The Dead: In the Twilight Zone

For those keeping count, today’s piece is (gulp) the 666th posted since Zero to 180 began December 12, 2012.  What better way to face down this (meaningless) milestone by paying tribute to a classic television series – and also a musical ensemble – that bravely broke the bounds of conformist thought, intrepid travelers who dared to confront “the fifth dimension.”  No, the band in question is not The 5th Dimension (although, good guess) but in actual fact  The Grateful Dead, who (not everyone seems to be aware) recorded the theme music to the revitalized TV series in 1985:

Opening & Closing Theme – “Twilight Zone”     The Grateful Dead     1985

As Blair Jackson would note in Garcia:  An American Life — “The band and [Merl] Saunders worked out a new main theme, which was a short dissonant burst of ‘space‘ ending in a variation of the original Twilight Zone theme by Marius Constant.”

Merl Saunders (courtesy DISCOGS)Merl Saunders

Dennis McNally would document some of the historical particulars of the Twilight Zone experience in 2002’s A Long Strange Trip:

“Few shows could possibly have been more appealing to the Dead and Garcia, who remarked, ‘Man, I live in the Twilight Zone.’  They leaped at the chance to record their own version of the signature three-note motif that identified the show.  They didn’t stop there.  [Producer Rick] DeGuere and his music director, Merl Saunders, came to a board meeting to discuss the band’s doing all of the music for the show, the ‘stings’ and ‘bumpers’ that set the atmospheric soundscape.  Garcia left the meeting early, announcing that he voted yes.  Lesh was ‘adamantly opposed,’ recalled DeGuere, and the decision was made to proceed without him.

They set to work, and while their music was appropriate and effective, the deal’s business aspects were badly handled, dooming the project to continuous friction among all parties involved.  [Grateful Dead legal counsel] Hal Kant had delegated the negotiation of the arrangement with CBS to an associate, who didn’t know the Dead very well and produced a fairly standard contract.  The head of the music department at CBS [Robert Drasnin, presumably] didn’t like the deal, since he now had no control, which put Merl in the middle of both an unhappy CBS and the Dead.  Very quickly, Mickey Hart took the lead for the Dead in the studio, and proved to have a gift for sound design.  Just as they began, he went into the hospital for back surgery, and ordered that all the necessary equipment be set up in his room.  At first [road manager] Ram Rod vetoed this seeming insanity, but Mickey pleaded, ‘When I wake up, I want to go to work.’  The Demerol he’d gotten for his surgery proved to be aesthetically stimulating, and he produced music for the first four episodes from bed.”

The loss of Phil Lesh, the band member most closely linked to the musical avant-garde, is a notable one.

Composer, Robert Drasnin, as Variety noted in its obituary posted on May 15, 2105, would have a central role to play:

“While head of CBS’ music department in the 1980s, he worked with the Grateful Dead on music for the revived Twilight Zone series, along with scoring several episodes himself.”

Robert Hunter would later recall in his online journal entry for February 4, 2005:

“I’m still grateful that a steady salary for the two seasons The Zone ran
helped make the house payments and put food on the table for our family
of five back when the GD was staggering financially and I was set
running around the country doing low paying solo gigs to support us.
‘Touch of Grey’ was soon to solve that problem.”

Is it merely a coincidence that, just last month, a 1985 Twilight Zone contract between CBS Entertainment and The Grateful Dead — signed by all members of the band — would sell on Ebay for $29,470.70?Grateful Dead Twilight Zone contractIt is curious the extent to which The Twilight Zone ‘reboot’ is under-remembered, given the caliber of talent that went into not only the music but the writing and acting, as well — as pointed out in arts blog Delusions of Grandeur:

“Writers such as Harlan Ellison, George R. R. Martin, Rockne S. O’Bannon, Jeremy Bertrand Finch, and Paul Chitlik wrote screenplays for the show.  It was directed by many different talents including Wes Craven and William Friedkin.  Many different mainstream stars made their appearance in the series including Bruce Willis, Helen Mirren, Season Hubley, Morgan Freeman, Martin Landau, Jonathan Frakes, and Fred Savage.  The theme music was composed by Jerry Garcia and performed by The Grateful Dead.”

