Pino Donaggio

Pino Donaggio is a composer who had much success in the early days of his career, at one time being hailed as the new Bernard Herrmann, he scored predominantly horror movies and his name became synonymous with films such as CARRIE, TOURIST TRAP, THE HOWLING and PIRANHA. After which the composer seemed to fade away a little and began to focus upon Italian productions. Donaggio worked with Joe Dante in the States and because of his reluctance to move away from his homeland of Italy and set up in Hollywood he possibly missed out on scoring other Dante movies that came later such as GREMLINS and THE BURBS. The composer also scored many Brian De Palma movies. These included, DRESSED TO KILL, RAISING CAINE, PASSION, DOMINO, HOME MOVIES and BLOW OUT. He also wrote a score for SNAKE EYES but this was rejected.

I thought it might be an idea to go back to the start of the composer’s film music career and look at scores he composed in the early years. Beginning with the composer’s first foray into the world of scoring films which was the Nicholas Roeg movie DON’T LOOK NOW. I think this film had a profound effect upon me, it was a movie I saw after I had heard Donaggio’s music, and in effect it was the music that made me want to see the film, and also the art work on the Carosello original Italian import LP record. It’s a weird thing because although the music lent much to the movie and made it an even more compelling piece of cinema the composer never worked with Roeg again. Released in 1973 DON’T LOOK NOW or A VENEZIA…UN DICEMBRE ROSSO SHOCKING (IN VENICE A SHOCKING RED DECEMBER), Is a creepy thriller that was adapted for the screen from a short story by the author Daphne De Maurier that was written in 1971.



The movie starred Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, who are a married couple that suffer a tragic loss when their young daughter Christine is drowned in an accident. The couple travel to Venice where Sutherlands character has a commission to restore a church. Whilst there they meet two sisters, one of whom says she is a clairvoyant. She tells the couple that their daughter is trying to contact them and warn them that they are in danger. The husband dismisses her claims and refuses to have anything to with them, but he soon begins to experience strange occurrences and sightings. Although essentially a thriller, the director Roeg focuses more upon the grief of the parents and their sense of loss, and upon the psychology and the effect that death can have on people especially when it is a child that has died.


It is a polished and well-made film, with special attention being centred upon the way in which the loss of their daughter effects the couple’s relationship, the plot of the movie obviously features a strong supernatural element, but it is the concentration of the more personal aspects of the story that in my opinion make this a classic in every sense. The subject of grief being handled with great sensitivity throughout. The picture is also edited marvellously, the director making effective use of flashbacks, and flash forwards that are intercut and fused so that at times its like watching two different storylines, and this gives the watching audience a greater perspective of what is actually happening but also at times this approach can alter ones opinion and maybe confuse a the storyline a little. The music that Donaggio composed for the movie, added a chill to the proceedings, lifting the story at times, but mostly adding to it a greater sense of tragedy and apprehension.


It is in certain places a mysterious yet alluring work, the composer on certain occasions fashioning an almost Vivaldi musical persona. Donaggio,s lilting and haunting theme for John (children’s play) is simple but effective both in the movie and away from it, the solo piano performance sounding almost clumsy in a way, but this I think is its appeal and also why it is such an effectual piece of scoring. The cue CHRISTINE IS DEAD, is spine tingling, with icy strings opening the cue, which are replaced by a wolf like howling effect that is underscored by dark and ominous low string, this sound would become a musical trademark that became familiar in later Donaggio soundtracks, PIRANHA and THE HOWLING for example, the sound achieved is not only unsettling but purveys a sense of disbelief and great emotional pain. Johns theme is repeated throughout the score in varying arrangements and is featured within the Love Scene which at the time was a controversial section of the picture, but one that was vital to the rest of the storyline. Donaggio utilising piano as before but then adding, guitar and woodwind to the performance making it lighter and easy listening in it’s overall style. The cue STRANGE HAPPENINGS is where we see the more foreboding side of Donaggio, dark strings become taught and stressful, and the composer punctuates these with pizzicato commas and full stops, until the strings reach a tense crescendo, he then introduces more strings which build and create a even greater sense of uneasiness, these are as they build interspersed with frantic woodwind stabs that also add a greater sense of urgency. For a first score this was indeed a great achievement, especially as Donaggio had previous to this been predominantly a singer song writer. One can understand why he was being called the new Bernard Herrmann, with his inclusion of ominous and sombre strings that seemed to drag the audience down to a new and evil level, that was murky and gripping.


The soundtrack did also feature a song, which is the first track on the soundtrack recording, with the composer presenting it as an instrumental on two further occasions within the recording. Donaggio’s music is perfect for the unsettling persona of the movie and is also a wonderful accompaniment to the location in which the movie was set. The Compact Disc was issued in the UK on the That’s Entertainment Records label.


