Bill Pitman, Guitarist on Legendary Songs, Dies at 102

Bill Pitman, a guitarist and bassist who was a member of the legendary Wrecking Crew group of studio musicians in Los Angeles, died on Aug. 11. He was 102. Although few outside the music industry knew his name, his musicianship can be heard on Elvis Presley's "Blue Hawaii," Barbra Streisand's "The Way We Were" and The Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations." He played the ukelele on "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head," the Oscar-winning song from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

Pitman died at his home in La Quinta, California. His wife, Janet Pitman, told the New York Times the musician died after four weeks at a rehabilitation center in Palm Springs. He was being treated for a fractured spine he suffered in a fall.

Pitman was born in Bellville, New Jersey on Feb. 12, 1920, and grew up in Manhattan. After serving in World War II, he decided to pursue a career in music and taught himself the skills that would make him one of the most sought-after session guitarists. In 1951, he joined Peggy Lee's band, which helped launch his career. His big break came in the late 1950s when he replaced guitarist Tony Rizzi for a Capitol Records recording.

He soon caught the attention of Phil Spector, who asked Pitman to play on "To Know Him Is To Love Him." After the song became a massive hit, Pitman became a regular member of the musicians who made the "Wall of Sound" possible and played on the Ronettes' "Be My Baby." Pitman and the other "Wall of Sound" musicians would later become known as the Wrecking Crew, a name coined by drummer Hal Blaine.

The Wrecking Crew was a loose collection of top session musicians in Los Angeles who were used by almost everyone recording there, no matter the genre or record label. Their names rarely ever appeared on album covers, but they played on hundreds of hits and movie soundtracks. Pitman's guitar playing can be heard in Blue Hawaii, Torn Curtain, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, M*A*S*H, and The Parallax View. Pitman played the unique guitar sound heard in The Wild Wild West series. In recent years, The Wrecking Crew gained recognition as inductees to the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2007. Pitman was among the musicians interviewed for Denny Tedesco's 2008 documentary The Wrecking Crew.

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Pitman retired from session work in 1973 and began touring with acts. He moved to Las Vegas in the late 1970s to serve on the music staff at the MGM Grand Hotel. He continued contributing to music soundtracks until his full-time retirement in 1989. Pitman is survived by his third wife Janet; his son, Dale; his daughters, Donna Simpson, Jean Langdon, and Rosemary Pitman; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.