How funny to see the inclusion of a Grateful Dead track – “The New Twilight Zone” – on TV theme compilation Television’s Greatest Hits, Volume 6 from 1996.

Hooterollin Around music blog (an “appendix to Lost Live Dead“) writes a fascinating piece that draws many musical connections between Jerry Garcia and stalwart session guitarist, Howard Roberts, a musician who is best remembered for having played the original haunting Twilight Zone guitar riff.

Zero to 180 cannot close this piece without reminding everyone of that uncanny musical ‘Twilight Zone’ moment:  last July’s discovery of Germany’s The Dead-Heads, who released their debut single in 1966 — just one year after the The Grateful Dead’s official formation!

Grateful Dead (not) Twilight Zone pinballZero to 180’s Gallery of Grateful Dead 45 Picture Sleeves

Given the band’s famous disregard towards commerce, I thought it would be great ironic fun to pull together all of The Grateful Dead’s 7-inch picture sleeves from around the world.  Interesting to see domestic marketing efforts lag behind Warner Brothers’ international arm overseas, as the Dead would not see comparable investments on single releases, curiously enough, until the band’s tenure with Clive Davis’s Arista label, especially after the unexpected success with “Touch of Grey”:

Germany

Grateful Dead 45-Germany-aGrateful Dead 45-Germany-bGrateful Dead 45-Germany-cGrateful Dead 45-Germany-d

Japan

Grateful Dead 45-Japan-aGrateful Dead 45-Japan-bGrateful Dead 45-Japan-cGrateful Dead 45-Japan-dGrateful Dead 45-Japan-eGrateful Dead 45-Japan-fGrateful Dead 45-Japan-gGrateful Dead 45-Japan-h

United States

Grateful Dead 45-US-aGrateful Dead 45-US-bGrateful Dead 45-US-ccGrateful Dead 45-US-dGrateful Dead 45-US-e-promoGrateful Dead 45-US-fGrateful Dead 45-US-gGrateful Dead 45-US-heart

UK (1977)

Grateful Dead 45-UK-a (1977)Grateful Dead 45-UK-aa (1977)

France

Grateful Dead 45-France-aGrateful Dead 45-France-b

Netherlands

Grateful Dead 45-Netherlands-aaGrateful Dead 45-Netherlands-bbGrateful Dead 45-Netherlands-cc

Rear sleeve of German 45 “One More Saturday Night”:  Mini fold-up coffin!Grateful Dead 45-Germany-cc45 above references “neu” Jerry garcia solo 45 “Sugaree” / “Deal” (below)

Jerry Garcia 45-aJerry Garcia 45-bJerry Garcia 45-cJerry Garcia 45-cc

honorable mention:  Colombian EP from 1967

Grateful Dead EP-South Africa-aGrateful Dead EP-South Africa-b

This audio playback format was once considered state of the artGrateful Dead extended play cartridge

While the rare “Good Lovin'” US picture sleeve illustrated above can fetch $75 at auction, you might be surprised by the number of picture sleeves that go for three (and even four) figures.

Randy Newman: Once a Rocker

Randy Newman once rocked quite convincingly on “Gone Dead Train,” a song that was included in the soundtrack to 1970’s notorious art film, Performance, and was – oddly enough – one that he himself did not write:

“Gone Dead Train”     Randy Newman     1969
–  Conceptual train video by Nicos  —

“Gone Dead Train” would also be released as the A-side of a Warner Brothers UK single; however, this version (reports Discogs.com contributor, “touwell“) is “completely different from the version that appeared on the Performance album – faster and more rocking.”

