Video interview by Jan Derrer
Videoreporter, Tagesanzeiger.ch Newsnet.
Interview With Billy Strange (11:50)
Guitarist-arranger-songwriter Billy Strange was a fixture on the L.A. music scene in the 1950s, '60s and '70s, a good chunk of which the Long Beach native spent among the group of studio musicians who later would be known as the Wrecking Crew.
That was also the time that Elvis Presley was working extensively in Hollywood on his film career, during which he and Strange became good friends, and Strange landed the role of musical arranger on three of The King's late-'60s films.
That relationship to Presley led Strange and lyricist Mac Davis to team up and write 'A Little Less Conversation', for the movie 'Live a Little, Love a Little'.
'I remember playing 'Conversation' for Elvis and he seemed to have a great time with it', Strange told the Washington Post in 2002. 'The song's not a world-beater, but Elvis loved it and he peformed it in his Las Vegas nightclub act for years'.
He was talking about a 33-year-old song in 2002 because it had returned to the charts again in a remix by Amsterdam DJ Junkie XL. That version made it only to No. 50 in the U.S. - still higher than the original recording's chart peak of No. 69 in 1969 - but went to No. 1 in Britain, which earned it a bonus spot on the hits compilation 'Elvis 30 #1 Hits', released that year (but assembled before 'Conversation' had reached the top of the pops overseas).
The song's return to the charts brought it a whole new fan base - thanks also to its appearance in the all-star remake of the film 'Ocean's Eleven'. Strange said, 'I'm thrilled to have written a hit song so old it has whiskers, and now it's vibrant and everybody's loving it again'. The income bump from the increased songwriting royalties was good news too: 'It's going to help with the house payments'.
One reason there was room for Strange and other studio players at those movie music sessions with Presley was that his original guitarist -- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Scotty Moore -- was so put off by the pedestrian material that he bowed out of participating in many of them, Moore told The Times several years ago.
'Elvis' records were always lesser than what he was vocally', Strange said in the same interview. 'He had more talent than he was ever able to show, particularly with the motion picture songs, which were not very good material. He was never happy with them, and therefore did not perform them well'.
Billy Strange co-wrote several songs for Elvis Presley with Mac Davis, including A Little Less Conversation for the movie Live A Little, Live A Little, which, while only a minor success on release in 1968, became a worldwide hit after it was heard in the 2001 film 'Ocean's 11' and then remixed by Junkie XL's for Nike and public demand made it an obvious choice for a single release which went number one worldwide in 2002.
Other notable Elvis Presley songs co-written by Billy Strange and Mac Davis are, Memories and Nothingville from Elvis' '68 Comeback Special, Clean Up Your Own Back Yard (The Trouble With Girls) and Charro! (Charro!) all written in 1968. Billy first played guitar on the soundtrack for Elvis' movie, it Happened At The Worlds Fair then on Viva Las Vegas and Roustabout. He received music director credits for Elvis' movies, Live A Little, Live A Little and The Trouble With Girls. Elvis asked Steve Binder to hire Billy as musical director for 'Elvis' known today as the'68 Comeback Special, however he was replaced by Billy Goldenberg.
Billy Stange and Elvis Presley : 'Elvis', The '68 Comeback Special.
Strange collaborated with renowned singer Nancy Sinatra for her 1967 James Bond theme You Only Live Twice and also arranged music for Somethin' Stupid - a duet with her father Frank Sinatra. One of his most famous and captivating performances is on Nancy Sinatra's version of Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down). The tremolo-heavy arrangement of the song had been critically acclaimed, but it wasn't until the song featured in 'Kill Bill' that it became world-famous. He had maintained a long working relationship with Sinatra, including arrangements on her hit These Boots Were Made for Walking. Nancy Sinatra who was heartbroken after learning about the death of her longtime collaborator posted on social networking site, 'My dear friend, the legendary guitarist/arranger Billy Strange passed away this morning in Nashville. My heart is shattered'.
The Rockabilly Hall of Fame and Musicians Hall of Fame inductee also collaborated with other rock legends like Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Willie Nelson, Beach boys and Nat King Cole.
Video interview by Jan Derrer