From a thriller to a more openly horrific picture and score, but still a mystery. In 1976, the composer was assigned to write the music for a Brian de Palma film entitled CARRIE. De Palma had originally wanted composer Bernard Herrmann to work on the movie, but whilst negotiating with Herrmann the famed film music composer was taken ill and subsequently died after finishing work on Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER. This left De Palma without a composer, and an ever-looming completion deadline, De Palma and Herrmann had worked together on SISTERS and OBSESSION, so the director was obviously looking for something which was akin to the style of Herrmann. A friend of De Palma’s had been impressed with Donaggio’s music for DONT LOOK NOW and gave De Palma a copy of the soundtrack album. After listening to the recording the director was convinced that Donaggio was right for the movie, so Donaggio was sent a rough cut copy of CARRIE which had been temp tracked with selections of Herrmann’s classic PSYCHO soundtrack, this was to give Donaggio an idea of what was required, the rest as they say is history. CARRIE the movie went onto attain cult status and was acclaimed by all who saw it, and Donaggio’s atmospheric and darky unsettling score gained much attention and recognition and placed the composer firmly on the film music map.



The score was not all virulence and fearsome jagged cues, in fact for a horror movie it contained interludes that were very melodic and verging on the melancholy and becoming romantic at times. Although, the majority of the score was filled with a sense of impending doom with starkly dramatic cues that built upon the already tense and nervous content of the film. Donaggio employed icy and sharp sounding strings that could stop anyone in their tracks. The cue CONTEST WINNERS contains elements of a beautiful and haunting melody which opens and closes the composition. The track BUCKET OF BLOOD is ingenious scoring, as it lulls us all into a false sense of ITS GOING TO BE OK and then turns into a sinister and totally unsettling piece that says THERE IS NO ESCAPE, I AM GOING TO GET YOU, RUN! The movie quickly attained a cult following and is applauded by critics, audiences, and filmmakers, many of whom it has influenced in their own movies and TV productions. Donaggio’s tense score aids the storyline greatly and is the driving force behind many of the scenes. At times being full on and at other moments acting as a smouldering presence that warns that all is not well or good.

I think my favourite Donaggio score must be DRESSED TO KILL, there is just something about the sound he achieved in this that attracts me and totally mesmerises with its luxurious yet threatening persona. Working with De Palma must have inspired him to write in such a grand and opulent way, the track THE MUSEUM I think being one of his finest scoring moments within his entire career. It is a simmering and brooding piece, which is inspired I would think by Herrmann, the strings are gloriously dark but at the same time have a bitter- sweet aura about them. The film which was a thriller is filled with intrigue and has more twists, turns and ups and downs than a fairground rollercoaster ride.


And the music compliments, enhances and underlines all of these, the composer punctuating, supporting, and giving more depth to the film and its unfolding plot. Although Donaggio is associated with a great deal of thrillers and horror related pictures, his music at times is highly lyrical and emotive, the composer fashioning affecting, haunting, and delicate tone poems that ingratiate and give power to many of the scenes, making horrific scenarios even more shocking and adding substance and texture to any storyline and it is the way in which he fuses these quieter and calming moments with the more fearsome ones that makes him the masterful Maestro that he is.


In 1978 Donaggio scored the western, AMORE PIOMBO E FURORE (LOVE LEAD AND RAGE). Aka CHINA 9. LIBERTY 37. Donaggio has a co-writing credit for this movie with John Rubinstein, but essentially the score was Donaggio through and through. The movie which was an Italian/Spanish co-production starred Fabio Testi, Jenny Agutter and Warren Oates, with famed director Sam Peckinpah taking a small role. Directed by Monte Hellman this was probably one of the last Euro westerns that was released, coming after CALIFORNIA which is noted as being the last official Spaghetti western which was released in 1977. The western genre was a rare excursion for Donaggio in fact I think I am correct when I say he only scored two, the other being the comedy western BOTTE DI NATALE, CHRISTMAS BARREL aka- THE FIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS. (1994) which was an attempt to revive interest in the Italian western by Terence Hill and Bud Spencer.


The score for AMORE PIOMBO E FURORE was supportive of the movie, but was it a genuine spaghetti western score, in my opinion it contained some lilting and melodic themes, but it lacked the savagery of past scores by the likes of Morricone, Nicolai and De Masi, in fact it was more akin to the Western score as envisaged by Hollywood before the spaghetti western genre became popular. The composer utilising strings and harmonica to create his core theme for the score. Nevertheless, the music supported the action and was an entertaining listen for collectors away from the movie.

I do not think it’s possible to discuss Pino Donaggio without mentioning the scores for THE HOWLING and PIRANHA, both films directed by Joe Dante, and both being somewhat tongue in cheek parodies of past horror movies. The director infusing his own brand of black comedy into both. PIRAHNA was released in 1978, with THE HOWLING following three years later in 1981. Although neither movie can be taken totally seriously there are some great moments of horror in each of them. THE HOWLING in my opinion being the better of the two. Although saying this PIRAHNA had its moments both cinematically and musically. The opening theme for THE HOWLING is typical horror movie stuff, with a howling wolf leading into a great musical statement that crashes in and heralds the start of the proceedings, the composer kicking things off in a grand style off in a grand style, purveying, uncertainty and the unexpected, the track then alters and goes into a more sinister sounding piece which is somewhat of an anti-climax to the robust opening, but the music sets the scene perfectly for the film and as the story unfolds the composer develops a collection of unnerving and creepy sounding interludes that are overflowing with tense sinewy strings and jumpy breathy woodwind stabs with only little snippets of respite in the form of a romantic and delicate theme performed on solo piano and then later given a fuller rendition with the string section taking the lead.

