Gene Pitney Review
Back in the summer of 1986, I received a call from Gene’s manager at the time, Jack Thibault, asking me to put a band together FAST and hoof it out to Warwick, RI to finish a short East Coast tour that his current band was unable to complete. Jack called me because I may have mentioned in passing that, as a child, along with John Phillip Sousa and the Ray Conniff Singers, Gene Pitney was my man. His album, Sweet Sixteen, was my favorite, I knew all the parts, and was fast on my way to playing most of the instruments and adding a third part to the harmonies. So…we rented the Wallet’s school bus, grabbed 11 other musicians who were marginally as sane as I was and off we went. NY turnpike at night, the sax player hanging his head out the window to throw up, the roof of the bus leaking from the incessant downpour, the obligatory flat tire, but oh we had such fun; delirious, dizzy, free, soon-to-be-pop stars with Gene Pitney, The Town Without Pity man himself!
Gene had, for the most part, foregone touring in the states; this fact had given rise to such rumors as “he died of a brain tumor twenty years ago” (which I had heard and at times, almost believed myself), or, as Norm N. Night had written in his book of Rock and Roll history, “Rock On: Volume One”, “living as a recluse somewhere in Europe”. My guess is he had made a promise to Lynne, his wife and his three sons, David, Todd and Chris, to have a home life and to be ‘just Gene’ for awhile.
Anyway, we were off to a fine start…we got all set for the Warwick show. Rehearsal was called…I was positioned in front of the guitar player. I froze when I heard from behind me, “notes…notes!? Nobody said anything about notes!!” My terror sprang not only from the realization that my guitarist was not adept at sight reading, but that I was a bit in the same boat…nobody mentioned ANYTHING about charts (but now, looking back, of course there would be charts; how would you ever get 15 people to start and stop in the same place?)! Without a doubt the worst performance I ever turned in (I was playing bass guitar on this first tour). Lucky for us, Gene was a loyal guy, and though we didn’t deserve it, he put up with us and we finished the tour, 7 shows, a good deal more seasoned when we finished than when we started. Gene sang duets with country music superstar George Jones, and soul songstress Melba Montgomery. From 1959 to 2005, Gene’s worldwide discography included 57 singles and 49 albums. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002 (after EIGHT nominations!). On April 4, 2006, during a tour of the UK, he performed at St. David's Hall in Cardiff, South Wales, and received a standing ovation following his signature song Town Without Pity. The following morning he was discovered in his room at the Hilton Hotel in Cardiff, Wales, having died from natural causes. He was 65 years old.
Gene was the last of a breed of pop performers: tuxedos, spit and polish, totally scripted performances, generous in his praise, committed to using real instruments (a string and horn section) when all around him were caving to the MIDI craze. He was sane, fair, calm, drug-free, a very ordinary man (by his own admission) with an extraordinary gift. When I was at the funeral… that’s when I came to understand him. He was, to everyone, 'just Gene', but on stage, in total command of his environment. We played a wide assortment of venues: from a Park and Recreation flatbed in Miles City, Montana to fabled Carnegie Hall. During the last few years, the traditional employer/employee line began to blur, much, I believe, to the relief of both Gene and myself. Perhaps it was simply age, perhaps it was the genuine kindness and loyalty he felt for me as I was going through some tremendous upheavals in my personal life. It was a distinct honor to have performed with him for all these years, and I will miss him, we all will miss him, dearly.
We’re here tonight mostly to give us, the band, in a somewhat admittedly selfish way, a chance to revisit this wonderful catalogue, and to celebrate Gene Pitney and the music he loved and had made so much a part of the fabric of our lives. At the wake, there was a poster with this quote: “Thank you for coming to the show. My adventure continues every time I walk out on stage and I am happy that you are a part of it. These songs are timeless and I sincerely hope you enjoy them.” And with that being said, here we go!
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