Chicago Sun-Times
A community of voices on music, travel, foodways, sports and anything else that matters.

A Town Without Pity

| 11 Comments | No TrackBacks

11:42 p.m. July 22

Pop-rock singer Gene Pitney died on April 5.
I was on the road and unable to weigh in on his obituary. Unless you're Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, news moves faster than when Gene was turning out the hits; "Town Without Pity" (1961), "Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa," (1963) "It Hurts To Be In Love" (1964) and "Princess In Rags" (1965).
In 1964 Gene even dipped into the songbook of spaced out rock savant Joe Meek, when he had a minor hit with Meek's cheery "Lips Were Redder On You." Check it out.
Gene died of natural causes in his hotel room after a show in Cardiff, Wales. I don't have any obit in front of me, but he had been all over the world. He knew the reward of travel was understanding the warmth of home.

I caught up with Gene in August, 1988. He was living in his hometown of Somers, Conn. He had lived there his entire life. He told me how he spent his teenage summers slinging burgers as a cook at the Crystal Lake Beach Club in Stafford Springs, down the road from Somers. He was the leader of a high school rock band called Gene Pitney and the Genials and they played some of his earliest hits.
He enjoyed reliving those memories.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s the beach club fell into serious disrepair. Connecticut winters were cold and beach clubs weren't as cool as they were earlier in the decade. So in 1974 Gene and a New York cop took over operations of the club and restored it to its innocent splendor.
"And I don't wander around with a hat on and say I'm the owner," Gene told me. "I paint the fences, I do the plumbing, I do the electrical work. The ballroom part of the clubhouse, which is four stories high off the beach, burned down years ago. Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman played there in the 1930s. I had my work cut out for me in putting it back together again."
That's the way Gene did things. He was grounded. In 1970 he went off the road to help his wife Lynne raise their three boys. He did not want to miss watching his children grow up. Lynne was his high school sweetheart at Rockville High in Connecticut. And from 1970 until his death he promised to spend at least six months out the year at home. This led to weird speculation. Gene told me, "There's one guy out of New York named Norm N. Nite who wrote a book ["Rock On: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Rock n' Roll] that people take as a bible. In the first edition he wrote that Gene Pitney was a recluse living somewhere in the wilds of New England. Then they put out another edition and he changed it to: 'Gene Pitney is a recluse living somewhere in Europe.' I've been sitting here in Somers all along."
Gene was a major talent. His dramatic tenor influenced David Bowie. He could have replaced Roy Orbison in the Traveling Wilburys. I only saw him come through Chicago once, at a 1983 concert at the Park West. Besides his own hits, he wrote "Hello, Mary Lou" for Rick Nelson, "Rubber Ball" for Bobby Vee and "He's a Rebel" for the Crystals.
Gene had a million road stories, but one of the best ones was when he hooked up with Phil Spector during the Rolling Stones' "Not Fade Away" sessions in 1964. "Andrew Oldham was my publicist and he was also manager of the Stones," Gene said. "I stopped in London on my way out of Paris."
Cool!
"Andrew said he needed my help," Gene recalled. "The record company was screaming for another release and the Stones were in the studio, but they would not sing, nor would they even talk to each other. They hated each other. So a friend and I concocted this story---we had five fifths of Cognac we were bringing back from Paris. We took a fifth and went to the studio. Phil Spector arrived out of the blue in this big Rolls-Royce. I told everyone it was my birthday, and it was a family tradition that everybody has a water glass of Cognac. It did the trick. Everybody mellowed out and they got 'Not Fade Away' (originally recorded by Buddy Holly) out of the session. I loved the credits. They gave Phil credit for playing maracas. He was actually playing an empty Cognac bottle with a half-dollar."
Gene could tell jet-setting stories like that, but his heart was always back on the beach of his hometown, a place where the chords were always sweet and the skies were perfectly clear. Everyone has a place like that. Gene Pitney's good fortune was that he knew where it was.


No TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://blogs.suntimes.com/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/1105

11 Comments

Dear David.
Just read what you have written and can only say that it has brought a huge lump to my throat - your words are so very true - Unless you are a so called "Superstar" well nothing is said in mags - such a Pity.
Gene was a wonderful person, Husband, Father and my friend. Our hearts still go out to Lynne and his family - Gene will always be around us in his music and of course memories.
It was such a pity that God took him so early - then the good die young they say - but the rat-bags live on!!! I like to think of him singing with the angels up in heaven along with his friends and fans.
Cheers from Aussie - Gene should have been here within the next few weeks.
Oceans Away. Sue Briscoe
Gene Pitney Yahoo group and Fan club President for Oz 30 odd years.


Thanks Sue!
I didn't even get into "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," or how about Gene's vocals for the Paul Shaffer comic/documentary "Viva Shaf Vegas?" I think it was '87 or so, Paul blessed Louis Prima sideman Sam Butera as his hipster saint if memory serves.

Dear David,

Thanks for this wonderful article. It was so good to read about Gene, behind the scenes. Living life in his hometown and making a difference. Being a dad and husband.

He was a great man. As a fan, I will miss him. How tough it must be for all those in his life that miss him. His family is blessed to have had him for their own. They were so generous to share him with us.