Written by Jack Nitzsche & Russ Titelman — Arranged & Produced by Jack Nitzsche
“Conducted” by Randy Newman

Randy Newman 45

Ben Fong-Torres sheds light on Russ Titelman’s role via Willin’:  The Story of Little Feat:

“Through [Phil] Spector, Titelman met the composer and arranger Jack Nitzsche, of “Lonely Surfer” fame, and worked with him on various film scores and recordings.  When Nitzsche began scoring Performance, Mick Jagger’s first acting vehicle, in 1969, he called Titelman to help out.  Together the two wound up writing ‘Gone Dead Train,’ which would include Ry Cooder on slide guitar and Randy Newman on vocals.”

Musician credits also include Jerry Scheff, Elvis Presley’s bassist, with organ work by the aforementioned Randy Newman.

There’s also this interview snippet from Timothy White’s The Russ Titelman Story courtesy of SpectoPop:

Q:  In 1969, you found yourself playing guitar on ‘Memo From Turner’, for Jack Nitzsche’s soundtrack to the Mick Jagger film, Performance.

A:  Actually, the core of the studio band on that record was Randy Newman, Ry Cooder and myself, and it was recorded in Los Angeles at Western Studios.  But Jagger wasn’t there during our sessions. The band Traffic had done a recording of ‘Memo From Turner’, but Jagger and Nitzsche didn’t like it. So we replaced their track, playing along to Jagger’s existing vocal and a click track. I played the Keith Richards-sounding “jing-a-jing” on rhythm guitar, and Ry Cooder did the slide guitar parts.

And then Jack and I wrote ‘Gone Dead Train’, and Randy Newman sang it, and we cut it live. They needed a song for the credits and Jack said he wanted to lyrically use all this voodoo and blues terminology for this story of this faded rock star, a burnt-out character who can’t get it up anymore. I saw the track part as Chuck Berry-like in feel but more raucous.

Covered by Crazy Horse on their 1971 Reprise album.

“Gone Dead Train” thankfully would merit inclusion in Rock Song Index:  The 7500 Most Important Songs for the Rock and Roll Era.

Pop the Cork:  This is the 23rd piece in Zero to 180 tagged as Film & TV Soundtracks.

The Shadows: World’s Tiniest Rockers

Vintage Guitar Magazine’s well-researched history of the Vox musical equipment company contains a particularly delightful side story about “wee” instruments that were designed and manufactured strictly for marionettes!  Peter Stuart Kohman has the scoop:

“One of the most oddball Vox orders was for a set of miniature equipment for singing puppets, specifically, a set of toy-sized Phantom guitars and AC30 amps.  These were supplied for ‘The Beakles’ from The Pinky and Perky Show, a popular children’s program starring marionettes.  The Beakles’ gear was built to look like the real thing by prototype designer Mick Bennett and showed JMI [i.e., Vox]’s commitment to having beat groups on TV – even fictional ones – properly equipped.”

Unfortunately, the only good image of The Beakles that can be found online shows the avian instrumentalists merely playing acoustic guitars – definitely not the modernist, asymmetrical Vox Phantom:

The (unnamed) Beakles depicted on 45 picture sleeve for Pinky & Perky EP

Pinky & Perky's Beat Party

Beakles Spoof LPBeatles Debut LP

Kohman also points out that UK’s preeminent instrumental band, The Shadows, would be the recipients of similarly exquisite custom miniature gear in conjunction with their first full-length motion picture: “The Shadows also appeared in marionette form in the 1966 film Thunderbirds Are Go with miniature AC30s but ‘playing’ their signature Burns guitars.”

The (mini) Shadows can be seen backing Cliff Richard in this charming performance of “Shooting Star” from their big-screen debut:

“Shooting Star”     Cliff Richard & The Shadows     1966

According to Thunderbirds Wiki, “The real-life Hank Marvin loved his puppet so much, he tried so hard to buy it, but it was later reused for another character.”

Hank Marvin & FriendHey, Wikipedia tells me that that sound you hear at the beginning of “Thunderbirds Theme” is Hank Marvin himself (not bassist, Jet Harris) playing a Fender VI six-string bass!

