Category Archives: ARTICLES

Articles in this section reflect a personal view of the author only.

THE SPAGHETTI WESTERN SONGBOOK.

As a follow up to the article about the spaghetti western soundtracks on compact disc, I thought it might be an idea to give collectors an insight into the vocalists who performed so many of the title songs for those Italian produced movies. Often the song from a Italian western would be released onto a 45rpm single record with a picture cover either showing a scene or poster from the movie in question or a picture of the vocalist wearing cowboy outfit. I suppose this in the early days was also a way of promoting the movie and its soundtrack, some of the songs from the movies even entering the hit parade as it was then called. The singles were mainly released in Italy, France, and Germany as in the beginning there was it seemed limited interest in the songs from the movies outside of those countries. Artists such as Maurizio Graf, Peter Tevis, Christy, Peter Boom and others often achieving fairly high chart positions with the performances and in Italy particularly appearing on TV.

Many collectors in the UK never latched onto the Italian western theme song until RCA released Il Western by Ennio Morricone, which included songs from movies such as Gunfight at Red Sands, Bullets Don’t Argue, A Pistol for Ringo, Return of Ringo etc.

After this release many Italian western fans began to take more notice of songs from the movies, and were drawn to composers such as De Angelis, De Masi, Lavagnino, Ferrio, Nicolai etc, all of whom at some point included a vocal performance on their soundtracks. One of the most popular and enduring is surprisingly not by Morricone, but by Francesco De Masi.

His soundtrack for Quella Sporca Storia Nel West (The Dirtiest Story of The West-aka-Johnny Hamlet) opened with the pop slanted song Find a Man, which was co-written by Alessandro Alessandroni who also provided the infectious guitar riff that opened the song.

Quella Sporca Storia Nel West. (excerpt).

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

The vocals were courtesy of Maurizio Graf who was supported by members of Il Cantori Moderni and an upbeat orchestral backing, that sounded more like American Surf music and UK pop a’lla the Tornadoes rather than music for a western.

The twangy guitar solo that was woven throughout the vocal was an instant hit and the soundtrack also included an instrumental version of the tune. Graf’s performance was a strong one and surprisingly it was also easy to understand every word, which was not always the case with vocals from Italian soundtracks.  Many suffering because of the individual vocalist’s pronunciation of the English lyrics, of course they did at times also record the song in Italian, which for me personally always sounded far more powerful and expressive which was certainly the case with the title song for the Sergio Corbucci movie Django (1966) as scored by Luis Enriquez Bacalov, which seemed to become instantly more commanding and had a better flow to it. This genre classic vocal was performed in Italian by the singer/actor Roberto Fia, with an alternate English version being sung by Rocky Roberts.

Roberts was an American vocalist and went onto work with composer Bacalov on a handful of other songs which included Can Be Done from the western Si Pio Fare…Amigo.  The English version of Django was given a new lease of life more recently in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

Django. (excerpt)

Django!

Django, have you always been alone?

Django!

Django, have you never loved again?

Love will live on, oh oh oh…

Life must go on, oh oh oh…

For you cannot spend your life regretting

Django!

Django, you must face another day.

But back to Maurizio Graf, who also worked with Morricone, on the songs for the Giuliano Gemma westerns A Pistol for Ringo and The Return of Ringo. His unique vocal performances on both added much to the overall sound of Morricone’s score and via the vocals also made Morricone’s music even more popular. The first which was entitled Angel Face was a lyrical and melodic affair, even if the lyrics themselves did contain mention of rivers of blood etc, Morricone added his own distinctive sound with soaring strings, choir and guitar which were supported by a familiar Italian pop vibe.

Angel Face from A Pistol for Ringo. (excerpt)

Countries, that know only the springtime
And your green fields, with your scentin’ of hay
Know Ringo, with his angel face
And a woman, who was waitin’ for his return
Cross the canyons he laughed
Down the valley the death
And he left behind a river of blood.

Whereas The Return of Ringo was a little more edgy and had to it a dramatic near operatic style within the arrangement.

The Return of Ringo. (First verse)

I kiss at last the beloved ground of my land. That I left one day with my hard heart full of pain. I have looked in the faces of my old friends. But nobody looked at me as my old friends. And now what happens you must, you must tell me.

Before scoring the two Ringo movies Morricone worked on two other westerns, Gunfight at Red Sands (1963) and Bullets Don’t Argue, (1964) both soundtracks contained songs, Gunfight at Red Sands had the title song A Gringo Like Me and Bullets don’t Argue contained the haunting ballad Lonesome Billy, both songs were performed by Peter Tevis.

Tevis was the vocalist on the song Pastures of Plenty (RCA PM45-3115). which was written by Woodie Guthrie and arranged by Morricone, an instrumental reworking of this eventually ended up as the theme for the first in the Sergio Leone Dollar Trilogy of movies A Fistful OF Dollars (1964). Peter Tevis was born 1937, in California, USA, he was an American folk singer but is best remembered for his work on the soundtracks of composer Ennio Morricone. Tevis met Morricone while living in Italy during the 1960s and suggested that they should work together.

A Gringo Like Me. from Gunfight at Red Sands. (excerpt).

