INTERVIEWERS: Malcolm Boyden
SUMMARY: UK radio interview.
BROADCAST DATE: May 4th 2000
RUNNING TIME: 22 minutes 44 seconds.
KEY: MB=Malcolm Boyden
..........GP=Gene Pitney
..........P2=unknown presenter (poss. Jenny Wilkes)

(Transcribed from interview courtesy of Eileen Simms, England.)


MB: Right, it’s Boyden. We’re here for you between now and two. This man is a singing legend. He sold in excess of seventy-five million units - you see, I told you I’d got a special star to speak to today, and special he is an’ all. He’s coming to Wolverhampton, the Grand Theatre - put this date in your diary or circle it on your kitchen wall’s calendar: it’s the seventh of May, it’s Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre, the man himself is Gene Pitney. Gene, good afternoon and welcome to the West Midlands!
GP: Hi, Malcolm. Thank you very much.
MB: Lovely to have you on.
GP: Thanks.
MB: You just been telling me you’ve had trouble with your plane getting here...
GP: Ohhh!
MB: Ooh.
GP: It’s supposed to be in at least a day early, which, uh, is only the sensible way to go.
MB: Yes.
GP: Yeah, I went to the airport at home at, uh...I got up at four...I was there at quarter to five.
MB: Mm.
GP: Pouring rain - it was an awful day, but nobody’d call...I looked on the computer, everything was ‘Go’--
MB: Yes.
GP: --and I got up to the desk and the woman said “Oh, no.” She said “Your plane was hit by lightning last night.”
MB: Good heck.
GP: Yeah.
MB: Mm.
GP: I thought ‘Well, I don’t want that one.’
MB: No! (laugh)
GP: And she said, “It wouldn’t make any difference anyway--
MB: Mm.
GP: --’cos your flight from New York to London’s been cancelled as well.”
MB: Oh, dear.
GP: So, my only option would have been to go to Chicago...
MB: Mm.
GP: By way of Chicago...And I hate going backwards to go forwards, yeah?
MB: No good. No good.
GP: So, I looked at her - took about ten seconds - and I said, “Madam, I’ve been here before and I’ve done this before: I’m going home and go to bed.”
MB: (laugh) I don’t blame you!
GP: But then...That was the bad news then: I had to call my wife--
MB: Oh, dear.
GP: --and she was just crawling back into bed--
MB: The lovely Lynne.
GP: --and I had to say...Yes...And I had to say “Come and get me.”
MB: Oh, dear.
GP: So, she ambled over...Was there in a short time...And then had to do it all over again the following day.
MB: Well, at least you’re safe and here now--
GP: Yes. Yes, it was a lovely flight.
MB: --for another tour, and, uh - coinciding with the tour - ‘’Looking Through...’ - The Ultimate Collection’. This is a must, and not just for Gene Pitney fans but music lovers - I would say - everywhere. Fifty track compilation, all the classics over the decades. Smashing this, isn’t it?
GP: They do a wonderful job on, uh, putting out the product.
MB: Mm.
GP: I mean, it’s probably hard for anybody to understand well unless it’s somebody who knows what things should sound like.
MB: Mm.
GP: But, I’ve had some...uh...rehashes of some of the songs and things put out that were just absolutely awful - quality-wise they were terrible...I don’t know whether they were taken - lifted off of discs or what.
MB: Oh.
GP: But these people really do spend time to make a nice piece of product.
MB: That’s good. You still look...I was just having a look in a newspaper ‘cos they’re all writing about ya again on the new tour - well, they will be...You still look about twenty-three.
GP: Ah!
MB: You do though!
GP: What a nice man!
MB: You do!
GP: (chuckle)
MB: I know you take a lot of care. You are a fit Gene Pitney now ar-- Well, I say ‘now’, you have been for a while.
GP: I-I’ve always worked out and I’ve always taken care of myself, but--
MB: Mm.
GP: --the key to really being on top of my game and finding out a level that you can go to which I never knew existed was when my boys bought me a six-month, uh, time in the gym with a trainer...
MB: Oh.
GP: ...Personal trainer.