Hello Dave!
Yes-unfortunately this seems to be the norm these days. The public's memory of any artist or public figure is fleeting.
So much emphasis is put on newer artists or celebrities today, that no mention is made to past individuals who helped carve a piece of history.
Case in point: I recently was asked to produce a reunion CD featuring the original Nashville "A" Team.
Of course Dave you know whom I am talking about, but for a great number of people today-these extraordinary musicians are just a name.
For ones who do not know, the "A" team were a group of first rate musicians responsible for creating the background music and sounds for such hit makers as Elvis, Roy Orbison, Patsy Cline and a host of others. To date, they have charted over 150 #1 hits and their music has appeared on all of Elvis' soundtrack movies. The musicians themselves won numerous "superpicker" awards sponsored by the Recording Academy.
I was just in Nashville last week and my good friend Harold Bradley and I were expressing our sentiments fully regarding all of todays hoopla on cookie-cutter artists
regardless to the fact that most of these individuals have lackluster talent but are still noteworthy of praise by the public and some media.
This also includes our script writers in Hollywood who for the most part are putting out mediocre material for movies and weekly series.
To sum it all up-it is important to review current trends, but let us not forget the history makers who helped carve the way for future individuals who are now filling their spots in entertainment history.

Hi Neil;
Very well put.
The stories in the shadows are often more compelling than the people in the spotight.

Take care, Dave

David, It certainly isn't too late to honor Gene's memory and I was happy to read your thoughts and experiences with him. I know that there are many of us who feel strongly about Gene and his music. One day I expect a movie score could be made up entirely or his songs, if someone in moviedom had a clue as to the wealth of the material. If you haven't heard some of the recordings he did in the 70's and later, you really should treat yourself.
Thanks again
Jill

That's a good idea, Pitney music to a movie.
I once had the idea of writing late songwriter Harlan Howard's biography through the songs he wrote.

Just came across your insightful article on the late Great Gene Pitney.

I grew up in his era, and most of his songs touched my soul. They were NOT bubble gum but poems set to music.

I may sound like a baby boomer, but to me, some of the so called stars of today in the music world, have a lot more dues to pay to reach the status of Gene Pitney's talent.

Thank you for your words about a legend, Gene Pitney. It was a pleasure to have met him and listened to his music.

Dave -
Just now came across your article and reader responses. Thanks! Gene ws a friend back in Rockville and, despite being only to touch base more often through email than catching up backstage at Carnegie, Boston's Wang and other Pitney triumphs, he remained who he was for himself, family, friends and fans (to him, the last two were relatively synonomous). Gene performed a few times at the Mohegan Sun Casino, not far from his Connecticut home. These were all great shows with attendees from around the blocka nd around the Globe - all loving it! Now, almost a year after his passing, we were just turning into one of Mohegan's parking garages this past Sunday en route to a concert when I flipped the radio to XM and there, on cue, came - right from the very first note - Town Without Pity.
Gene was still there at Mohegan. He'll always be there. His family is equally blessed in who they are and what he left for and in them. He loved them so.

Thank you sir. Gene was always a gentleman in my dealings with him..........Dave

During the Grammy Awards last evening, the Academy of Music gave Tribute to all the great musicians and songwriters that had pass away in the year of 2007. Gene got quite abit of applause when his picture graced the screen. He seemed to be quite a gentleman while in his hey day during the 1960's. I saw a funny clip of Gene and Dusty Springfield, it was quite humorous. As Gene led Dusty to sing into the audience, he kissed her hand, this gesture made her blush. That moment showed a great deal about what a nice person he must have been. I'm happy to hear that he was proud to be an American. What a great icon in music. He deserved to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2002). RIP

Dave,
I never met Gene Pitney; but his influence on my singing career (such as it is..) was immense. His vocals on songs such as Donna Means Heartbreak, Lats Chance to Turn Around, I Must be Seeing Things and of course Town Without Pity; absolutely were my guide as I learned to harmonize and put my whole soul into the song, just like Gene did. I loved every one of his hits and songs that people don't remember by the title, until you sing a chorus.
Gene has definitely been underrated by the public and the press for all these years. Shame on them all!
I briefly saw his appearance on the Grammy's and thought the sound techs didn't do him justice. That angered and saddened me.
I was simply devastated when I heard the news of his passing. The only two things that were good about it, to me, were that he seemingly died peacefully and that he had just finished doing one of his best shows.
No much comfort though, to those of us who will miss him as an artist, composer, and great human being.
I'm playing his song list as I write this comment. It just brings a tear and an overwhelming flush of that feeling; when you feel like you have known Gene Pitney all your life...... May his songs play, eternally.
Rick White
The Human Beinz

Dave,
Yes it is. I wish you had been at the Nat Rock Con, July 30th-Aug 1st. I would've liked to have met you.
Nobody But Me was the hit for the Human Beinz in 1968. It went to #8. We have been in the studio since May of 2010 working on new songs for 2 CD's.
Some are covers and many are new originals.
I hope it will be released in late September or early October.
Look me up on Facebook and send me a message, and we can exchange email addresses, ok?

Best to you,
Rick White - vocals
The Human Beinz

Leave a comment

Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

RECORD ROW


Chicago's Record Row In addition to being a resource for archived stories, this is a place to share anecdotes about Chicago's Record Row, to network about Record Row developments and an opportunity for locals and tourists to comment on their experiences along Record Row.

Pages

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David Hoekstra published on July 22, 2006 11:50 PM.

Diner Jukebox was the previous entry in this blog.

Bob Evans, RIP is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.