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Al Caiola, a versatile studio guitarist who recorded with Frank Sinatra, Simon & Garfunkel and dozens of other acts and had hits on his own with the theme songs from Bonanza and The Magnificent Seven, has died. He was 96.
Caiola died Wednesday in a nursing home in Allendale, N.J., his son Alexander told The Hollywood Reporter.
Caiola played on such hits as Paul Anka’s “Put Your Head on My Shoulder,” Neil Sedaka’s “Calendar Girl,” Bobby Darin’s “Mack the Knife” and “Splish-Splash,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” Johnny Mathis’ “Chances Are,” Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me.”
Caiola’s version of the theme song from the NBC Western Bonanza reached No. 19 on the Billboard Hot 100 list, and his take on the Magnificent Seven theme, from the 1960 film known for its Elmer Bernstein score, got as high as No. 35. Both were instrumentals released in 1961.
He also played on the Experiment in Terror theme written by Henry Mancini for the 1962 Blake Edwards thriller that starred Lee Remick and Glenn Ford.
Caiola worked with fledgling star Barbra Streisand in a Columbia Records session and also played alongside Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Tony Bennett, Buddy Holly, Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney, Petula Clark and Glen Campbell. He toured with Sinatra in 1991 and had a decades-long association with Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme.
Born in Jersey City, N.J., Caiola was the son of a barber. He enlisted in the U.S. Marines and played with Bob Crosby’s band before being pressed into active combat in the invasion at Iwo Jima. He then spent three months in Japan as part of the occupying force there.
Caiola came to New York in 1946 after the service and landed a job with the CBS orchestra. He stayed for 10 years and worked on shows hosted by Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Arthur Godfrey and Steve Allen.
He left his network job to free-lance and collaborated with the likes of Darin, Anka, Connie Francis, Frankie Avalon, Eddie Fisher and Perry Como and in bands fronted by Percy Faith, Morton Gould and Andre Kostelanetz.
Caiola was described as having a light, liquid touch. The late Moe Wechsler, a pianist who played often with him, told the Palm Beach Post in 2004 that Caiola “could play jazz, he could play classical, rock and roll, R&B. Al could do anything that was required; he’s the classic, well-rounded musician.”
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 69 years, Rosalie; daughter Sandra; grandchildren Danielle, Natalie, Heather and Alex; and great-grandchildren Sandy, Gabby, Blake and Scarlett.
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