Larry Knechtel: Pianist who played with two Elvises, Simon and Garfunkel, Phil Spector and the Doors

In 1969, Paul Simon wanted to give his new composition, "Bridge Over Troubled Water", some of the feel of a gospel song. He asked the Los Angeles pianist Larry Knechtel to work on the first verse with the vocalist Art Garfunkel. After four days, he was impressed with the result and the way Knechtel had interpreted his composition. It prompted him to write a third verse, although he subsequently felt that the lyrics were not as strong as the first two. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" became an international best-seller, topping the charts in both Britain and America. Knechtel was invited on tour, and Simon has described how he sat at the side while Garfunkel and Knechtel performed his song. It irked Simon, who admitted, "It's not a very generous thing to think, but I resented it." Knechtel shared a Grammy with Simon and Garfunkel, and the musicians Jimmie Haskell and Ernie Freeman, for the Best Arrangement of the Year.

Coming from Germanic roots, Larry Knechtel was born in Bell, California in 1940 and took piano lessons as a child. He was a gifted musician, being able to sight-read and play by ear. Although he was trained classically, his interest in the black rhythm 'n' blues he heard on the radio steered him towards popular music. In a youth band in Los Angeles he befriended the saxophonist Jim Horn; they were to make hundreds of records together. His first single, at the age of 16, was an instrumental called "Pigeon-Toed". He worked with Kip Tyler and the Flips and made demonstration records for songwriters to give to key performers.

In 1959, Knechtel joined Duane Eddy's band, the Rebels, and they toured the UK on a joint header with Bobby Darin the following year. Knechtel played piano on Eddy's hit recordings "Kommotion" (1960), "Pepe" (1960) and "(Dance With The) Guitar Man" (1962).

By 1962, Knechtel was tiring of the road and wanted to settle in Los Angeles. He became one of Phil Spector's regular musicians, working on several hits and the famed album A Christmas Gift for You (1963). He was also in the house band for the American TV series Shindig!, made by the British producer Jack Good.

The main session musicians (Knechtel, Horn, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell and others) became known as the Wrecking Crew. Knechtel himself, who could also play organ, guitar, bass and harmonica, worked on albums by the Fifth Dimension and the Mamas and the Papas, and was recruited by John Phillips from the Mamas and the Papas to accompany several acts at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967. Knechtel played bass on the Byrds' "Mr Tambourine Man" (1965) and several more of their records. He was part of the anonymous band which backed the Monkees on their first album and incensed them as they wanted to play their own instruments.

In 1965, Brian Wilson ceased touring with the Beach Boys and he stayed in California to work on new material. Larry Knechtel was a key musician for the arduous sessions that became Pet Sounds. He played organ on their hit singles "God Only Knows" and "Good Vibrations".

Much of Knechtel's work went uncredited. When the producer Paul Rothchild thought that the Doors did not have a good enough bass player, he recruited Knechtel for their first album, The Doors (1967). Knechtel played bass on Elvis Presley's so-called Comeback Special (1968) and he worked on other Presley sessions. He played on the Everly Brothers' tribute to their upbringing, Roots (1968).

In 1971, Knechtel joined the soft rock band Bread. He played the all-important guitar solo on "The Guitar Man" (1972). Bread broke up acrimoniously in 1977. Knechtel had also worked on selected sessions during that period, including several albums by Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel; his playing on Garfunkel's "I Believe (When I Fall in Love it Will Be Forever)" attempted to capture the magic of "Bridge Over Troubled Water".

With the advent of self-contained groups in the New Wave explosion of the late 1970s, there was less session work. Knechtel moved to Nashville and as well as working on country records, he made the solo albums Urban Gypsy (1990) and Mountain Moods (1991). He worked with Elvis Costello on Mighty Like a Rose (1991) and Kojak Variety (1995), playing a plucked piano on "Remove This Doubt".

In 1995 he bought a ranch in Washington intending to retire, but joined Bread for a reunion tour. He was involved in contemporary albums like Neil Diamond's 12 Songs (2005) and the Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way (2006). In 2007, he and other members of the Wrecking Crew were inducted into the Musicians' Hall of Fame.

Spencer Leigh

Lawrence William Knechtel, pianist and guitarist: born Bell, California 4 August 1940; married (one son, one daughter); died Yakima, Washington 20 August 2009.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
peoplePair enliven the Emirates bore-draw
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark episode 8, review
Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband (R) and Boris Johnson, mayor of London, talk on the Andrew Marr show in London April 26
General electionAndrew Marr forced to intervene as Boris and Miliband clash on TV
United States President Barack Obama, right, uses actor Keegan-Michael Key from Key & Peele to play the part of 'Luther, President Obama's anger translator'
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions