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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