BILL MARX is a native of Los Angeles, California. And has been a professional musician since he was sixteen years of age, he studied composition in New York at the Juilliard School of Music, and has continued on to this day as a renown jazz pianist. Mr. Marx has composed many symphonic orchestral works as well as music for motion pictures, television, and ballet. He has also produced and arranged for and performed with many jazz and pop artists, including the music for two record albums and all the television appearances of his father, Harpo Marx. As a stage performer, he has concertized worldwide for years, combining his piano artistry with humorous anecdotes about the life and times he shared with his dad, both personally and professionally as his musical arranger/conductor, many of which are chronicled in his father’s autobiography HARPO SPEAKS! and from Bill’s own autobiography, SON OF HARPO SPEAKS!
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES HAS DESIGNATED MR. MARX AS THE OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON OF THE MARX BROTHERS FOR THE NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY, WHICH PROMOTES THE PRESERVATION OF AMERICAN MOTION PICTURE CLASSICS.
Composer and performer William (Bill) Marx, wrote the music for a handful of movies from the mid to late 1960’s through to the end of the 1980’s. His music for film may not be that well known but it is popular amongst aficionados of movie scores. With his scores for Count Yorga Vampire and its sequel The Return of Count Yorga (aka-Vampire Story) probably being the composers best-known works for film.
Even today some fifty plus years after seeing these movies I am still in awe of the way in which the composer scored them, the music often being the driving force behind scenes and also it is the score that strikes fear into the hearts and souls of any watching audience. My thanks to Mr. Marx for his time and his patience whilst I interrogated him and my heartfelt thanks to Tim Ayres, who put me in contact with the composer. JM. MMI. (2021).
You are obviously from a family background that is filled with talent as in the entertainment business, can I ask what are your earliest memories of any kind of music?
My earliest musical impact was when I was two years old. I learned to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “That’s What I Want For Christmas”. I have Victrola recordings of both. My dad exposed me to all kinds of music. Gershwin, Stravinsky, Be Bop, East and West coast Jazz, Bartok, French Impressionistic Composers, Kenton, who I later wrote for….etc…..yes, all kinds of music…..
What musical education did you have, and as a pianist I am guessing you focused more upon the piano when studying as well as composition etc?
I had started playing piano when I was four……But I became interested in composing when I was about twelve years old……I wound up as a composition major at seventeen when I went to Juilliard, where my teacher was Bernard Waagoner.
In my opinion your score for Count Yorga Vampire played a massive part in creating the harrowing and jumpy atmosphere within the movie, it is a great shame that your score has never been released, although it is available as an isolated score on one of the blu-ray releases. Do you think that it could be released alongside some of your other film music, the sequel The Return of Count Yorga for example, also thinking of this I suppose that the rights for the music are retained by AIP? The score is performed by mainly strings and woodwind with a scattering of percussion and piano, plus there are a handful of electronic effects, and I think I detected guitar? What size ensemble or orchestra did you have for the film?
Thank you for the Yorgaccolades you could Google and contact Tim Ayres about what he had to do to devote time to using the score. He has an informative internet show about composers. I used only eight players, as I felt that would create a greater intimacy than a large orchestra.
Considering the movie was released in 1970, it has stood the test of time very well and your score and the performance by Robert Quarry are the two main reasons for this. The music you wrote for the movie was way ahead of its time in its style and sound, taking into account most horror movies were still being scored in a way that started in the 1950’s. Did the director have any specific requests or instructions regarding the score and how it should sound?
The director Bob Kelljan who I worked with a few times allowed me to write whatever I felt would add to the overall atmosphere of the movie……Quarry was terrific.
I remember seeing the movie in 1970 at the cinema, I was fifteen at the time, I always remember the Main titles music, it set the scene straight away for the film and it also scared the hell out of me, because it was kind of soothing in a macabre way and lulled the audience into a false sense of security. Was this something that you did intentionally to create an atmosphere that was calm but at the same time apprehensive?
I guess the score did to you what I hoped it would do to its audiences.
How many times did you sit and watch the movie before deciding upon a style or sound and where the music should be placed to best serve the picture and how much time were you given to work n the composition and the recording of the score?
In those days we took our music timings for each scene on a Moviola. That is how I watched the film, my score taking me a month to write and record… The whole movie was shot in 10 days….
Did you conduct the score, and did you perform on it at all, I ask about performing because there is a lovely piano piece on the soundtrack and was wondering if this was you?
Yes, that was me on the piano and I also conducted the score.
I understand that you were arranging and conducting music for your father at the age of sixteen, was it always music that you wanted to pursue as a career?
I was a good baseball player, but for physical problems that prevented me from becoming one, I slipped back into music…
The film The Deathmaster contained a rock styled score, and you also utilized sitar at certain points, was this because of the scenario, setting and period in which the film was set and can you remember who the sitar player was?
Bill Plummer was the sitar player on The Deathmaster score. It was a weird film about a weird cult in a weird vampire-hippie environment…. The director was Ray Danton, who was himself a good character actor….
Scream Blacula Scream, was a mix of both horror and comedy, the score was upbeat and at times funky plus it had a really good song, Spread your Love all over me, you wrote the music but who wrote the lyrics and who was the female vocalist?
I believe the director was Bob Kelljan, who also did the Yorga films. Marilyn Lovell wrote the lyrics to “Spread”, but I don’t remember who sang the song…
I think you began writing music for commercials during the 1960’s when you were arranging cover versions of songs for Vee Jay records, it was also in this decade that you started to score movies, your first being a short entitled, Weekend Pass which was in 1961, how did you become involved as the composer on this?
I was very good friends with Marion Thomas who at the time was dating this guy who wanted to make his first movie and I wanted to score my first movie, so we got together.
Your next movie was also a 1961 release entitled Walk the Angry Beach, but you did not score another movie until 1970 which was Count Yorga, what were you doing between movies musically?
I would play jazz piano in night clubs between composing, which is something I still do and enjoy today.
The Astral Factor was another interesting movie that you scored in 1978, which starred Stephanie Powers, I am not sure but according to certain websites it was re-scored in 1984, any idea why this happened?
I have no idea why they re-scored the picture, as I lost complete track of the film… They kept re-titling it…and I just had moved on to another project. They just might not have liked my score. Only they would know this.
You worked on a few horror movies as a composer, do you think that horror is a genre that requires more music than other types of movies and is there times within a movie that does not require music?
The director of any movie, regardless of its theme, determines the music requirements, if, where and when it shall be used for the appropriate scenes.
You also wrote music for TV Starsky and Hutch for example, is scoring TV shows hugely different from working on motion pictures?
Technically, there is no difference for me between scoring for movies or TV…
There is news from Hollywood about a re-make of the Blacula movies, if approached would you consider writing music for any such production?
I know nothing of the talk of a Blacula sequel, though it wouldn’t surprise me if there was.
My thanks to Bill Marx for his time and wonderful responses.