Born Alexander Emil Caiola, 7 September 1920, Jersey City, New Jersey
Guitarist Al Caiola was one of the busiest and most respected session men in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s. At the age of twelve he was already a guitar prodigy and by his sixteenth birthday he was an established guitarist and performer throughout the Jersey City area. During World War II, Caiola joined the Marine Corps and became part of the Parris Island base band until he was assigned to active combat on the island of Iwo Jima. After the war he used the G.I. Bill to study music composition and theory at the New Jersey College of Music. Not long after graduating, Caiola moved to New York City, where he was hired as a staff musician by CBS Radio, working under Archie Bleyer. He stayed with the CBS Radio orchestra until 1956, participating in many shows in the early days of television (Toast of the Town, Jackie Gleason Show, Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts).
The first record under his own name was "Mambo Jambo"/"Bim Bam Bum" (RCA 5143) in 1953, followed by three other RCA singles. Al had four LP's released in the second half of the 1950s, two on Savoy, one on Atco and one on RCA. Being an extremely versatile guitarist who could handle any genre, Caiola easily adapted to the changes brought about by the advent of rock 'n' roll and was much in demand as a session guitarist. Atlantic's Ahmet Ertegun was particularly fond of him and used him on sessions by (among others) Ruth Brown, Chuck Willis, LaVern Baker, The Coasters and Bobby Darin. But Al also played behind many non-Atlantic artists, like Paul Anka (I'm almost sure it's Caiola doing the arpeggios on "Diana"), Buddy Holly, Frankie Avalon, Fabian (great guitar solo on "Tiger"), Connie Francis and Del Shannon.
In 1960, Al Caiola began an 11-year affiliation with United Artists, during which period he had 32 singles and 34 albums released. At the suggestion of his producer / arranger, Don Costa, he began to play the melodies on the lower strings, creating a guttural sound similar to Duane Eddy. Al himself called it the "tuff guitar" and became identified with that sound. His first two singles for United Artists were his biggest (and only) hits. The theme from the classic Western film "The Magnificent Seven" (later well known from the Marlboro commercial) reached # 35 on the Billboard charts and one position higher in the UK, where Al had to compete with a cover version by the John Barry Seven. This success spurred Caiola and Costa to record another Western-themed instrumental, the opening music to the TV series "Bonanza" (United Artists 302). This was an even bigger hit, peaking at # 19 in April 1961. Caiola used a Gretsch on those two hits. In the mid-sixties he would sign with Epiphone Guitars, who created their own Caiola model guitar. Because United Artists was an arm of the United Artists motion picture studio, more often than not Caiola recorded albums that contained "tie-ins" to UA's film and television projects. "You're obligated to do those things for the company." After years of interpreting existing movie soundtracks, Al got to generate one of his own. With composer / conductor George Romanis he came up with the entire score (and soundtrack album) for the 1967 comedy motion picture "Eight On the Lam", starring Bob Hope and Jonathan Winters. In between his recordings for United Artists, Caiola also performed a series of "Living Guitar" albums for the RCA Camden label, as well as a collection of easy-listening albums for Time Records.
In 1971, Al bought out the rest of his UA contract and left the company, as he felt the need to explore his own new frontiers. He recorded some sides for the Avalanche label, performed with the Andre Kostelanetz Orchestra, scored and performed on hundreds of TV commercials and jingles and wrote the popular Al Caiola Presents series of guitar instruction books. When he was interviewed by Chuck Miller in 2002, he was still performing, sometimes touring with the equally tireless Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.
CD : In 2002, Raven Records in Australia released a 33-track selection from the United Artists years : Al Caiola, Bonanza! 1960-1969.
Acknowledgements : Chuck Miller's liner notes for the Raven CD.
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