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Gene Pitney 1941 - 2006

Gene Pitney

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

WITH his distinctive singing voice and a string of hit songs, such as Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa and Something’s Gotten Hold of my Heart, Gene Pitney became a legend in his own lifetime.

Born on February 17, 1941 in Hartford, Connecticut, he first gained a reputation as a musician while studying at the nearby Rockville High School. It was during this time that he became known as the Rockfield Rocket and formed his first band, Gene and the Genials.

But it was only after moving to New York that he found success. As a songwriter at the Brill Building, he worked alongside the likes of Carole King, Gerry Goffin and Doc Pomus. And it wasn’t long before he was penning hits.

These included Today’s Teardrops for Roy Orbison, Rubber Ball for Bobby Vee, and Hello Mary Lou for Ricky Nelson who is, in fact, often inaccurately credited as its songwriter.

In 1961, a collaboration with songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David, resulted in Pitney recording his first hit single, (I Wanna) Love My Life Away. It was followed that same year, by an even bigger hit, Town Without Pity.

The three men went on to co-write three of Pitney’s best known hits – Only Love Can Break a Heart, (The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance and, of course, Twenty Four Hours from Tulsa.

Pitney also worked with country music legend, George Jones, with whom he recorded an album of duets. And in 1964, he met The Rolling Stones and recorded the Jagger-Richards composition, That Girl Belongs to Yesterday.

His last American hit, She’s a Heartbreaker, was in 1968; while in the UK and after an absence of fifteen years, it was in 1989 with a new version of Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart, a duet with Marc Almond.

The song by British writers Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway had originally been a No. 5 solo hit for Pitney in 1967 and somewhat belatedly brought him his first UK Number 1 hit. It topped the charts for four weeks.

Although always more popular in the UK than America, Pitney was also highly regarded in Italy, Spain and Germany.

He died on April 5, 2006, of natural causes and only hours after performing live in Cardiff – part of a 23-date tour of Britain.