Jeremy Wakefield: SpongeBob’s Stellar Steel Support

Biller & Wakefield sound like a modern-day Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant on 1999 album, The Hot Guitars.of Biller & Wakefield:

“Martian Guts”     Biller & Wakefield     1999

Coincidentally or not, 1999 would also be the year SpongeBob Squarepants would make its television debut.  And just as Los Straitjackets would spearhead a movement to revitalize the instrumental, Jeremy Wakefield – virtuoso musician – would similarly use Nickelodeon’s broad commercial platform to reintroduce the gloriously warm sound of the (pre-pedal) steel guitar to the millennial generation and beyond.   Wakefield, along with the other musicians and SpongeBob Music Director, Andy Paley, have done an outstanding job of incorporating western swing, hillbilly boogie, surf & spy guitar, Hawaiian steel music, and Hot Club-era gypsy jazz into the show’s soundtrack in all manner of ways.

1999 would also find Jeremy Wakefield and Dave Biller playing their respective guitars on Wayne Hancock’s Wild, Free & Reckless album, while Wakefield would peel off that same year to play steel guitar with Smith’s Ranch Boys on More Barnyard Favorites.  The year prior, Wakefield would also play his Bigsby steel guitar on (future Los Straitjackets collaborator) Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics’ Number One Hit Record!

Wakefield’s musical contributions to the SpongeBob television show have earned him a reputation for upholding an older analog “vintage” sound, thus it is especially intriguing to learn that some of Wakefield’s earliest album credits would include digital keyboard sequencing for The Style Council, of all people, on 1985’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” EP.  Wakefield would continue to work with The Style Council over the next 20 years or so.

other Albums on which Jeremy Wakefield plays steel guitar

  • Wayne Hancock     A-Town Blues     2001
  • The Lucky Stars     Stay Out with The Lucky Stars     2005
  • The Bonebrake Syncopators     That Da Da Strain     2008

Tracks on which Jeremy Wakefield plays steel guitar

“Hawaiian Blues”     music used in 2 episodes “Jellyfish Jam” & “SB-129”

Link to incidental SpongeBob steel guitar music clip posted on YouTube.

The Boss Guitars’ Cinemusica

Kapp had big plans for The Boss Guitars.  This US indie label had an impressive global distribution network, and 1965 would see the release of recordings by the guitar duo in the US, UK, Spain, and Germany (possibly even Hong Kong and Brazil).  The group’s debut album, The Boss Guitars Play the Winners, would even find release in the UK as Tocan Las Triunfadoras – with all titles in Spanish!

Boss Guitars LPKapp would include follow-up album, Makin’ Out at the Movies, in a full-page ad in Billboard’s September 4, 1965 edition  for its latest “product line” that described the album in these alluring sales & marketing terms:   .

“Great guitar pop-rock sounds playing the best of the new movie themes – an unbeatable combination.  Guitar music and guitars themselves are proven consistent sales making items.  A wide-open market.”

The Boss Guitars would give Henry Mancini’s “The Sweetheart Tree” (from The Great Race) a refreshing makeover on the duo’s cinematic-themed second album:

The Boss Guitars     “The Sweatheart Tree”     1965

Despite the rosy sales forecasts, Makin’ Out at the Movies would prove to be The Boss Guitars’ swansong.  Kapp would, however, make one final push the following year with an EP, Cinemusica, that contains four selections from Makin’ Out at the Movies.  In a curious postscript, these same four tracks would also be included – 22 years later – on a vinyl compilation released by Spain’s Alligator Records that would also include songs by three other artists:  Nero & the Gladiators, Los Telstar, and Los Flash.

“Clean Up Your Own Back Yard”: Elvis, Like Dion, Gardens From Within

The synchronicity is startling:  Elvis and Dion would release single-only tracks that share the title “Your Own Back Yard” within 12 months of each other.  Spooky, isn’t it?

Elvis’s “Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” was, as the 45 picture sleeve tells us, the radio-ready track plucked from the MGM motion picture, “The Trouble With Girls.”  Embodying the “new social awareness” that was trending strongly at the time, this song was composed by the rabbit looper himself, Mac Davis, along with veteran west coast session guitarist, Billy Strange.