Keep your hand on your gun.

Don’t you trust anyone.

There’s just one kind of man that you can trust,

that’s a dead man, or A Gringo Like Me.

Be the first one to fire.

Every man is a liar.

There’s just one kind of man who tells the truth,

that’s a dead man, or A Gringo Like Me.

Don’t be a fool for a smile or a kiss,

or your bullet might miss.

Keep your eye on your goal.

Lonesome Billy from Bullets don’t argue.

Always lonely

Always looking

To get even with the men

Who did him wrong.

That was Billy

Lonesome Billy

Who was quick to think

A gun could make him strong

No one tougher or more daring

Only he and his gun sharing

The great fight to live

And his great love to fight

A rough man who played with danger

To whom trouble was no stranger

Until one day he lay dying

He’d filled his date with destiny.

During the 1970s Tevis produced audio recordings designed to train different families of songbirds to talk. In his last years he suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had almost lost his voice. He died in September 2006 in Washington.

Tevis is also known for his performance of the song A Man Must Fight,  from 7 Dollari Sul Rosso-(Seven Dollars on the Red), which had a score written by Francesco De Masi and was written in the style of many of the songs from American westerns.

Maybe one of the most well-known songs from an Italian western is They Call Me Trinity, the film was scored by Franco Micalizzi and Roberto Pregadio, and the title song was performed by Annibale Giannarelli, under the name of Annibale. The singer was born in Sassalbo, Massa Carrara, Tuscany, Italy on the 9th of May 1948. His career began during the early 1960’s as both a singer and a instrumentalist. He has performed throughout Italy and Australia often at major venues and also has made numerous television appearances. His vocal talents are outstanding and he performs a wide range of songs from traditional Italian and pop through to jazz and classic hits. He performed the song for Franco Micalizzi on the first in the series of the Trinity movies and performed on Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for Paola and Francesca. The iconic vocal on the comedy western They Call me Trinity was an international hit and is still performed by Franco Micalizzi’s big bubbling band in an instrumental arrangement when they are on tour. The song’s lyrics were by Lally Stott and was basically a send up of the American songs for western movies containing the lyrics.

Lo Chiamavano Trinita (first verse).

He’s the guy who’s the talk of the town
With the restless gun
Don’t you bother to fool him around
Keeps the varmints on the run, boy
Keeps the varmints on the run

You may think he’s a sleepy-type guy
Always takes his time
Soon I know you’ll be changing your mind
When you’ve seen him use a gun, boy
When you’ve seen him use a gun.

Another much loved song from the Italian western genre is The Man From Nowhere, which was penned by Francesco De Masi, and Alessandro Alessandroni for the movie Arizona Colt (1966). The singer on this occasion was Raoul who worked with De Masi on other western songs and collaborated with Alessandroni and his Il Cantori Moderni. Born Ettore Raoul Lovecchio the Italian singer and actor was often called on for solo-singing on soundtracks in the late 1960s. After which he left the genre to become an actor during the 70s. He was also known for being the owner of a boutique for Oriental fashion in Rome.

RAOUL.

He was also known as Raul or Raoul Lo Vecchio. He also sang on other westerns that included. Death Rides a Horse, A Taste of Death, 15 Scaffolds for a Murderer, 7 Winchester per Un Massacro, Quanto Costa Morire, I 4 Inesorabili, Ammazzali Tutti E Trorna Solo, Testa a Croce, Vado L’Amazzo E Torno, and many others. His distinct voice giving the songs an earthy and dramatic feel.

The Man from Nowhere from Arizona Colt. (First verse)

He came out of nowhere with no one beside him, he rode out of the sunrise all alone, a man out of nowhere with no one to love him his one faithful companion was his gun, no one could say just where he came from, no one could say where he was going. Was he a man without a heart, a man with a heart made of stone.

Don Powell was a vocalist who regularly appeared on Italian western soundtracks, working with the likes of Marcello Giombini on Tre Pistole Contro Cesare-(Death Walks in Laredo) the title song Laredo was a fast paced affair, with Powell exaggerating the Laredo, to Lareeedo. He also worked with composer Carlo Savina on Pocchi Dollari Per Django (A Few Dollars for Django) 1966 and on Ehi Amigo..sei Morto in 1971. Nevada with Gianni Ferrio also in 1971. The singer collaborated with Angelo Francesco Lavagnino for the title song A Gambling Man on 5000 Dollari sul Asso-(5000 Dollars on the Ace) 1964, And with Spanish composer Anton Garcia Abril on the classic Texas Addio in 1966.  Powell’s voice was at times compared with that of Frank Sinatra, at times having to it a smooth and mellow tone, which can be heard particularly in his vocal for Nevada entitled They call it Gold.

Texas Goodbye.

As a boy
All the thoughts, that filled my mind
Were as a boy
Then, one day
Something in my childish mind
Will be a strain

But as a man
Love and hate
They somehow mean the same
All could blame
To a child which was born into a world of pain.