Donaggio is a master at scoring horrors and has a commanding talent for underlining the horror without being over blown or too bombastic, his scores for both THE HOWLING and PIRANHA are superbly written and in PIRAHNA we hear a Vivaldi influence in the opening theme, which is strident and filled with to overflowing with an energetic musical persona. Both scores contain beautiful themes for the few quieter moments they allow us, again the composer making excellent use of the piano and strings combination, fashioning romantic and melancholy pieces, that although are essentially filled with a melodic romanticism, they too also possess an underlying sense of apprehension.

Both soundtracks were released on the Varese Sarabande label as LP records, with both releases boasting stunning cover art. Each has received compact disc re-issues; THE HOWLING being given an expanded release on LA LA LAND records a few years ago. PIRANHA being issued on the Varese Sarabande club label with same running time as the original LP record.

From two horror movies to something less taxing on the emotions, well at least something that won’t, jangle your nerves and send shivers up you back. It might however, make you laugh when you are not meant to and lose a little faith in cinema along the way that’s if you actually manages to stay in the cinema or in front of the video/DVD to watch it. HERCULES was released in 1983, and starred INCREDIBLE HULK star Lou Ferringo, let’s just say it will probably be better to focus on the music rather than even mention the film itself. This was a cheap looking, no storyline extravaganza, filled with bad acting, dodgy camera work and a lack of any type of direction whatsoever, and we wont mention those special effects, will we? (I said don’t mention the special effects).

Donaggio fashioned a suitably Majestic and rousing theme for the production, and the score itself was good, but it became lost in the debacle that was HERCULES, the thing is because Donaggio had found favour at around this time, a soundtrack LP was issued, ironic because during this period many good films with equally good soundtracks did not get their music issued onto a recording some only recently having a soundtrack issued. HERCULES is a score I have to admit I rarely as in never return to, the LP and also a CD of the score has sat on the shelf for years where it has gathered the proverbial dust of time, and on listening to it again recently for the purpose of this article I still found that the music brought back memories of the awful movie, with the failings of the production clouding my ability to get past track three.


The same can be said for a few scores that the composer produced at this time,  THE BARBARIANS comes to mind, not that often but only on bad days. The score was a mixture of both symphonic and synthetic with the latter having the larger slice of the pie as it were, it was at times effective but more often than not the music did little to enhance or support, but with a film like this I think it must be very hard for a composer to become inspired into writing anything that is remotely appealing or in tune with the films storyline.

It is a great pity that Donaggio in my opinion made the wrong decision about re-locating to the United States, because if he had and also had worked on bigger production for De Palma, Dante etc you never know it might have been his name on the credits for THE UNTOUCHABLES etc.



The Italian or spaghetti western has whether we like it or not had a profound influence upon cinema as a whole. Many contemporary movies have taken the key stock attributes of the Spaghetti western genre and converted them to fit the scenarios of thrillers, horror movies and even sci fi and adventure films. It is a genre of film that although not loved by all has a style and a presentation that is recognised instantly even if it is disguised in a movie or TV drama in other genres. The music for the Italian produced western played a major role in the development and the structure of the movies within the genre, and although it was Ennio Morricone who along with film maker Sergio Leone created what we now know as the spaghetti western sound, there were numerous other composers and performers that also contributed to the ongoing fashioning and development of the original sound that Maestro Morricone put in place on the soundtrack of A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. I thought it would be an idea to look at the key musical works within the spaghetti western genre. This will not be all Morricone, far from it as I am of the opinion that many of the scores by other composers although inspired by Morricone are at times more inventive, because of the budgets involved and also because of the quality of the music that was produced at times for movies that were less than memorable some examples of soundtracks I will look at are I admit rather lacking and there are also others that one often thinks of as a little ridiculous in their style and overall sound, nevertheless they all contributed to the sound and style of music that we associate with the genre and were examples of film scoring that we had never been heard before, and also a sound that is still today instantly recognisable and in use as in mimicked within many types of films. I am not going to go into lengthy explanations of how the genre came into being, or indeed focus for any time on the plots stars or directors, this is a subject that we have already covered here at MMI, no it’s the soundtracks which were often Good, sometimes Bad and could be Ugly that we will discuss and maybe you as collectors might not have been aware of them and seek them out if they are available.


