No, he's not a guitar hero with the name recognition of Eric Clapton or Carlos Santana, but guitar licks of Bob Bain have been heard by many more sets of ears. He was so busy in the Hollywood recording studios during the '50s and '60s that he actually would leave his instruments lying around rather than take them home. Film composer Henry Mancini made regular use of Bain's work on soundtracks and studio albums, the match working to everyone's benefit as the instrument's popularity expanded due to the influence of rock music. The heavy, sizzling guitar part on the theme to Peter Gunn? That was Bain. The guitar became so much in demand, in fact, that composers would bring in as many as five guitar players at a time for orchestrations. The theme from the western Bonanza featured Bain, Tommy Tedesco, Al Hendrickson, and Laurindo Almeida all at once, which is probably good news for frustrated guitarists who have attempted to play this theme all alone. Bain's work backing up pop vocalists includes some very famous records, including Frank Sinatra's "I've Got You Under My Skin" and Nat "King" Cole's "Unforgettable." On his own, Bain cut several sides for Capitol in the early '60s that cling to the style of Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida. Yet these albums also reveal Bain's studio artistry, as he used the recordings to showcase overdubbing craftsmanship, whipping out both parts of complicated guitar duets. Bain wound up helping create Guitars Unlimited, a collaboration with Jack Marshall and Howard Roberts. This group recorded several albums on Capitol
Bain's musical life began playing bass with the high school orchestra and guitar on the side. After graduating, he hit the road playing bass with a trio featuring guitarist Joe Wolverton. Bain settled into the Los Angeles club scene and continued playing bass behind guitar mentors, most important of all the great Les Paul. In 1942, he joined Freddy Slack's band where he met Barney Kessel, who sat in one night. This contact led to Bain joining a group called the Phil Moore Four and One More, one of the first West Coast groups to play the new bebop style and one of the first interracial bands on the L.A. scene. This group also led to the first contact with Sinatra, when the singer decided to cut his own disc in the bop style, "Bop Goes My Heart." During the second World War, Bain wound up in a U.S.O. group in Europe with actor George Raft and singers Louise Albritton and June Clyde. He returned home in 1945 and joined the big band of Tommy Dorsey, featuring Buddy Rich on drums. Sick of the constant spatting between this egotistical drummer Dorsey, Bain moved after two years to the more relaxed Bob Crosby Big Band. Meanwhile, the guitarist's own band, the San Fernando Playboys, was making recordings in the studio of Les Paul (i.e., his living room). Bain later played and recorded with Harry James and his big band and Andre Previn's trio. Previn was working at MGM and was one of the first film composers to write parts for the electric guitar, which he brought Bain in to play. The guitar intro section to Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa" was Bain's idea. Bain was ahead of the pack when it came to sight-reading, a talent many guitarists got by without in the '40s. This led to his first-call status in the world of jingles, radio broadcasts, and film and television scores. He played guitar on the themes from M.A.S.H., the Mission Impossible series, and The Munsters. Sometimes he recorded on other string instruments, such as mandolin and banjo. Examples of his banjo picking can be heard on the soundtracks to Thoroughly Modern Millie and Around the World in 80 Days, two of the hundreds of film scores he played on. By the '70s, a new crowd of studio guitarists began to dominate. Bain continued to record, write, arrange, produce, and for 22 years held the guitar chair for The Tonight Show band.