MB: Oh.
GP: And the difference...I’m pretty disciplined and I thought that I was pushing things to where they should go to--
MB: Yeah.
GP: --but a trainer will always make you squeeze out those extra, like, six reps--
MB: Yes (chuckle)
GP: --that you really don’t wanna do.
MB: Yes.
GP: But those are the ones that seem to make a difference.
MB: Oh.
GP: And I could tell that...The biggest thing was the stamina difference - when I was going out to do shows...U--oh...If anybody had told me that I could go in the gym in the afternnon, sweat for an hour and a half and do a full workout, and then - in turn - feel better--
MB: Yeah.
GP: --for doing a show in the evening I would have said “You’re out of your mind”, but that’s exactly how it works!
MB: Goodness me. I’m gonna take you back now. Born in Connecticut...Well, you’re still there, aren’t you, really?
GP: Right.
MB: Uh, middle child of five. Your dad operated the lathe, and fun for Gene Pitney in those days was trapping, skinning and stuffing the muskrats and the minks and the raccoons.
GP: Well, that was one of the things. Yeah, I was really an outdoor type kid more so than, uhh...I don’t know where it came from, but, I mean when other guys were gravitating to the normal baseball, football, soccer--
MB: Mm.
GP: --uh, I was a fishing, outdoors, ice skating...
MB: Yes.
GP: And trapping was kind o’ unique even then - I mean, it’s kinda like being a shepherd today, you know, you...There aren’t many of them left.
MB: No. Was you a loner, would you say, in them days, Gene?
GP: Yeah, I was--...O--um...I was a loner...uh...I’ve always tried to, like, qualify it so doesn’t sound like that I was somebody who went and stood in the corner, you know?
MB: No.
GP: That wasn’t true. But I just loved the outdoors.
MB: Mm. The story goes like this: you once tried to skin a skunk, and your mother needed forty-eight bottles of air freshner by the time you’d finished with it.
GP: It was, uh--
MB: (chuckle)
GP: --awful. I mean, it really is a funny story. And we didn’t realise what we were doing...I say ‘we’...My trapping partner was Kazma Kanoff...
MB: Wonderful.
GP: He was a character and a half.
MB: Yeah.
GP: This was a Sunday - I think it might even have been around, um, Easter time.
MB: Oh!
GP: I don’t know why I say that, but there’s something that, uh...’Cos I know my parents were gone the day we did this.
MB: Mm. (small chuckle)
GP: And I’ll make the long story short: we tried to skin the skunk...ummm...The skunk had so much fat on the pelt that we got half-way through it and thought ‘We can’t really do this’. Well, now, we didn’t know at this point that we had broken the sac--
MB: Oh.
GP: --on the skunk--
MB: Yeah.
GP: --and what it did was instantly knocked out our sense of smell.
MB: Ah.
GP: So we didn’t have any idea how bad things stunk.
MB: (chuckle)
GP: And I’m in the cellar of my home, right?
MB: Oh, dear, yes.
GP: So, we took it up into the garden...
MB: Yeah.
GP: ...and I said, you know, “We gotta get rid of this”. So, we dug a hole and I buried it. We came back down to the house, talked about it, and I thought ‘You know, a dog is gonna dig that up, drag it home and I’m the one that’s gonna get yelled at for this’.
MB: Yeah.
GP: So, we went back up, dug it up again, bought it into the house and made the fatal mistake: we put it into the furnace--
MB: Oohhh.
GP: --which was a hot-air, wood-burning furnace.
MB: Mm.
GP: Threw it in there - again, we can’t smell anything.
MB: No.
GP: Well--
MB: (laugh)
GP: --nobody was home, but when my parents walked through the door, shoulda see the look on their faces!
MB: I can imagine!
GP: Kazma went home - they made him burn all of his clothes--
MB: Oh.
GP: --and he had to sleep in the barn that night.
MB: Oh. (chuckle)
GP: (chuckle) And, when I went to school...
MB: Mm.
GP: ...That must have been...Yeah, that was on a Sunday...
MB: Yeah.