So, I think the most unusual approach to scoring a western might have been undertaken by Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, when they scored KEOMA, a violent western that starred Franco Nero, the movie was overall a good western, but the quirkiness of the score in my opinion was verging upon the unlistenable. The composers decided to make use of vocals on the score, but the vocals were off beat and slightly eccentric. In the hands of another composer the score for KEOMA would have probably taken on a more conventional sound if there is such a thing as a conventional sounding Italian western score. With the De Angelis brothers however, it broke new musical ground, but was not popular with all who heard it. I think it is probably my least favourite Italian western score, simply because of the songs, or at least the style of the performance of the songs. One critic described the vocals as grating, while another likened the female vocals to something like Buffy Saint Marie on acid. The vocal performances were courtesy of Sybil and Guy and the descriptions by the critics of their vocalising is a pretty fair one.


continuavano a chiamarlo

The music for KEOMA was a far cry from De Angelis score for the 1971 movie THEY STILL CALL ME TRINITY, a comedy western which was released some five years previous. KEOMA was savage, angry, and unforgiving, which matched the mood of the central character, but still became off putting when watching the movie, because the audience was trying to catch what the vocalists were saying. The musical output of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis was filled with a quirky sound which was effective within the films they worked on and for most of the time was an entertaining listening experience away from the movie. KEOMA however was for me not a great experience, with the score I think being the last on my list of spaghetti western soundtracks to be played. It is shall we say an acquired taste, and leave it there. It was not just Guido and Maurizio De Angelis that had a strange way of approaching and scoring westerns, Carlo Rustichelli for example, had a habit of including circus music in a number of his western scores, which was also at times a little puzzling. And although a great many of the composers scores were epic in their sound, he produced a handful that if you listened to them without being told they were western scores would assume they were from comedies of movies involving clowns and trapeze acts.

But to something positive in the genre, and to composer Gianni Ferrio, SENTENCE OF DEATH, again not the most conventional of scores even for a spaghetti western, the composer employing jazz influences throughout alongside percussive elements and Mexican sounding guitar solos to create a good score, but a slightly confusing one for any listener who had not seen the movie. Breathy woods accompany steamy sounding saxophone and double bass in sleazy sounding cues, that would not be out of place in any Giallo or cop picture. The song THE LAST GAME performed by Neville Cameron, is odd in itself, the intro spoken rather than sung, with Ferrio underlining and punctuating with a laid back jazz backing, and gradually building to a crescendo of sorts with the vocalist hitting the top notes and solo trumpet combining with organ and percussion to create an interesting combination and sound. One could never accuse Ferrio of being part of what was to be known as the school of Italian film music, he very rarely utilised a whistler, and his style was unique and I think because of this he stood out even more. I have to admit buying the soundtrack to SENTENCE OF DEATH because it had such a cool cover, but after a few listens I began to appreciate the soundtrack and also to engage with the style of the composer, which made me want to hear more of the same. Probably not the best example of the spaghetti western sound, but a worthy addition to any collection.



Another Spaghetti western score which I think can referred to as a classic example of Italian film scoring is SPARA GRINGO SPARA, The music is by the seasoned composer Sante Maria Romitelli, who provided us with a score that just bursts with energy and vibrant original musical content. It boasts a number of up tempo almost beat/pop tracks which are entertaining, foot tapping stuff. The score also includes a number of tracks that can be categorised as dramatic, symphonic and near operatic, like many scores for westerns which were produced in Italy during the 1960s and 1970s the soundtrack features performances on electric guitar, harpsichord, trumpet and organ, which are either as solo instruments or as a combination of all of these. SPARA GRINGO SPARA is a soundtrack that is made up of themes for the films principal characters.


For example TEMA DI STARK (track number 7) is a powerhouse of a cue, it begins with an organ motif which is joined and eventually overwhelmed by strings and brass, this then leads into an electric guitar solo, backed up by organ and vibes, the track develops into a full blown version of the theme for Stark, which is carried along by the string section with organ and guitar making entrances along the way, certainly stirring and inspiring stuff. There are also a handful of compositions on the soundtrack that can be described as suspense cues, not musical or thematic, but nevertheless go to make up an interesting part of this score.


Released in 1967, BANDIDOS is a good Italian western, it holds one’s attention via its original storyline but like most Italian produced westerns does have its lulls and lows as far as the story is concerned. One of the film’s most appealing attributes has to be the musical score by composer Egisto Macchi who fashioned a haunting and theme laden soundtrack, the stock instrumentation and sounds of the spaghetti western are present throughout, the composer relying upon solo trumpet performances, choral support, female voice, harpsichord, organ, jaws harp, bass guitar, percussion, dramatic strings, electric guitar, harmonica, sporadic trills from the woodwind section, racing snare drums that are punctuated by manic sounding brass stabs and vocals courtesy of Nico Fidenco, who I personally think had an input into the score as well as performing the songs, I say this because there are certain sounds or quirks of orchestration within the soundtrack that are distinctively Fidenco, the use of timpani, woodwind, choir and also soaring trumpet solos are stunning and at times rival the work of Lacarenza and Morricone, the overall combination of instrumentation however have to them a sound and style that just says to me Fidenco. Macchi was born in Grosseto Italy on August 4th 1928 he worked in many areas and genres of music, these included, film scores, classical, avant-garde, musique concrete and he contributed many compositions to music libraries. He began composing in 1953 and was not only a gifted composer but a proficient conductor/arranger plus he played violin and piano. After creating and founding The Musical Theatre of Rome with Domenico Guaccero, Macchi established Studio R7 in 1967, which was an experimental electronic music laboratory. In the same year the composer joined Gruppo di improvvisazione di nuova consonantal, which was an avant-garde improvisation group to which he recruited composer Ennio Morricone who was a long-time friend of his. During his career the composer worked on approx: 20 motion pictures, he passed away on August 8th 1992 aged 64.



