Al Caiola, Guitarist With Top 40 Instrumental Hits, Dies at 96
By SAM ROBERTSNOV. 24, 2016
Al Caiola, a guitarist who reached the Top 40 with instrumental hits. Maurice Seymour, via Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
Al Caiola, a versatile guitarist who recorded hit versions of the themes from the westerns “The Magnificent Seven” and “Bonanza” and worked with artists ranging from Buddy Holly to Tony Bennett, died on Nov. 9 in Allendale, N.J. He was 96.
His death, at a nursing home, was confirmed by his daughter, Sandra Ayres.
Mr. Caiola (pronounced kay-OH-lah) had Top 40 hits in 1961 with his renditions, on the United Artists label, of those two themes, becoming one of the relatively few artists to reach that plateau with instrumental recordings.
His version of the galloping theme from the NBC western “Bonanza,” which began in 1959 and would end its hugely popular run in 1973, reached No. 19 on the Billboard singles chart. His rendition of the now-classic heroic theme, composed by Elmer Bernstein, from “The Magnificent Seven,” a 1960 film with Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, reached No. 35.
The son of a New Jersey barber, Mr. Caiola started as a vocalist but was persuaded by his father that being an instrumentalist would offer more professional opportunities.
His father was right.
In the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Caiola was one of the busiest guitarists in the recording studios of New York. In addition to Mr. Holly and Mr. Bennett, the many artists with whom he recorded or performed included Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Johnny Mathis, Simon and Garfunkel, Sarah Vaughan, Glen Campbell and Rosemary Clooney.
He also played in orchestras led by Percy Faith, Morton Gould and Andre Kostelanetz, and on radio and television with Steve Allen, Jackie Gleason, Arthur Godfrey and Ed Sullivan. And he recorded albums as a leader, beginning with “Deep in a Dream,” released in 1955 on Savoy, on which he led a jazz quartet featuring Hank Jones on piano.
“He could play classical, rock ’n’ roll, R&B,” Moe Wechsler, a pianist who often recorded with Mr. Caiola, told The Palm Beach Post in 2004. “Al could do anything that was required; he’s the classic well-rounded musician.”
Fresh Sound Records
Alexander Emil Caiola was born on Sept. 7, 1920, in Jersey City, to Emil Caiola and the former Genevieve Esposito.
He began on the banjo, was a guitar prodigy by the age of 11, took formal lessons as a teenager at a Times Square studio and at 16 was already associated with his fellow guitarist Tony Mottola, performing with him on a children’s radio show, “Sally and Sam.”
He enlisted in the Marines, where he performed in the Fifth Marine Division Band with the singer and bandleader Bob Crosby (Bing’s brother) and served as a stretcher bearer during World War II at Iwo Jima.
After a brief interlude on the trumpet (he switched because marching bands largely forgo string instruments), he returned to guitar after the war and studied at the New Jersey College of Music on the G.I. Bill.
He played an Epiphone Al Caiola Standard guitar. He was one of the first artists honored with a signature guitar in the modern era by the company, which was founded in 1873.
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Caiola is survived by his wife, the former Rosalie Fiocco; a son, Alexander Jr.; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.