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Gene Pitney
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Gene Pitney album cover

Gene Pitney

Gene Pitney album cover

Gene Pitney was a star in the era before celebrity. There is no doubt that his international success as a pop singer was fortified by support at his home station, WDRC.

Gene Francis Alan Pitney was born in Hartford on February 17, 1940. During the 1950s he lived in Rockville where he sang in a high school band called Gene and the Genials. In 1959 he joined with Ginny Arnell to record songs as Jamie & June on the Decca label. As a solo act, Pitney was seldom off the charts from 1961 to 1969. Somewhere along the way he was nicknamed the Rockville Rocket by a Hartford deejay (though it isn't known which one). Having a local guy to promote as a bonafide national star was good for WDRC and Pitney.

Gene graced the Bushnell stage in two Big D Big Shows. The first was as a member of Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars on June 27, 1964 along with Major Lance, The Shirelles, Brian Hyland and fellow Nutmeg Stater George McCannon III. The second was on April 22, 1965 along with Bobby Goldsboro, The Bill Black Combo, Gary Lewis & The Playboys, and Chad & Jeremy. audio - April 1965 Here's a promo for that show.

While many of the earliest WDRC music surveys are lost, here's a partial discography of Gene's WDRC success:

(I Wanna) Love My Life Away (1961 WDRC charts unavailable)
Every Breath I Take (1961 WDRC charts unavailable)
Town Without Pity - November 6, 1961, #3 (incomplete data)
(The Man Who Shot) Liberty Valance - April 10, 1962, #41 (incomplete data)
Only Love Can Break A Heart - October 13, 1962, #2
Half Heaven, Half Heartache - January 1, 1963, #10
Mecca - April 9, 1963, #6
True Love Never Runs Smooth - July 16, 1963, #20
Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa - November 19, 1963, #30
That Girl Belongs To Yesterday - January 28, 1964, #57
It Hurts To be In Love - September 1, 1964, #5
I'm Gonna Be Strong - December 8, 1964, #8
I Must be Seeing Things - April 5, 1965, #20
Last Chance To Turn Around - May 31, 1965, #10
Looking Through The Eyes of Love - August 16, 1965, #30
Princess In Rags - December 6, 1965, #45
Backstage - May 16, 1966, #25

People sometimes forget that Gene wrote some of the biggest pop tunes of the 1960s for other recording artists, like He's A Rebel for the Crystals and Hello, Mary Lou for Ricky Nelson. The Crystals connection led to Gene recording Town Without Pity under the direction of the legendary Phil Spector. In February 1964, while America was discovering the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Pitney was with the Moptops in England at a birthday party for Ethel Merman! Even after his initial stardom faded Pitney found appreciative fans throughout Europe, particularly in Britain and Italy. In 2002 Pitney was the subject of a PBS documentary and he became Connecticut's first entrant in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2005 played the Bushnell for the first time in 40 years, and was also booked at Mohegan Sun.

Gene Pitney died of a heart attack in Cardiff, Wales on April 5, 2006 shortly after receiving a standing ovation from a concert audience; he was 66. His body was brought home for burial in Somers, CT. In September of 2007 a plaque dedicated to Pitney was unveiled at Rockville Town Hall.

Gene Pitney album cover Gene Pitney album cover Gene Pitney album cover Gene Pitney album cover
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