It is unbelievable just how many Spaghetti western scores have been released in recent years thanks to labels such as HILLSIDE,GDM,DIGIT MOVIES etc etc. Hillside seem to have slowed in their release programme but I am sure that Mr Woodman and Professor Roberto Zamori will be back with something that is very special, meanwhile lets look back to 2008 when GDM/Hillside released the Nico Fidenco soundtrack for the 1966 production RINGO IL TEXANO or THE TEXICAN as it was re-titled for releases outside of Italy. The movie was a fair example of the Euro western because it was filmed in Spain and I suppose really was a combination of the style of the Italian or Euro western and also the more traditional Hollywood or American made B western movie.
Director Lesley Selendar an American was credited as being one of the most prolific western feature makers with 107 titles accredited to his name, he worked on TV shows also including the popular LARAMIE (43 Episodes), THE TALL MAN and DANIEL BOONE and feature films such as ARIZONA BUSHWHAKERS, FORT UTAH, THE LONE RANGER AND THE CITY OF GOLD and TOMAHAWK TRAIL to name but a few. The star of the movie Audie Murphy was I must admit a little out of place as the central character Jess Carlin, the actor seeming awkward in certain scenes but saying this Murphy was a veteran of Hollywood sage brush tales and was in the end an asset to the production attracting many of his fans to the movie. The villain of the piece Luke Starr was played by another American actor Broderick Crawford with Diana Lorys as Kit o Neal the love interest and two genre favourites Aldo Sambrell and Antonio Casas in tow. Murphy’s character has decided to hang up his guns and settle down in Mexico but after receiving news that his Brother who is a newspaper owner has been murdered he decides its time to strap his pistols back on and head back into the States to find the killer. The soundtrack was originally released on the RCA label on a long playing record, paired with another score by composer Nico Fidenco IN THE SHADOW OF THE COLT which itself was given a full score release in 2007 by GDM. Fidenco was a composer that simply shone when scoring westerns, his style just seemed to lend itself to these quirky and entertaining pieces of cinema. The composer very often providing a soundtrack that combined dramatic elements with catchy pop orientated material, he would create haunting and stirring themes that never failed to grab the attention of the watching audience and thus also attracting the attention of film music connoisseurs at the same time. How the collaboration between the director and composer came about I am not entirely sure, but I am glad it happened.


Fidenco created an upbeat and tuneful soundtrack for the movie and as per usual enlisted the assistance of Alessandroni and his excellent Il Cantori Moderni as well as providing the vocals himself for the film’s title song. Fidenco wrote a haunting opening theme for the film which is heard as a vocal and later in the proceedings is given quite a meaty sounding orchestral work out complete with bold sounding horns, brass flourishes and upbeat percussion that are all brought together by choir and strings. The CD contains 11 tracks which are taken from the original LP release which are stereo mixes. Then there are a further 21 cues taken from the actual film score which are in mono. This for me ranks alongside other Fidenco scores such as ONE MORE FOR HELL, TO THE LAST DROP OF BLOOD, LO VOGLIO MORTE and JOHN IL BASTARDO all of which are excellent examples of scoring.

Talking of excellent examples of Italian western scores how about a classic one. Originally released in 1967 on a CAM LP record which also included tracks on the B side from THE BELLE STARR STORY with music by Charles Dumont, this Cipriani spaghetti western score has to be one of the most popular and well known non-Morricone western scores from the 1960s. The theme was covered by numerous artists worldwide including the likes of LeRoy Holmes, Geoff Love and Henry Mancini – the latter held Cipriani’s composition in high esteem and was a composer who Cipriani said was an inspiration to him. A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN was also one of the first soundtracks to be re-issued by CAM as part of their Soundtrack Encyclopaedia series (CSE 102). But sadly, the recording was slightly flawed and was of a very short running duration; the original CD release running for just 23 mins 40 seconds. CAM did re-issue the score again with a few extra tracks and included it on a disc with tracks from two other westerns scored by Cipriani, THE BOUNTY KILLER and NEVADA. So it has been available before but not in such a complete version. This latest edition is, as far as we are aware, the entire score which was originally a project that CAM were contemplating at the time of the film’s release and is made up of tracks from a mock-up LP as well as cues from the film’s soundtrack. It contains 11 previously released cues and a further 11 released for the first time, billed as bonus tracks – although, in saying this, the central theme from the score is repeated a few times but in differing arrangements. The sound achieved by Hillside/GDM is amazing and all tracks are in full stereo apart from track 22, which is a mono mix of an alternate version of the central theme. Presentation is also very well done, with the original LP cover being utilized and a number of attractive and colourful stills and publicity posters from the film decorating the disc booklet. The score by Cipriani is, in every sense of the word, a “CLASSIC” and it is this soundtrack along with examples from the same period by Ennio Morricone, Gianni Ferrio, Bruno Nicolai, Francesco De Masi and Nico Fidenco that set the standard and also created the precedence and style that was to become the iconic spaghetti western “SOUND”.