GP: When I tried to go to school on Monday, we didn’t have enough books in our classes, uh, so we had to share and sit with someone to do the
MB: Wow.
GP: The kid that was sitting with me put his hand up, went outside with the teacher, and she came back in and she said to me - she took me outside...She said “Gene, we think you should go home for the rest of the week--
MB: (laugh)
GP: --and come back--
MB: Well.
GP: --next Monday.”
MB: Well, at least you got off school for a week!
GP: Yeah, I know, but - God! - I must have stunk to High Heaven--
MB: Terrible.
GP: --and I still didn’t know it.
MB: You say about ice skating...It was on your way to ice skate that - I don’t know - Fate may have took a hand, and you nipped into a guitar shop for lessons.
GP: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s something very strange about that. I mean, I...I was going ice skating, I was on my own...It was winter time...uhh...I was skating and I realised it starting to snow and I didn’t have any snow tyres on my car.
MB: Oh.
GP: So, I went up, got in the car and thought ‘I better get out o’ here and drive home’ - it’s about, maybe, ten, twelve miles from where I lived. On the way I went by a shop that’s still there today: Duvaldo’s Music Shop.
MB: Wow.
GP: And I’m not an impulsive person, and I don’t think I had any inkling of wanting to do it, and I stopped and I signed up for guitar instructions.
MB: Mm.
GP: And I don’t know where that ever came from.
MB: No.
GP: And, like you say, that may have been, uh, a fateful step ‘cos if I hadn’t done that I’m sure that nothing else would of progressed from there.
MB: You learnt four chords straight away and ‘Bang!’ you was in.
GP: That’s all you needed in those days.
MB: Ohh.
GP: The songs were either three chords or four chords--
MB: Mm.
GP: --and, uh, it came very easy to me, and I started really hearing harmonies from that - from the harmonies that come from the different strings on the guitar.
MB: Mm.
GP: So, the next step was to start a band in school, uh, which I did with the only other players we had ‘cos we were a very, very small high school.
MB: What was you called?
GP: Ah, had to be didn’t it? ‘Gene Pitney and The Genials’.
MB: Fantastic.
GP: (laugh)
MB: It did! It had to be.
GP: Had to be at that time.
MB: Had to be! And you started writing, and you had a lot of success at writing. You wrote ‘Hello Mary Lou, #good-bye heart!#’ and ‘Rubber Ball’, amongst others.
GP: Yes. Th--Those were...’Hello Mary Lou’ is still a huge - I mean, it’s the biggest copyright that I ever wrote.
MB: Really?
GP: I mean, that thing is still so...Well, what I tell people - and this is the truth - I could actually live on the income from that song today.
MB: Wow.
GP: And you’re talking thirty-five years ago--
MB: Yeah.
GP: --wrote that song.
MB: Goodness gra--...Did you know when you wrote it it would be so big? Did you have a feeling again?
GP: I...
MB: Was Fate sort of playing a hand?
GP: Didn’t have a clue.
MB: No.
GP: Didn’t have any idea. I was just writing a song - I had in my head the line ‘Hello Mary Lou, goodbye heart’--
MB: Yes.
GP: --and I just knew that if I could wrap a song around that - that line - that I thought that it could be a successful song. But I didn’t know anything about what transpired after I did the demonstration record on it. I never knew who it was going to. I mean, when I heard the recording by Rick Nelson I was in the car in Philadelphia - I was doing promotion on my own song that was out at the time.
MB: Yeah.
GP: And I was fiddling with the radio. And on the radio came my song sung by Ricky Nelson.
MB: Wow.
GP: I almost fell out of the car.
MB: (laugh)
GP: I couldn’t believe it.
MB: Uh, did you know then that it was going to be big, or, still, didn’t you have an idea, really?
GP: Oh, no. I thought so for two reasons: they did a great job on it.
MB: Yeah.
GP: Uhh, the guitar riff in the middle was very important to it. James Burton they bought in--
MB: Ohhh.
GP: --who played a great, uh, guitar lick that really pushed the song.
MB: Mm.
