Guitarist and songwriter Billy Strange dies at 81

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Billy Strange

Billy Strange

Grammy-nominated guitarist, songwriter and arranger Billy Strange, who helped make hits for Elvis Presley, the Beach Boys, and Frank and Nancy Sinatra, has died in Nashville, the Nashville Tennessean reported Wednesday. He was 81.

The cause of death was not announced.

“My dear friend, the legendary guitarist/arranger Billy Strange passed away this morning in Nashville,” Nancy Sinatra wrote on her Twitter page. “My heart is shattered.”

Strange wrote such hits for Presley as “A Little Less Conversation” and “Memories.” “A Little Less Conversation (Junkie XL Remix),” which he wrote with Scott Davis, was on the soundtrack of both the DreamWorks animated feature films Shark Tale (2004) and Megamind (2010).

He sang his own composition, “The Ballad of Bunny and Claude,” in the Merrie Melodies Bunny And Claude (We Rob Carrot Patches) (1968) and The Great Carrot-Train Robbery (1969).

“Limbo Rock,” which he wrote with Kal Mann, was hummed by Nancy Cartwright in the 1995 Simpsons episode Lisa The Vegetarian. It was originally a hit for Chubby Checker.

A member of the 1960s “Wrecking Crew” of Los Angeles-based session musicians, he was in both the Musicians and Rockabilly Halls of Fame.

William Everett Strange was born on September 29, 1930; he was born and raised in Long Beach, California. While still a young boy, he performed on local radio with his father and mother. At 14, he started playing guitar; two years later, he was touring with other musicians.

He worked in the rodeo, as a truck driver and as a stuntman in his 20s. However, he made music his career, performing early with the likes of Spade Cooley, Roy Rogers, Count Basie, and Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant.

Major producers noticed his guitar work. Strange joined The Wrecking Crew, playing on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds album. He also was on recordings by The Everly Brothers, Randy Newman, Willie Nelson, Nat King Cole and many others.

Strange arranged Nancy Sinatra’s megahit “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'”; he directing standup bass player George Burghofer to play the famous descending bridge. As well, he helped arrange “Somethin’ Stupid,” her duet with father Frank.

He was the guitarist on Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” later part of the soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

Presley hired Strange as a player and arranger when he came to Los Angeles for recording sessions. The two soon became friends, sitting and playing with baby Lisa Marie Presley and riding motorcycles together.

In the early 1970s, Strange moved to Middle Tennessee, where he ran a publishing company for Frank and Nancy Sinatra. He

He released a series of solo works in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Strange was married to singer and actress Joan O’Brien from 1954 until their 1955 divorce. They had a son, Russell Glen Strange.

His marriage to Betty Jo Conrad lasted from 1960 until their divorce in 1978. They had a daughter together, Kelly Kimberly Strange, and a stepson, from his wife’s previous marriage.

Billy Strange is survived by his wife since 1999, the former Jeanne Black, who also was a singer.

Memorial service information is not yet available.

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