The CD opens with the now familiar and dare I say famous theme, “Un Uomo un Cavallo una Pistola”. Spanish guitar punctuated by subdued bass electric guitar open the cue and usher in shrill but melodic woodwind, establishing the main body of the theme. Strident, forceful strings add momentum and increase the composition’s tempi. The strings are then joined by racing snares, bells and eventually an electric guitar which takes on the role established by the woods and continues to pick out Cipriani’s infectious theme. Trumpet is added to create a wonderful rich and exuberant sound depicting the man and the horse riding at speed. The tempo then alters drastically as the composer introduces a slower and more romantic arrangement of the central theme. Woodwind again with low brass and strings are combined with a laid-back percussion supporting them. Again, the tempi changes and becomes fast paced but only very briefly, bringing the cue to its conclusion as it fades.
Track 2, “Una Canzone per la Luna”, is the secondary theme for the score, and in many ways evokes memories of Morricone’s “Goodbye Colonel” cue from A FEW DOLLARS MORE. Subdued percussion, bells and martial timpani are interspersed with electric bass and piano creating an almost bolero sound, which has the central phrasing of the theme performed by woodwind and also at times passed to solo trumpet which is slow and mournful in its overall sound, supported by sparse use of electric organ. Track 3, “Faccia a Terra”, is one of the highlights of the score; driving percussion, punctuated by whip sounds act as background to a striking and memorable trumpet solo which itself is embellished by the use of a rasping voice which creates a stunning and highly original effect. I am also glad to say that, on this version of the score, the re-mastering has been done wonderfully because on the original CD release there was a slight imperfection that was very noticeable on this particular track, which has now been remedied. Overall, this soundtrack is a rewarding listen and one of the Italian western genres greatest non-Morricone scores.


Black Killer
Black Killer

The first Italian western score I ever heard by composer Daniele Patucchi was DEAF SMITH AND JOHNNY EARS or LOS AMIGOS as it was called in Italy. I remember thinking that the music was not pure Spaghetti in its style and overall sound but was a fusion of that type of scoring together with a more conventional approach which harkened back to the days of the traditional western according to Hollywood. BLACK KILLER was released in 1971, two years before LOS AMIGOS and although the master tapes of the score were the property of CAM Dischi in Rome, the soundtrack never got a release on LP records at the time of the film’s release – which is surprising because the composer’s DEAF SMITH AND JOHNNY EARS did and was even issued in the UK on EMI records. This had to be something to do with Anthony Quinn and Franco Nero being in the aforementioned movie and BLACK KILLER starring Klaus Kinski who was little known in the UK at that time.

Patucchi’s score for BLACK KILLER was a little more spaghetti sounding than LOS AMIGOS as it contained a number of references to the then already established sound of the Italian produced western; the composer utilizing a rasping electronic sound and instrumentation which clearly had connections with scores by other composers from the genre, i.e. banjo played in unison with a saloon type piano, fiddle (which is reminiscent of Morricone’s FIVE MAN ARMY), Spanish guitar solos and a fairly light and up-tempo central theme which again is reminiscent of the style employed by Morricone in films such as BANDA J AND S.

There are several darker and sinister, dramatic interludes within the score, where Patucchi calls upon electric bass guitar, percussion and tense sounding woods to create a taught and edgy atmosphere. Plus, we hear cues that are variations on the core theme; the composer orchestrating and arranging these so that they remain fresh and vibrant on each outing. Harpsichord, guitar and Celeste are utilised throughout to create some nice low-key moments which can be considered romantic in their overall sound. This is demonstrated in track seven, which includes all of the instrumentation I have already mentioned plus lush strings. In track nine, percussion together with bass guitar, underlined with woodwind provide a tense mood; the tension building further with the introduction of electric guitar stabs and noises which – whilst not exactly musical – add much to the composition. A score that grows on you and one that is sadly overlooked.