GP: And the fact that Rick Nelson was huge at the time. Rick Nelson had the, Nelson Family Show...uh...television show that was on weekly.
MB: Mm.
GP: And if you had a song that he sang during that show and it was a decent song, I mean, it was a hit.
MB: A-oh.
GP: So, I mean, I just thought ‘phew!’.
MB: Your ship’s--
GP: Wonderful.
MB: --come in (laugh)
GP: Yeah! Absolutely.
MB: Then, what...Then what, Gene, uh, made you go into a recording studio - having been successful as a writer - made you go into a, uh, recording studio and record a thirty dollar demo called ‘I wan--’...’I Wanna Love My Life Away’. A thirty dollar demo, which you sang yourself.
GP: Well, it was only meant to be - as you say - a demo to present that song to a different artist to record.
MB: Ohh!
GP: No different than the other things--
MB: Oh.
GP: --that we were doing.
MB: Oh, I see.
GP: And that’s why we didn’t have any money - myself or my publisher - so the fact that I could play guitar, piano and drums, uh, we did them as cheaply as possible.
MB: Mm.
GP: And I sang all of the, um, ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Ahs’ and ‘Bop-bops’ and things in the background.
MB: Mm.
GP: And I was too close to it, where I would never have realised this, but when the session was over it was the publisher who said “You know,” he said, “I think that this can be a hit just like it is.”
MB: Yeah.
GP: And they discussed it with the record company and ‘bingo’ they put it out and it was put out as the demo.
MB: You know, they’re still trying to decide where twenty-four hours from Tulsa actually is in England.
GP: Don’t ask me again!
MB: I know.
GP: I-- I don’t know!
MB: I know. They’re s-- It’s come up all over again this weekend in the papers, ‘now, where is twenty-four hours from Tulsa?’ Well, are you going by plane, car, train. Are...Uh...You must get asked all the time.
GP: If you stop--
MB: (chuckle)
GP: --how fast is your vehicle...
MB: Yes! Yes!
GP: --going? Yeah.
MB: If you stop, how many breaks have you got to take?
GP: I never asked Bacharach and David...I really should - put them on the spot and say, “Alright, look--
MB: Yeah.
GP: --I get this everywhere I go--
MB: Yes, you tell me.
GP: --where the hell did you get the idea from?”
MB: It was tailor-written by Bacharach and David for you this one, wasn’t it?
GP: Yeah. They, uhh - especially Burt - could listen to you a couple of times, hear you in the studio a couple of times, and by then he pretty well had it down as to what your strengths and your weaknesses were...He knew how to write and where to write for you.
MB: Oh.
GP: So when you hear ‘#Dearest, darling,#’ - that little (makes gravelly growl sound) (Transcriber's note: there’s no better way to describe it!) --
MB: Yeah.
GP: --he wrote that in there purposely.
MB: Did he really?
GP: Yeah. He also sings that way, so it w-- fit...It was very easy to do.
MB: I’ve had a e-mail come - hope you don’t mind - from David Clark about ‘24 Hours From Tulsa’. I don’t know if it’s right, I’ve gotta ask the man himself - you’ll put us right.
GP: Uh-oh.
MB: No, it’s okay!
GP: Okay.
MB: ‘If you listen very carefully,’ says David, ‘about two minutes thirty-six seconds into the song is one of the guitarists giving the signal that he’s made a mistake?’
GP: Yes. He’s going ‘ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding-ding’. This was a normal practice in a session because when you recorded live back in the Sixties, uhh, you were trying to get usually four songs into a three hour session.
MB: Yeah.
GP: And the musicians were - and these were big sessions with a lot of players, so the cost factor was, uh, very involved in this a musician made a mistake that he thought was a glaring mistake, in order to save time they would...If it was a trumpet player he would go ‘buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh-buh’--
MB: Oh.
GP: --right across everybody else playing to stop you immediately and then you could start - right away - start all over again. Well, the guitarist did do that, um, on this song, but Bacharach being Bacharach, and with the ears and the awareness that he has, he didn’t care - he said “No, that’s the take.”
MB: Oh.
