The morning began with the incomprehensible news that Gene Pitney was found dead in a Welch hotel room, after another fabulous performance the night before.
The tributes will start rolling in shortly. My quick take:
The best male interpreter of Bacharach/David songs. His version "24 Hours From Tulsa" is better than Dusty Springfield's, and for me to say that is sacrilegious, but it's true.
He wrote "He's A Rebel." 'Nuff said.
In the late 1990s, Gene Pitney headlined one of those multi-band Oldies Acts cavalcades that played at Riverport in St. Louis. Steve Carosello and I made the trek to the dreaded Shed to see this, feeling that even watered-down Pitney would be better than none at all.
I truly don't remember any of the other bands on the bill. Was one of them The Grassroots? But memorable was that, after a hot summer day, the night turned bitingly cold and windy after the sun went down. So cold, that people, devoid of jackets, started leaving in droves. By the time Pitney took the stage, it was about 45 degrees and maybe 400 people were left in the seats.
All of us survivors were rewarded. Gene Pitney took the stage in a formal suit with a full band, strings and a full horn section! Do you know how expensive it is to take a band like that out on the road?! He couldn't help but notice the sea of empty seats, but it mattered none. He performed as if it were a packed house of V.I.P.s at Madison Square Garden, and it was transcendent and magical.
His voice was flawless and powerful, his presence commanding. The band was spectacular, like listening to his entire catalogue with maximum fidelity. He played every single thing we wanted to hear, and then some, and improved on how personal favorites were remembered. That night, "24 Hours From Tulsa" brought tears to my eyes. "Town Without Pity" wasn't about teen agony, but just agony, period. "It Hurts To Be In Love" was thunderous.
It was a sensory overload; I can only recall snippets and emotions because my brain blew a joy fuse when the opening notes of "I'm Gonna Be Strong" sounded. It was just absolute perfection, and that it was shared by so few in such surreal circumstances made it magical.
It's no shock that Pitney had put on a "wonderful" show the night before his death. Because of the range and depth of his catalog, he could phone shows in and leave folks satisfied. Instead, he always delivered nothing but maximum quality with maximum passion with a voice that improved with every passing year. He was a truly unique artist, and he has left a gaping void.
Farewell, Mr. Pitney.