Bill Pitman

Birth name William Keith Pitman
Born February 12, 1920 (age 97)
Belleville, New Jersey, U.S.
Genres Jazz, rock, pop
Occupation(s) Session musician
Instruments Guitar, bass

William Keith “Bill” Pitman (born February 12, 1920) is an American guitarist and session musician.

As a first-call studio musician working in Los Angeles, Pitman played on some of the most celebrated and influential records of the rock and roll era. His mastery of the guitar placed him in high demand for popular music recordings, television programs, and film scores. The style and range of his playing covered a wide spectrum, from the distinctive ukulele in the Academy Award-winning song “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” to a rich-sounding Danelectro guitar that gave The Wild Wild West its unique musical signature.

Pitman developed an interest in music at a young age when his father worked as a bass player on staff at NBC in Rockefeller Center. During the Great Depression, Pitman’s father was able to make a very good living doing freelance work, radio shows, and movie soundtracks all while still employed at the network.

When he was five years old, Pitman knew he wanted to be a musician. He tried several different instruments, including the piano and trumpet, before finally settling on the guitar. Lessons from John Cali and Allan Reuss taught him fundamentals and technique on the first guitar he ever owned, a D’Angelico. When it came time to apply for his Local 802 union card, he had no trouble passing the test before they recognized his name and said, “Oh, Keith Pitman’s son. Well okay.”

While in high school, Pitman went up to 52nd Street in Manhattan to listen to jazz pioneers like Charlie Parker. Pitman was strongly influenced by guitarists Charlie Christian and Eddie Lang, and soon befriended Shorty Rogers, Shelly Manne, and Eddie Bert, with whom he spent countless hours playing music.

After serving in World War II, Pitman headed west to California where he attended the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music and Arts. He then devoted his efforts to practicing the guitar and reading music. Guitar books geared toward reading music were virtually non-existent at the time, so Pitman used books for other instruments to acquire his sight reading skills. Oboe books were especially prized because they described the same range as the guitar.

By 1951, Pitman had grown confident that he could play as well as many of the guitarists in the jazz clubs of Los Angeles. While visiting a nightclub where Peggy Lee was performing, Pitman struck up a conversation with guitar virtuoso Laurindo Almeida, who was playing in her band. Their talk led to an audition, landing Pitman a job with Lee that launched his professional music career.

After three years with Peggy Lee’s band, Pitman accepted an offer to play on a radio program called The Rusty Draper Show. His three-year stint on that broadcast led to studio work when guitar player Tony Rizzi asked Pitman to sit in for him on a Capitol Records date.

During the latter part of the 1950s, Pitman sat in on sessions for established recording artists like Mel Tormé, Buddy Rich, and Red Callender. However, rock and roll was gaining popularity, and a chance encounter with Phil Spector placed Pitman among the earliest members of an élite group of session players.

In 1957, Bertha Spector asked Pitman if he would teach her son how to play jazz guitar. After three months of lessons, young Phil Spector continued to struggle with the concept of meter, leading both student and teacher to conclude that Phil was probably not cut out to be a musician.

The following year, Spector cut a demo for a song he had written, and then asked Pitman if he would play it for his colleagues on The Rusty Draper Show. The song, called “To Know Him Is to Love Him,” generated considerable interest, and was eventually financed. Shortly thereafter, Pitman received a call from one of Spector’s representatives asking him to play on a recording session for the song at Gold Star Studios. The record became a huge hit, causing Pitman to be invited to all future Phil Spector recording dates. Indeed, when Spector produced the enormously popular record “Be My Baby” in 1963, he named the jam session on the flip side “Tedesco and Pitman,” after two of his favorite guitar players: Tommy Tedesco and Bill Pitman.

Given the popularity of Spector’s records, Pitman and the other musicians who created the Wall of Sound became the first choice of nearly every major record label in Los Angeles. Hal Blaine would later call this group The Wrecking Crew, and their anonymous talents accompanied musical artists from The Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra.

When Columbia Records decided to take a gamble on a new band called The Byrds, they insisted on seasoned musicians being brought in to record the instrumental tracks for the first single, because the band had not yet musically gelled yet. Consequently, the men who joined Roger McGuinn in CBS Columbia Square on January 20, 1965 were not members of The Byrds, but session players Larry Knechtel, Hal Blaine, Jerry Cole, Leon Russell, and Bill Pitman. In three hours they recorded two songs, one of which, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” became a sensation. However, when sessions for the band’s debut album began in earnest, Terry Melcher was satisfied that the group was now competent enough to record their own instrumental backing.

Personal life

Pitman lives in La Quinta, California with his wife Jan, to whom he has been married for 32 years. He spends his retirement playing golf at the local country club, and occasionally participates in panel discussions of The Wrecking Crew documentary film.

Selected discography

During his tenure as a session musician, Pitman played on an extensive number of recordings. Listed below is a sampling of the studio dates chronicled by the American Federation of Musicians.[12]


Southern Breeze (Jeri Southern with Marty Paich’s Dek-Tette)
Invitation (The Guitars Inc.)
Guitars at Christmas (The Guitars Inc.)
Whatever’s Fair! (Howard Roberts)
Guilty! (Howard Roberts)


“The Lonely Bull” (Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass)
“A Taste of Honey” (Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass)
“San Fernando” (Baja Marimba Band)
“Good Vibrations” (The Beach Boys)
“Mr. Tambourine Man” (The Byrds)
“The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” (Jan and Dean)
“Surf City” (Jan and Dean)
“Out of Limits” (The Marketts)
“The Lonely Surfer” (Jack Nitzsche)
“Hey Little Cobra” (The Rip Chords)
“Be My Baby” (The Ronettes)
“Let’s Go (Pony)” (The Routers)
“Strangers in the Night” (Frank Sinatra)
“These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” (Nancy Sinatra)
“Deep Purple” (Nino Tempo & April Stevens)
“The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (Bobby Vee)

Selected filmography


Blue Hawaii (1961)
Torn Curtain (1966)
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
Goodbye, Columbus (1969)
Paint Your Wagon (1969)
M*A*S*H (1970)
The Omega Man (1971)
The Parallax View (1974)
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982)
Dirty Dancing (1987)
Goodfellas (1990)


Bonanza (1959)
The Deputy (1959)
The Wild Wild West (1965)
The Roger Miller Show (1966)
Ironside (1967)
Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In (1968)
Adam-12 (1968)
The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour (1969)
The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour (1971)

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