Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

Billy Strange: Mr. Guitar (et al)

It is surprising (and yes, strange) that, given the breadth of his recording career, Billy Strange is not more widely recognized for his contributions to the field of recorded music.  *This impressively-detailed chart [*no longer on the web, unfortunately] lists Billy Strange’s recording history in its (near)entirety, not only as an artist but also as a guitarist, session leader, arranger, producer, conductor, vocalist, and/or songwriter for other artists.  Scanning this information, I am reminded that Strange figured prominently in Elvis‘s “Clean Up Your Own Backyard,” as well as Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood’s “Greenwich Village Folk Song Salesman” – the celebratory focus of two prior pieces.

Scrutinize this chart carefully, and all kinds of interesting details emerge —

  • Pet Sounds includes some of Billy Strange’s 12-string guitar work
  • Strange was the musical director for Aretha Franklin on ABC TV’s Sounds of ’68
  • Strange played with Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys in the early 1950s
  • Strange was session leader/guitarist for Clairol’s 1965 “Summer Blonde” ads
  • That’s Billy’s guitar playing you hear on The Munsters‘ theme song
  • Love‘s “Andmoreagain” from Forever Changes includes Strange’s guitar
  • Strange backed Tennessee Ernie Ford during his long successful Capitol run
  • Strange was session leader and guitarist on Wanda Jackson‘s Capitol albums
  • Frank and Nancy Sinatra‘s “Something Stupid” was arranged by Strange
  • Strange plays guitar on The Partridge Family‘s “I Think I Love You
  • Strange played on Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant‘s meteoric “Stratosphere Boogie
  • Years later, Strange would play Speedy West in The Coal Miner’s Daughter!


 LP cover festooned with electric guitars –

maximum eye candy

Billy Strange's Mr. Guitar LP

Mr. Guitar from 1964 would find Billy Strange near the beginning of a long run of albums recorded for the GNP Crescendo label.  “Where’s Baby Gone” – a Billy Strange original – is one of the album’s standout tracks:

“Where’s Baby Gone”

Billy Strange (1964)

“Where’s Baby Gone” would also enjoy release as a B-side — the song used to back Strange’s take on Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer‘s “Charade.”


Billy Strange 45


Billy Strange (and Speedy & Jimmy!) Played on a King Record

The July, 1952 recording session that produced Moon Mullican‘s swinging version of “Jambalaya,” according to The Billy Strange Discography, includes the playing of Strange – but were Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant also present on that date?  Mullican’s profile on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website would say yes – as it makes reference to a “King session with legendary musicians Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant and Billy Strange”:

Moon Mullican with Speedy West, Jimmy Bryant & Billy Strange


But did this recording session take place at King’s own Cincinnati studio (as it says in Michel Rupli’s King Labels) or at Hollywood’s Western Recorders (as PragueFrank indicates)?  Knowing how quickly Speedy West left Cincinnati in the mid-1940s for the West Coast, it’s really hard to imagine those guys traveling all the way to Cincinnati to record, given the great recording facilities in the Los Angeles area – thus, I have to go with PragueFrank.

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