'Tales From The Woods' wishes to raise a glass to singer/songwriter Gene Pitney who died upon the 5th April 2006 aged 65 whilst on tour in the United Kingdom.
Born on the 17th February 1941 in Hartford, Connecticut, he started writing songs whilst still attending the local Rockville High School; it was there that he formed his first band, Gene Pitney and the Genials. In 1959 he recorded his first single entitled ”Classical Rock'n'Roll” as half of the duo Jamie and Jane
At first he seemed destined to be best known as a songwriter, providing “Today's Teardrops” for Roy Orbison, the B side of “Blue Angel”, a top ten hit in 1960. Bobby Vee cut Pitney's song “Rubber Ball” which charted high on both sides of the Atlantic, a UK cover version by Marty Wilde no doubt helping the young Pitney’s bank balance. Later that same year, Ricky Nelson scored a British and American hit with “Hello Mary Lou”, which would prove one of Pitney's most durable compositions.
Meanwhile, Pitney was pursuing a parallel career as a performer, and his quite unique voice - a piercing, almost panic-stricken tenor - seized the ear of the public. In an era when songs from the movies were part of the stuff of the charts, he hit, in 1962, with “Town Without Pity”, the theme song from a Kirk Douglas United States army melodrama. He did even better the same year with the theme song “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” from a near classic western starring James Stewart and John Wayne.
Before the year was out, he hit number two in the US with Bacharach and David's “Only Love Can Break A Heart”, ironically denied the number one slot by his own composition, “He's A Rebel”, which he had given to Phil Spector to record with the Crystals.
The following year, staying with Bacharach and David compositions, Pitney hit with “True Love Never Runs Smooth” and, of course, the song which will forever be his calling card, “24 Hours From Tulsa” (1964) climbing to number five in the UK charts and fixing Pitney securely in the affections of the British listeners.
Through an introduction to Andrew Loog Oldham the then manager of the Rolling Stones, Pitney recorded the Mick Jagger-Keith Richards composition “That Girl Belongs To Yesterday”, making him the first artist to have a hit with a Stones song when they themselves were still recording cover versions. He even featured on the first Rolling Stones album.
Henceforth Pitney became a regular attraction in the UK, also building a loyal following in Italy, Spain and Germany, so much so that he became better known in Europe than in his homeland. Italians were doubtless beguiled by his rendition of “Nessuno Mi Puo Guidicare”, which won him second place at the San Remo Song Contest of 1966.
By far, though, his biggest hits were in the UK. “Backstage” reached number four in 1966, and “Nobody Needs Your Love” did even better, hitting number two the same year. The following year, 1967, out of step with the summer of love, he scored a top five hit with “Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart”. It was his last major hit until the same song went to number one in 1989, re-recorded as a duet with Marc Almond, he of Soft Cell fame.
In the latter part of his career, Pitney earned the bulk of his income from touring rather than recording, particularly in the UK where he would regularly tour twice a year, earning himself a plaque from the Gene Pitney appreciation society. Fitting that he should die here in a hotel bed at the Cardiff Hilton just hours after being enthusiastically received at a concert at the city’s St David’s Hall.
He is survived by his wife Lynn and sons David, Todd and Chris.