I was introduced to Gene Pitney when Annette’s brother Joe was getting married in Denver many years ago. I forget exactly how the multi-talented Pingel family figured I was the best one for the job, but nonetheless, I was asked to sing and play at Joe’s wedding. So, the song Joe and his lovely wife-to-be picked out? True Love Never Runs Smooth by Gene Pitney. Gene who? I asked. I’d never heard of him. I know, I know, you’re aghast at the thought. Just remember, I was raised on Alice Cooper and Ted Nugent. Anyway, I still remember Annette telling me to stop trying to sing like Gene Pitney; it wasn’t working for me. I didn’t care though, I had to try in order to get the feel of the song. She still gets me on that. Whenever I go to learn a song I sing like the artist that I’m copying. She tells me to cut it out ‘cuz I cant’ do it, I say I know, leave me alone, and usually by the time I have to sing it, I’ve figured a way to sing it normal-like. With the Gene Pitney song, I remember initially thinking, “no way can I do this song.”
So, the tape that Joe made for me to listen to for the wedding had some of his greatest hits on it, and over the years, I learned to absolutely love him. His vocal performance was second to none. Some of the songs that really stand out in my mind are: Half Heaven – Half Heartache, I’m Gonna be Strong and Only Love Can Break Your Heart. What starts off as a queer little sound ends up being powerful and confident. (Esp. I’m Gonna Be Strong.) Then, what you’re left with is this strength…wow, what a voice. His obituary from the BBC describes his voice as “at once plaintive and melodramatic.”
Well, still no word on the cause of death. He loved performing and did it ’till the last night of his life. That’s the way to go.