You may not know the name [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Billy Strange[/lastfm], but chances are you’ve heard his music–from his work playing on and helping arrange the Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazlewood hit “These Boots Are Made for Walking,” to the Nancy and Frank Sinatra duet “Something Stupid,” to songs by Elvis Presley, Dean Martin, and Willie Nelson.
Billy Strange passed away Wednesday, Feb. 22 at his home in Nashville. He was 81.
My dear friend, the legendary guitarist/arranger Billy Strange passed away this morning in Nashville. My heart is shattered.—
Nancy Sinatra (@NancySinatra) February 22, 2012
Born and raised in Long Beach, California, Strange picked up musical influences from, among other sources, performing on radio with his parents, and travelling the honky-tonk circuit as a teenager.
He also worked worked in the rodeo, as a truck driver and as a stunt man before settling into music. Early gigs included performing with such legends as Spade Cooley, Roy Rogers, Count Basie, and the amazing guitar duo of Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant.
As a writer, Strange penned “A Little Less Conversation” and “Memories.” He also wrote Chubby Checker’s hit, “Limbo Rock.” As a player, he became a member of the legendary L.A.-based session players the Wrecking Crew. Artists he played with included the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, and Nat King Cole.
He also released a series of solo recordings, which veer between playful and haunting–and cross frequently between pop, rock and country–but are always masterful.
Here’s his own (mostly) instrumental take on “Boots”:
Below you can watch Billy Strange accompanying Nancy Sinatra on a knockout, low-key version of her hit “Bang Bang”:
And hear Billy talk about writing the Elvis hit “A Little Less Conversation” in an outtake from the Wrecking Crew documentary:
Read more details about Billy Strange (and see some great pics) on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website.