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Billy Strange Comments
Billy Strange

(His parents were both guitar players, and as a five-year old, Billy Strange sang on his dad's radio show; by the time he was ten, he had picked up his first guitar. Later on, as a full-time professional, he began branching out, playing all sorts of club dates, and in the early '50s in LA., he began cutting demos that led to studio work. Like all the versatile players of his era, he could play with Tennessee Ernie Ford on "Hometown Jamboree with Cliffie Stone" one day and then with the likes of Nelson Riddle, Frank Sinatra, Nat "King" Cole or Elvis Presley the next. By the early sixties, he and Glen Campbell had become the two busiest guitar players in town, and as a member of Spector's regular studio orchestra, it was no surprise when Billy got the call to play with Brian at Western Studio 3.)

BILLY: "Working with Brian was always an experience unlike working with anybody else. Over and above his composing, the man's brilliance shown through as an arranger. He would build things in his mind, and then try to convey them to you. He would play it to you on piano, and we would spend so much time, sitting and listening, waiting for what was gonna come out of his mouth next. The man was a genius when it came to putting harmonic lines together. The chord structures were just brilliant. We didn't know the name of the song; we just knew it was building into a helluva feel. Two months later, you would hear the finished product, and it sounded completely different but everything melded together in a perfect manner. There were never vocal mistakes. He was very much influenced by the pop musical sounds of that era and integrated it into his writing and arranging. There were several pop vocal groups that were successful back then, like the Hi-Los, and Brian took some of those harmonies, those vocal attitudes and transposed them to the rock 'n' roll field and it was just marvelous.

"The session would start with Brian at the piano displaying something he wanted to hear; he played almost every instrument. He was able to sit at a piano and play not just a chord pattern but the inside movements within a given chord structure. There would be a bass line that would stand out, and there would be inside movements like a raised third or a suspension of sorts built into a chord pattern. He didn't say 'Play an E9 Suspended 4th.' Rather than verbiage, it was more 'show and tell.' It was a teaching process and a learning process for all of us; we all gathered little bits and pieces of what he was doing. But his attitude in the studio was always so creative, so giving. Like, 'I'm creating something brand spanking new and if you just listen, I'll teach you.' We would do it our own way, trying to emulate what he was laying down for us.

"Everything he did was so innovative; at that time that you couldn't help but be impressed by his final outcome. It was unlike anything else any other writer/producer was doing. We were playing with rock 'n rollers like Jan & Dean, and Spector had the black sound, but Brian's things stood out because they were musically different. If Brian could have been something, he would have been the Rachmaninoff of rock 'n' roll. He was writing things that varied from the three-chord genre of blues and rock. He was coming up with things that were very classical. Very classical musical moves in his rock. His ballads were just dynamite. They could have been cut by Sinatra.

"Wild things happened on practically every date. We would be called for sessions, and in those days, there were no cartage companies, so you carried everything in your car, a ukulele and a banjo and three different types of rhythm and four electric guitars and amplifiers. You were called to play stringed instruments, and you carried everything into the studio. With Brian, there was always experimentation of qualities of sounds. It was more the quality of what you played than the line. The sound color that he was able to build in, not so much the basic tracks. Brian's forte was building things that were different musically, then on top of it, the overlay of vocals used to astound me."


"I had just gotten a divorce, and I had my son one day a month. Brian called me on that Sunday. I had gone to pick up my son, and he tracked me down at my ex-wife's house in the Hollywood Hills. He said, 'You gotta come to Western 3 right now and listen to this right now and see if there's something you can do on it I said, 'I have my son, and I don't have a guitar.' He said, 'Don't worry about it.' So we went there, and he played it for me. It was 'Sloop John B.' He said 'What I need is an electric 12-string guitar solo right here.' I said, 'Brian, I don't even own an electric 12-string.'

'So he called Glenn Wallichs at home, the owner of Wallichs Music City and he sent somebody down to the music store. [Wallichs was one of the founders of Capitol Records; his store was located on the northwest corner of Sunset and Vine] They opened the store up, got a Fender 12-string and a Fender Twin amplifier, brought it to the studio. I tuned it up. I made one pass at this thing, it was either eight or sixteen bars, and Brian was happy with t. He said 'That's it.' He reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of bills and gave me $500 and said 'Don't forget to take your guitar and amplifier.' That's the kind of guy he was.

'One time, there was a song we were recording, and Brian was just not happy with what was happening with the bass pedals on the organ. We recorded and recorded trying to get this thing right. Brian ended up laying down on the floor, under the bench, playing the bass notes with his hands. Whoever the other piano player was, said 'I can do that.' And sat down and played it. Brian said, 'No, it doesn't sound right with your feet! So the guy lay down on the bench and played the bass pedals with his hands. Every session was something else. And every time you would hear one of those tracks on the air, driving to work, you would recall things from the date.

His songwriting, combined with his genius for production...his innovative and very contemporary thinking and leadership...all came together to create what was, and will continue to be, an era that will live in our musical history.

There was never a man more dedicated to his craft than Brian Wilson. It was simple. If he wasn't happy with what he heard, Brian wouldn't let it come out until it was perfect. His love for the music and the process by which he creates it were, and still are, a marvel to behold. Very simply, he is one of the most talented human beings who ever walked into a recording studio.

Brian's music will live on long after all of us, hopefully, are playing in that 'much larger rock and roll band' with all the rest of the greats who have gone before. What a show that will be! I imagine that Brian will be arranging and producing for us all."

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