Quella sporca storia nel west
Quella sporca storia nel west

Next we have a gem of a score from the genre of the Spaghetti western. QUELLA SPORCA STORIA NEL WEST, features a great title song performed by Maurizio Graf, the artistry of Alessandro Alessandroni as a choral director co-composer and guitarist, the distinct sound of il Cantori Moderni, the unmistakable talent of Franco D Gemini and of course the originality and the musical prowess of Maestro Francesco De Masi. Released in 1968 this is one of the many spaghetti westerns which were popular with audiences around the world during the 1960s through to the mid to late 1980s. Francesco De Masi had a unique style and sound when working on any type of movie but for me it was the western genre in particular where the composer excelled. His scores for westerns such as ARIZONA COLT, 7 DOLLARI SUL ROSSO, KILL THEM ALL AND COME BACK ALONE, and SARTANA NON PERDONA, to name but a few, all contain musical elements which are essentially akin to the Italian western sound but alongside them and fused within them have a style that evokes the Hollywood produced western scores such as HIGH NOON, THE BRAVADOS, THE TIN STAR etc., etc. De Masi not only utilized the typical expansive Americana sound of the western as envisaged by composers such as Tiomkin, Newman and Bernstein but he also stamped upon each project the inimitable sound of the Spaghetti western and further embellished this sound with a style and inventiveness that was all his own. The CD opens with “Find a Man” (Tema di Johnny) performed by vocalist Maurizio Graf. This performer’s distinct vocalising was utilized by many composers in Italy and he worked on numerous western soundtracks.


Maybe I am being a little over the top here, when I say I think that this is possibly the best song written for an Italian western, as it not only has great lyrics by Audrey Stanton and A. Alessandroni and an outstanding performance by Graf, but it also contains a fantastic jangling guitar riff courtesy of Alessandroni and a melodic and infectious musical backing consisting of organ, percussion, piano and lavish sounding strings;

“Find a Man Who Never Killed Not Even For the Love of Gold,
Find a Man Who Never Lied and Offer Him Your Soul,
Find a Man Who Never Stole From Any Man a Woman’s Love,
Find a Man Who Never Lied and Never Let Him Go”.

How can this not be a winning formula for a western song.
More than any other De Masi western score this includes some wonderful choral work which can be heard in cues such as “In Memoria” (track 3) and “Johnny Sulla Croce (track 16). It’s also a score that has a number of standout tracks – the composer creating secondary themes which because of their strength and quality could easily act as main titles for other assignments. For example, track 11 “Il Villaggio di Santana” is a great action piece containing driving percussion, uplifting and forthright Mexican flavoured strings, strumming guitars, proud sounding horns, whips and xylophone. All of these elements combine to create something anthem like and stirring in its overall sound. The composer fuses both Italian styles with that of a more conventional western sound and the end result is not only original but pleasing and rewarding for the listener. The soundtrack was issued previously on a CAM LP back in 1968. CAM re-issued the score in 1995 paired it with 7 DOLLARI SUL ROSSO but there were no extra cues included and it was a re-issue of the LP tracks. This edition contains all of those tracks 1-19 on the disc, plus we are treated to a further 8 cues, which are alternate takes on a handful of the previous tracks. Sound quality is outstanding, and the presentation is handled nicely with many stills from the movie and informative notes by Filippo De Masi the composer’s son. This was the seventh CD to be issued by BEAT records in the Francesco de Masi western score series.

The Italian made western was a popular genre with cinema goers, and in the UK I know that many examples of these movies were often shown as B features alongside movies that were produced in the UK and the U.S. THE BIG GUNDOWN for example was the support feature to THE WRECKING CREW and A BULLET FOR THE GENERAL was shown as the second feature to a variety of main programmes. In the 1970,s both A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE were shown on the same programme, and DEATH RIDES A HORSE was shown prior to the main feature in many picture houses, cinema audiences whether they liked it or not were always able to get an ample fix of spaghetti.


In 1969, a movie that was shown as a B feature was GOLD OF THE BRAVADOS, a movie which had a limited distribution and also a very short run at cinemas, the production was scored by Luis Bacalov. For some reason this is a soundtrack that is rarely spoken of, I don’t understand why as I count it as one of the composers better scores for the western genre as in it does not re-use any themes from the composers other soundtracks, many collectors had in fact encountered music from the movie without knowing it on Bacalov’s compilation album PAESAGGI which had been released on General music in 1972, the compilation featuring the central theme form the score, the actual soundtrack for GOLD OF THE BRAVADOS did not receive a release until 1995, when it was featured alongside another Bacalov western score for the comedy LA PIU’ GRANDE RAPINA DEL WEST, on a GDM compact disc, this was a very limited edition that had been produced by Hillside CD production and distributed by GDM with each release individually numbered.


The track that was a familiar one to collectors was ADIOS TIERRA MIA, which opens the score it is a typical sounding Bacalov composition, purveyed wonderfully by woods, whistler, solo trumpet, strings and harpsichord, it is in my opinion one of the composers most accomplished themes for a western at least, and rivals the grandeur and the melodic content of IL GRANDE DUELLO (1972). It is certainly a case of the music being far superior to the film it was written for in the case of GOLD OF THE BRAVADOS, the score has an almost epic sound at times and oozes Hispanic and South American colours, which is something that Bacalov also achieved on his soundtrack for A MAN CALLED NOON.