GP: He said “We’re gonna take it anyway - doesn’t matter, we’re gonna leave that in there.” So, yes--
MB: (chuckle)
GP: --you are right.
MB: Well done, David! I’m gonna get it out. Everyone across the West Midlands, Coventry and Warwickshire now will be getting it out and waiting for two minues, thirty--
GP: (chuckle) Right.
MB: --six seconds to see if they can spot that, you know, now. What about your relationship with the Rolling Stones? Legend has it you came over - I think you did ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ on the telly - met the Rolling Stones and became very close, worked on their debut album and they gave you ‘That Girl Belongs To Yesterday’ in exchange. Is--
GP: Well...
MB: --that about it?
GP: No. I’ve read all that...That’s...That was a conjecture by somebody--
MB: Oh.
GP: --writing a bio or something.
MB: Oh, I see. Mm.
GP: I actually met them because my publicist was their manager - Andrew Loog Oldham.
MB: Oh!
GP: So, we got to know each other way before that...that show. They jus--...Just happened to be one of the things that we did together was the, uh, the ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ show.
MB: Mm.
GP: Umm...The session was just a, uh, situation where I was coming home from Paris, I think, at the time, stopped for one day in London and had a frantic call from Andrew Oldham who said, uh, “You gotta come in and help me at the session.” He said, “These guys not only won’t sing together, they...they hate each other today.”
MB: (chuckle)
GP: “We need a new record.”
MB: Oh.
GP: So, I ended up in there and Phil Spector pulled up in a big, black Rolls Royce. And, uh, they did something that I’ve seen before with...with these groups that always surprised me: they came into the session with one song--
MB: Mm.
GP: --and they needed two songs for a release, so they didn’t have a B-side.
MB: Oh.
GP: So what we did was play Twelve Bar Blues just to make an instrumental music of virtually nothing for the B-side so they had something.
MB: Mm.
GP: So, I played piano, and Phil played, uhh...they give him credit for maraccas...
MB: Yeah.
GP: What he actually was playing was...I had five fifths of Cognac I was bringing back Duty-Free, and I’d bought a fifth of Cognac with me...He was playing an empty Cognac bottle--
MB: No!?
GP: --with an American half-dollar. That was his--
MB: (chuckle)
GP: --instrument.
MB: Goodness me.
GP: Now, when you’re listening to ‘24 Hours From Tulsa’ to hear that ending--
MB: Yes.
GP: --play this next and hear the ‘clink-clink-clink’--
MB: Yeah.
GP: --in the rhythmns and the, uh, percussions ses--...part of the session.
MB: Marvellous. Well, that’s two things we’ve gotta do. We got some homework building up--
GP: (laugh)
MB: --already.
GP: Right.
MB: How much, uh, satisfaction did ‘Something’s Got A Hold Of My Heart’ and the number one with Marc Almond give you, now we’ve brought the story right on to almost the Nineties?
GP: Well, it was a unbelievably exciting period of time for me. I mean, all credit to Marc because, uh, I had nothing to do with the idea of re-doing that song.
MB: Ohh.
GP: I--It takes somebody else to, like, look at something that you did and say, “You know...” - which they did do - they said, “How would...” I got a call when I was on tour in the UK. They said, “How would you like to re-record one o’ your songs that was a hit with Marc Almond?” And I didn’t know who Marc was at the time - when they said “Soft Cell,” I knew ‘Tainted Love’. And I was in the middle o’ the tour, I was tired, I was in Bristol at the time, and I had to go overnight after the show into London, record my recording of it ‘cos Marc wasn’t even in the country--
MB: Mm.
GP: --and then go on somewhere up North to com--, know, finish up the last half of the tour. And I almost turned it down. Then I thought, ‘Nah. This is so off the wall you gotta try it.’
MB: Yeah.
GP: So, I did, ‘n’ I went in and I did, uh, two full...two or three full-length versions of the song the way that Marc had redone it, and then left. And the next time I heard it, he had come back, did his end of it, then cut them both up, stuck them together and - you know - you coulda sworn that we were standing next to each other.