Back porch preacher preaching at me
Acting like he wrote The Golden Rule
Shaking his fist and speeching at me
Shouting from his soap box like a fool
Come Sunday morning he’s lying in bed
with his eyes all red from the wine in his head
wishing he was dead
when he ought to be heading for Sunday school —
Clean up your own back yard.

Elvis 45“Clean Up Your Own Back Yard” – which hit #35 on the pop chart – would also be included on the Australian EP for “Suspicious Minds” – Elvis’s last great single.

Elvis’s “back yard” hit was released in June, 1969 – Dion’s “back yard” 45 in June, 1970.

“Don’t Fake It”: Prophecy of a Black Presidency

As Martha Ross writes in the Contra Costa Times, cartoonist Morris “Morrie” Turner broke racial barriers in the 1960s when he became the first African-American to have a syndicated comic strip – Wee Pals – that still runs daily, despite Turner’s death this past January at the age of 90.  As Ross writes, Turner “admired Charles Schulz’s ‘Peanuts’ and mulled creating a black Charlie Brown after turning to cartooning full-time in 1964.  At one point, Turner asked Schulz, who was then a friend, why he didn’t have any black kids in his comic strip, and Schulz told Turner to create his own.”

Wee PalsRoss adds that “even though the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum in the mid-1960s, few papers would run Wee Pals.  That changed with the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  The tragic event helped Wee Pals gain nationwide acceptance.  The strip began appearing in more than 100 newspapers across the United States.”  Among the characters are “several African-American kids, a neighborhood bigot, some ‘Girls Libbers’ and, of course, Nipper, a boy, modeled on Turner himself, who typically wears a Civil War cap and has a dog named General Lee.” 

As Greg Ehrbar writes on the website, Cartoon Research

Wee Pals had been in newspapers for seven years before Rankin/Bass and ABC adapted it as Kid Power for Saturday morning TV, the same season that Filmation and CBS introduced Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids.

Rankin/Bass also cast young voice actors according to the ethnicity of the characters, including Donald Fullilove, who also voiced Michael Jackson for the animated R/B series, Jackson 5ive and played Goldie Wilson onscreen in the Back to the Future films. Jay Silverheels, Jr., son of the actor who played ‘Tonto’ in The Lone Ranger films and TV shows, voiced Rocky, a Native American.  Also in the cast as Connie was a preteen April Winchell, now one of Hollywood’s top voice actors (as well as a writer and satirist) whose oeuvre includes Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Despicable Me 2.

Like Fat Albert, Kid Power featured songs with messages in every episode. With mainstay musical director Maury Laws on other R/B projects, Oscar-nominated composer/arranger Perry Botkin, Jr. handled the Kid Power songs and background music, partnering with Jules Bass on the tunes created for the show.”

Kid Power LPI recently picked up a copy of the original soundtrack album at a local pawnshop, of all places.  How fascinating to hear the following track, “Don’t Fake It,” 42 years after its original release and know that the “radical” premise in the song’s spoken word intro — that of an African-American elected as our nation’s chief executive and top military commander — had, indeed, come to fruition in my lifetime:

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Don’t Fake It” by The Curbstones.]

“Available Space”: Theme Song for ‘Bay Area Backroads’

About Ry Cooder 1970 promo single —  “Available Space” b/w “Brownsville” — Ed Ward once wrote in The Rolling Stone Record Review:

“Ry Cooder is the finest slide guitarist and mandolinist in rock today, as his work with Taj Mahal and the Stones has amply demonstrated.  ‘Available Space’ is a funky, happy instrumental.  Short, to the point, it is a fine spacefiller in between records on an FM rock station.  ‘Brownsville’ is a traditional blues, played on mandolin, with a vocal.  Both of these cuts are light and snappy and a great change of pace from the turgid heaviness so much in evidence on the airwaves.”

Says the YouTube contributor who uploaded the audio recording:

“Jack Nicholson, and quite a supporting cast, as it turns out, starred in the hit 1978 comedy-western Goin’ South, which featured a track over the closing credits that would also become a beloved theme song for a San Francisco TV series titled ‘Bay Area Backroads.’