One of the most entertaining Spaghetti western scores in my opinion is Marcello Giombini’s SABATA which was released in 1969, the soundtrack is filled with vibrant themes and has to it an abundance of energy that underlines the action and also acts as musical punchlines to many of the scenarios in the movie. The score is essentially made up of a handful of principal themes, some of which are integral to the films storyline and are identifiable with the films central characters, the most prominent and noticeable being the theme for BANJO, the composer taking the opportunity to interweave his theme for the character into key scenes which he is featured in, thus the audience become accustomed to hearing the theme either on the score or in the context of a scene where the character Banjo is playing the instrument.


The soundtrack also featured the bouncy and infectious theme for SABATA and themes for the villains. It is in a word STUNNING and also a wonderful and masterful piece of scoring by Giombini. The soundtrack LP was issued in the 1970’s on a Japanese import, which was on the U.A. label, there was also a single released in the UK and Italy which featured SABATA theme on the A side and BANJO on the B side. Again, released on U.A. records.



The soundtrack was issued onto CD by Hillside CD productions and GDM in 2001 paired with RETURN OF SABATA, again scored by Giombini in 1971, the sequel was not such an entertaining movie and the score too lacked the stature and inventiveness of the original, but it was a bonus to have both scores on one Compact Disc. The soundtracks have been re-issued separately onto compact disc in recent years, but my opinion is that the original GDM/Hillside release is still the one to have.



Staying with the SABATA series, and to the second movie in the trilogy, ADIOS SABATA, THE BOUNTY HUNTERS or INDIO BLACK. Was released in 1970, and because Lee Van Cleef was not available to take on the role he was substituted with Yul Brynner who’s interpretation of the SABATA character was the opposite of Van Cleef. The movie although enjoyable was mainly played for laughs and gimmicky stunts which worked well or in most cases fell a little flat. The score was by Bruno Nicolai, who many had heard of via his associating with Ennio Morricone when he acted as the composer’s musical director on numerous scores. Nicolai had written the music for a number of westerns, but ADIOS SABATA is one of his best, although at times it does verge upon being a direct imitation of the work of Morricone, with strange noises, grunts, chants and whistles being utilised throughout. The score was released for the first time onto compact disc by Hillside cd production in 2001, the release being distributed by GDM. Again, the score received a re-issue a few years later, but again like the other SABATA scores the Hillside/GDM release has the edge over the others.

Finally, I going to head for an unreleased score, well when I say unreleased it has not received an expanded Compact disc release, it was however released onto LP by CAM records and also on a single on the same label and is a title I mentioned earlier in this article. THE BELLE STARR STORY was a double soundtrack release it being the A side to A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN, the film which was released in 1968, was met with mixed reactions, but all in all was a good movie and probably the pre-cursor for films such as HANNIE CAULDER.


The score is by French composer Charles Dumont, the soundtrack LP opens with a fanfare of sorts that introduces a vocal entitled NO TIME FOR LOVE, which is something the main character of the movie identifies with. The vocal is performed by the movies star Elsa Martinelli, who delivers a suitably sultry and sensual vocal. Dumont penned the music for the song as well as the score and the lyrics were provided by Andre Salvat and Norman Newell. The music for the song is sparse whilst the vocals are being performed, and comprises of woods, bass guitar and a subtle Spanish guitar, until the vocal or first part of it at least comes to an end, and then Dumont enters the fray with a galloping and quick paced piece that is performed by timpani, percussion and horns with strings supporting. This comes to an abrupt end as the vocal is again re-introduced this time with a more elaborate support of strings giving it a more romantic feel and atmosphere. Track two, is an instrumental version of the song and the composer employs dramatic strings to open the cue, but these are then tailed off and amore lush and sumptuous rendition of the song is performed by soaring strings which themselves fade and lead into a delicate and quiet guitar solo. Track three is WESTERN CASINO, which is self-explanatory, and this is where the saloon piano piece comes into the work, Dumont providing a jaunty, honky-tonk saloon sound via the at times off kilter piano that is backed and punctuated by strummed banjo. THRILLING PER UNA STELLA is the title of track number four, Dumont, switching to a more dramatic musical style, with electric bass, percussion, brass and bongos, combining to create a taught and apprehensive sound, that is quite reminiscent of Cipriani’s A MAN A HORSE AND A GUN, the track builds with the composer adding strings that seem to envelope and carry the remainder of the instrumentation, bringing the track to a close. Track five, is a guitar version of the central theme and is entitled BELLE STARR GUITAR. Which is brief but effective, the final track is BELLE STARR, in which Dumont creates a suitably western sounding riding cue, with brass, strumming guitars, electric bass punctuations and rumbling percussion. A short but interesting and entertaining soundtrack, that sadly was at the time of its release ignored by many.