Bill Pitman, a legendary session guitarist whose credits included Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Barbra Streisand, and more, died on Thursday night at his home in La Quinta, California He was 102.
According to the New York Times, his wife, Janet Pitman, said he died after four weeks at a rehabilitation center in Palm Springs, where he was treated for a fractured spine suffered in a fall, and the past week at home under hospice care.
Pitman was a member of the world famous Wrecking Crew, who were celebrated within music circles as the most accomplished session players in Los Angeles. Together, the group helped accompany—and, in many instances, elevated—some of the most popular recordings in history. In addition to his work with the Wrecking Crew, Pitman also played on many film and television scores.
The Wrecking Crew were a group of all-purpose, highly revered studio musicians who appeared on thousands of popular records–including massive hits such as “Mr. Tambourine Man” by The Byrds and “California Dreamin’” by The Mamas And The Papas. The instrumental work by this group of session men (and one woman) defined the sound of popular music on radio during the 60s and early 70s, meaning The Wrecking Crew can reasonably lay claim to being the most-recorded band in history.
The exact number of musicians in the loose collective of Los Angeles session musicians known as The Wrecking Crew is not known, partly because of the informal nature of the hiring and also because much of their work went uncredited.
Among the leading musicians who were members at various times in addition to Pitman were: Earl Palmer, Barney Kessel, Plas Johnson, Al Casey, Glen Campbell, James Burton, Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel, Jack Nitzsche, Mike Melvoin, Don Randi, Al DeLory, Billy Strange, Howard Roberts, Jerry Cole, Louie Shelton, Mike Deasy, Lyle Ritz, Chuck Berghofer, Joe Osborn, Ray Pohlman, Jim Gordon, Chuck Findley, Ollie Mitchell, Lew McCreary, Jay Migliori, Jim Horn, Steve Douglas, Allan Beutler, Roy Caton and Jackie Kelso.
The Wrecking Crew were incredibly hard-working musicians. “You leave the house at seven o’clock in the morning, and you’re at Universal at nine till noon; now you’re at Capitol Records at one, you just got time to get there, then you got a jingle at four, then we’re on a date with somebody at eight, then The Beach Boys at midnight, and you do that five days a week… Jeez, man, you get burned out,” recalled guitarist Bill Pittman.