of the original World Trade Center bombing. in 2006 Pitney died in a hotel room in the UK.