The Genesis of “Charting the Life of Gene Pitney”

Michael Turner with Gene Pitney in 1995
Michael Turner with Gene Pitney in 1995

I am pleased to have written the first Gene Pitney biography in the world to encompass his entire life. Such a book ought to have been published around 2008 before some wonderful, dedicated fans like Gill Alford of Surrey, England  passed away, and by another writer who had greater access to Gene and his family. Notwithstanding, I have gathered a wide range of sources including: lengthy and detailed radio interviews broadcast on Gene’s local radio stations; contemporary published magazine articles; fan club booklets; my meetings with Gene and the e-mails that Gene wrote to me. To add heft, I assembled contributions from people who had worked with Gene. This further added diversity to the book and helped to convert it into a compendium that should broaden its appeal. Consequently, everyone who has read the biography has lavished it with praise; even the Pitney connoisseurs have learnt something. The element of the book that guaranteed new knowledge for every reader was the discography. The prolific record collector and supplier of discs, Del Baggott of Lacey’s Vinyl on Facebook added the final entries.

For several years, Del persisted in encouraging me to write this biography, however, I was committed to other books. In the 1970s, I began writing my travel stories for a local magazine and for students at teacher training college. In 1985, Focal Point published my two books on human rights. I then had photographic articles published in the Pentax Magazine and travel stories in Journey Latin America’s magazine Papagayo. From 1980, I wrote the world’s largest biography of Sir Francis Drake. I completed it in 2018. It took so long because I had to photograph nearly every place in the world that Drake visited in forty-four countries. The 377,000-word text with 330 photographs and seventy maps was the reason why I could not act upon Del’s request to write a book about Gene until September 2018. Whilst on an arduous expedition in Mongolia, I made hand written notes on everything I could remember about Gene’s life. Writing gathered momentum from October in the comfort of home. The pace of writing was maintained despite suffering with pneumonia, a pulmonary embolism and the sudden death of my beloved Auntie Marion in November. I was unable to fly to Panama to help film a documentary about Sir Francis Drake for the Discovery Channel. However, on 11 December I was still able to record a segment for Expedition Unknown: Chasing Sir Francis Drake’s Fortune at Drake’s country seat in Buckland Abbey, Devon. This year, 2019 provided an uninterrupted window in which to complete the book. Del Baggott has always been an intellectual critic. Therefore, over the phone I would read him the latest passages and relay rare flashes of poetic inspiration. Del constantly showered me with praise and found an excellent printer. I felt confident that this lavishly produced book would be well received by the dedicated fans and wider audience that includes Neil Sedaka who I first met in 1975.

In 1995, Neil asked me to write his concert tour programme for the British Isles from which again, according to his wife, Leba, even Neil’s closest friends learnt something. Over the years I expanded the text and narrated subsequent events. In 2012, I published Appreciating Neil Sedaka which I gave to him in Bristol. Neil lent it to his forthcoming biographer and told him that I had written a useful source of reference. I was mentioned six times in Neil’s sizeable biography but only in connection with Gene Pitney. I was a convenient source to amplify the cross-over record, It Hurts To Be In Love that Neil mentioned in the foreword in Charting the Life of Gene Pitney.

Neil had got to know me over the decades from concerts, fan club conventions and from our interview at his mother-in-law’s flat in NYC in 1993. Since I had written for Neil and been a credited resource for his CD box set, I thought I had grounds to ask him if he would kindly write the foreword. His office asked me questions about the veracity of the book and its sales outlets. Within days Neil had e-mailed me his contribution. I was surprised and thrilled but filled with trepidation, since one of the world’s most famous pop stars had endorsed my book when I had only written a few pages! Furthermore, I had to rise to the ultimate challenge for an author to produce a book that such a famous man would be pleased to have supported, when such high-profile people are difficult to impress. To my astonishment, Neil found time to read the book and said I had done an excellent job and that he was pleased that he had contributed.

Please view the related videos on my YouTube Channel, “Michael Turner”: Tony Blackburn’s recollections of having breakfast with Gene and my interview on BBC Radio Bristol. If you have read the book, I would be delighted to receive your comments. The biography was written as a labour of love. Any profits will be spent on future editions based upon new information and a new chapter called the “Fans Remember Gene”. I have read with interest fans’ recollections of the time they spent with Gene but they are scattered between several fan sites and lost towards the bottom of long lists. Once the reader has read this book they are welcome to submit their experiences to be included in the second edition. Therefore, such a collection of tributes will be harnessed within the bounds of one book. This is your chance to perpetuate the expansion of this book and to keep the memory of Gene Pitney alive.

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