MB: Yeah. Amazing. How much now do you go out on to the road because you still love going out and touring? How much of the buzz is there for you - we’ve got how many dates here, there’s a lot o-- lot o’ touring here...there’s a lot o’ dates here. How much is it you going out because ‘that’s what I want to do, thank you very much, and I’ll do it my way now’?
GP: Well, that’s the whole key to it, is doing it your way.
MB: Ah.
GP: I don’t do anywhere near as much as I used to do and that’s why I still really enjoy what I do.
MB: Yes.
GP: If I went back-to-back tours or anything like that...Well, let’s look at this one here: it’s twenty-one shows--
MB: That’s it.
GP: At the end of that twenty-first show I don’t wanna see a stage for a long time.
MB: Ah.
GP: I don’t wanna, ‘cos I’m gonna--... By that time I’m gonna have given it all away - probably more mentally than physically. And I wanna break after that, and I wanna quit in my--...get completely away from anything to do with, uhh, live performing. Uh, not so much the recording studio or music - that to me is a whole different jump, so that’s, uh, a break for me doing something different.
MB: I see.
GP: But I don’t wanna do the touring, the travelling - going from town to town. But by the time three, four months rolls around and the plane starts going overhead at home--
MB: (snort of laughter)
GP: --and I start hearing it--
MB: Yeah.
GP: --and then I know I’m ready.
MB: ‘He always gave his all’, I read about you in...We--...It was one of those Question-and-Answer things, and, uh, this was the bit on...on the gravestone, ‘What would you have put on your gravestone?’ - sounds morbid, I know, but--
GP: (small laugh)
MB: Yo--You replied with “’He always gave his all’.” and I think anybody that’s ever seen you will say “Yeah, that’s just about spot on, that is - he always gave his all.”
GP: When I get out there there’s no way I can’t do that when I’m doing a live show. I’ve had people say to me, like on a night where I wasn’t feeling well or something - they say, “G--”, you know, “Go out and do an easy show.”
MB: Yes.
GP: I can’t do one.
MB: No.
GP: Wish to hell I could! I can’t do an easy show...I have to go put everything that I’ve got left into what I’m doing, and then walk off and say “Okay, I...I did a good show.”
MB: Yeah. We’re looking forward to seeing you in Wolverhampton. It’s the Grand Theatre, seventh of May. I’m gonna give the box office number out now: it’s 01902 - so you see when you circled that date on your calendar, now you can act on it - 01902 42 92 12. Don’t miss it, he’s fabulous. And it’s lovely of you to spend the time to talk to us this afternoon, Gene. Thank you so much.
GP: My pleasure, Malcolm.
MB: Well done.
GP: Thanks very much.
MB: Thank you.
GP: Bye-bye.
<<’24 Hours From Tulsa>><During musical interlude (1min 29secs): MB: You got about a minute before the mistake. Listen for the ‘ping-ping-ping’. It comes after ‘#What can I do?#’...’What can’ is your cue. (chuckle) See what I mean>
MB: Did you get it? Did you get it? Did you--
P2: I got it! I got it!
MB: I got it. I’ll do it again for ya. Thank you, Gene. What a nice man.
P2: He was lovely.
MB: Nice man. Thank you. Aw, little ‘ting-ting’ on the end. 01902--...The Wolverhampton Grand...We like the Wolverhampton Grand.
P2: We love the Wolverhampton Grand!
MB: 01902 42 92 12. And here is the mistake - it comes after ‘#What can#’, and the guitarist goes ‘ping-ping-ping’ to tell them to stop. Here we go.
<<’24 Hours From Tulsa’ from line ‘#I hate to do this to you#’ (2min 31secs)>>
MB: There it was. Hear it?
P2: I did hear it!
MB: Yeah, it’s good, innit?
P2: It is.
MB: It’s informational this station is - informational! She was only the coalman’s daughter - oh, you could tell by the slack in her knickers! (chuckle)
P2: (laugh)
MB: Ay? Don’t care, do we, much?
P2: No, we don’t care.
MB: No.
P2: No. (laugh)
MB: Obvious.
P2: We might be told to care, but, we don’t--
MB: Yeah, we might...