‘Available Space’ was recorded by a well-regarded slide-guitarist named Ryland “Ry” Cooder and was released on his self-titled debut LP in 1970 for Reprise Records.
Starting in the mid-1960s, Cooder worked with the likes of Taj Mahal, Captain Beefheart, and Van Morrison.  In the 1980s, aside from his session work, Cooder scored several soundtracks, notably Brewster’s Millions, Southern Comfort and The Long Riders.  Most of these soundtracks showcased Cooder’s love for ‘roots’ and blues-rock music.  Pure Americana.

‘Available Space’ gained a new life when used as the theme song for San Francisco TV station KRON’s ‘Bay Area Backroads’ from 1985 to 1993.  The series in that era was hosted by folksy Jerry Graham, former General Manager of rock station KSAN.  In 1993, Graham retired and was replaced as ‘Backroads’ host by Doug McConnell.  At that time, a similar-sounding instrumental replaced ‘Available Space’ as the show’s theme. ‘Backroads’ ended its incredible run in 2008.

Self-Titled album on Reprise

Ry Cooder LP

“Cast and Crew”: Cinema Credits as High Art

Highly unlikely that anyone will be able to top Harry Nilsson’s tuneful approach to presenting the end credits of Otto Preminger’s long-forgotten 1968 film, Skidoo:

“Cast and Crew” is the first track on Nilsson’s Skidoo soundtrack LP, an album that went largely unnoticed at the time but enjoyed a great critical reception when reissued on CD in 2000 (UK) and 2003 (UK).

Skidoo, sadly, would be Groucho Marx’s swansong.

According to IMDB, the Internet Movie Database, Otto Preminger, in response to the disastrous failure of Skidoo – was quoted as saying, “I don’t think many people adore it. Except my wife, who adores all my pictures, because that’s what you get married for.”

In 2011, Skidoo was finally made available on home video for the first time since its original cinematic release — the DVD version, as the New York Times points out, keeps the “original wide-screen image and strategically garish Technicolor intact.”

Skidoo LP

Otto Preminger Pays to Be on TV’s Batman:  An IMDB Pop History Bite

For his appearance on Batman in 1966, Preminger was paid $2,500, the standard fee for actors who appeared on the series after asking for a role.  The Screen Actors Guild got wind of this, and ordered that none of their members were to work for Preminger unless he paid the SAG dues for his appearance on Batman, and various other monies he owed them dating back to his acting career.  As a result, Preminger ended up $7,600 out of pocket from his turn as Mr. Freeze.

“Come Softly to Me”: Cinematically Recast

Crossing Delancey – a surprisingly compelling “small film” about a pickle salesman in pursuit of love – features a soundtrack sprinkled with songs by The Roches, highlighted by their endearing cover of The Fleetwoods’ #1 1959 hit, “Come Softly to Me,” the film score’s emotional centerpiece:

Neither The Roches nor their record label released this version as a single, although they could have.  The song originally appeared on their fifth and final LP for Warner Brothers, Another World, in 1985.

Suzzy Roche with Amy Irving in scene from Crossing Delancey

Suzzy Roche & Amy Irving

“Come Softly to Me” Fun Facts

  • The 7-inch 1959 single by The Fleetwoods was the first release for Dolphin Records, a label that would soon be rechristened Dolton (since Dolphin was already in use for a Laurie Records subsidiary label) and serve as home to The Ventures, Roy Lanham, Vic Dana, and Wanderers Three.
  • The Fleetwoods laid down the original backing track at home a cappella accompanied only by car key percussion.  The tape was later augmented in Los Angeles with light instrumentation, including acoustic guitar played by Dolton label co-founder, Bonnie Guitar.
  • Cover versions include Frankie Vaughn with The Kaye Sisters, Astrud Gilberto, Percy Sledge, Sandy Posey, The Tokens, The New Seekers, Bob Welch, and Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult.