The music community lost a legend today, and for my family lost a dear friend. For those of you who have been reading the news, singer Gene Pitney passed away today at the age of 65 while on tour in Cardiff.
I know this is a U2 website, and a U2 blog – but U2 share some of the same distinctions, including both being in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Most will read about his many musical accomplishments in the various news articles that are forthcoming from all of the news agencies. Many will also read about how he collaborated with such acts as Marc Almond, Roy Orbison, Ricky Nelson and others on songs like “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart,” “Today’s Teardrops,” and “Hello, Mary Lou.” His lyric writing on the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel” and with Bobby Vee’s and Marty Wilde’s “Rubber Ball” will also be mentioned. He recorded with Phil Spector, wrote with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, all the while shaping the music scene in the 60s. Not to mention, he is attributed to helping the Rolling Stones break into the American music scene through his public endorsement and support. He even recorded with Mick and Keith.
After knowing him for my entire life, his greatest collaboration by far is his family. Family was the most important thing to Gene, and it showed. He made a thoughtful decision many years ago to reduce some of his musical commitments so that he could be home as his sons were growing up. His family is one of the most cohesive families I’ve ever seen, and that is a testamony to his love for them all.
I’ve had many opportunities to speak with Gene about a variety of things, but one conversation keeps at the forefront of my mind. The topic was on today’s music scene and how it has changed over the years. The main difference is in substance and melody and how so much of today’s music is lacking that. He spoke of artists like David Gray and Robbie Williams as having that special talent to have music with style and substance. (He covered Robbie’s song Angels when I saw him perform a year ago). He wished that more musicians and more people in the industry would place a higher value on the artform of the melody. (Yes, he did speak highly of U2’s music too – of course I asked him about U2!)
Gene also put my hometown of Rockville, Connecticut on the map of rock and roll. It was through his love of music that I became interested in it. He had the special quality to remain down-to-earth and humble, teaching me at an early age that it is possible to be a world-class entertainer and celebrity while at the same time being a supportive husband, father, and good friend.
His music will live on, as will his influence on musicians yet to come. And, like a rubber ball, he will continue to come bouncing back to us. Thank you for everything, Gene.