Fred Bongusto is a name we have seen much of when it comes to Italian film and TV music, he is not only a composer but also a singer and has performed a handful of songs for Italian westerns, Uccidi O Mouori-(Kill or be Killed) being one of them, the song I Must Go is an excellent western song and evokes memories of the song in High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me) the score is by composer Carlo Rustichelli who’s instrumental version of the song is pure spaghetti western, with soaring trumpet solo, electric guitar, and includes Rustichelli’s melodic and classical sounding strings that are enhanced by percussion and organ.  

We return to the power of Morricone for the next two songs, both of which were performed byChristy who is an Italian singer (also known as Cristy). Her real name is Maria Cristina Brancucci. She is famous for the powerful title songs to The Big Gundown and Tepepa. Run Man Run and Al Messico Che Vorrei respectively.

Away from the Spaghetti Western genre she provided the vocals for the Morricone/Nicolai scored Operation Kid Brother and has also recorded Deep, deep Down, which is the title song from Mario Bava’s Diabolik also written by Morricone.

Run Man Run -from- The Big Gundown.

Somewhere there is a land where men do not kill each

Other. Somewhere there is a land where men call a man a brother.

Somewhere you will find a place where men live without

Fear. Somewhere, if you keep on running, someday you’ll be

Free. Never, no never no they’ll never lock you in.

No never, no never, no never let them win.

Go ahead young man, face towards the sun,

Run man, run while you can,

Run man, run man, run.

Running like a hare, like deer, like rabbit,

Danger in the air, coming near, you can feel it,

And you’re panting like hare, like deer like a rabbit,

Running from the snare until fear is a habit.

Hurry on and on and on.

Hurry on and on, hurry on and on

Run and run until you know you’re free,

Run to the end of the world ’til you find a place

Where they never never never

No never no they’ll never lock you in.

Never, no never, no never let them win.

Go ahead young man, face towards the sun,

Run man, run while you can,

Run man, run man, run.

There are obviously many other vocalists who have performed on Italian western soundtracks, The Wilder Brothers for example on The Man With the Golden Pistol for Lavagnino, Gene Roman, on The Continuing Story of Trinity for Guido and Maurizio De Angelis,

Ann Collin on Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears for Daniele Patucchi, and her brilliant vocalising on That Man from Fasthand for Gianni Ferrio, also let’s not forget Nevil Cameron on Ferrio’s Sentenza Di Morte and the moody but excellent rendition of The Last Game. And Let it Rain Let it Pour vocals this time by Stefano Grossman from the movie Amico Stammi Lontano Almeno Un Palmo and Jula De Palmaon Ferrio’s superb score for Find a Place to Die which included two songs, one being Find a Place to Die and Era Una Cowboy.

Plus, there is Peter Boom on Corri Uomo Corri by Bruno Nicolai and Marcello Giombini’s The Return of Sabata. John Balfour on The Son of Django for Umiliani.Saverio Moriones on John Il Bastardo for Fidenco and for Fidenco again Gianni Davoli with Forgive but Not Forget from One more for Hell.

And then Fidenco himself on songs such as The Lanky Gunman, from The Taste of Killing, and Texican from Ringo the Texican. Gino from The Hills Run Red for Morricone, with the song Home to My Love, the list is it seems endless. Because of this I know I will have missed names and titles but let’s hope this article might inspire others to discover the vocal side of the Spaghetti Western score.

SPAGHETTI ‘AL DENTE’.

There are many new releases of soundtracks every month, I think now with the various streaming services more than ever, and of course there are also so many re-issues, some with extra music others just straight re-releases of what was available before. Gone are the days of seeking out the various soundtracks on CD in the many record and CD shops instead its easier to just type and click the details into ones PC and up they all pop. Which made me think about soundtracks that newer collectors might had missed out on, which may not have made it to the likes of Spotify or Apple Music and the quality and wealth of music that comes from the Italian produced western.

note the lack of credit for Bruno Nicolai?

Its surprising that some of the younger recruits to the ranks of movie music collecting might not have experienced the spaghetti western score, yes of course almost everyone is aware of the music of the great Ennio Morricone when it comes to Italian westerns, but what of other composers who were also active within the genre and were equally responsible for establishing and developing the sound of that genre and created a whole new way of scoring westerns.

Many of the scores from Italian productions have eventually in one form or another made it to CD during the past three decades, and some titles proved very popular especially if they were the work of known composers such as Morricone, Bruno Nicolai etc.

In this article/review I will list a few of these and try to persuade newer collectors of film music to savour them you never know they might for a few minutes stop applauding Hans Zimmer, and move away from the soundscapes and drone like hums and crashes, but I doubt it. I suppose the best place to start is with the CD releases on the iconic soundtrack label C.A.M. and those that were issued as part of CAM’s Soundtrack Encyclopaedia, which initially included one hundred titles.

One of the titles was Los Amigos (1973) or Deaf Smith and Johnny Ears, as it was entitled outside of Italy, the movie starred Anthony Quinn and Franco Nero and was a really good movie which had a robust and interesting score by composer Daniele Patucchi, now although this is a Spaghetti western it was a little different when it came to the music, there were no real stock sounds from the genre included in the score and it is more or less a Hollywood sounding soundtrack, with the composer opting to use brass, percussion and strings in the main, the score did however include two good songs, the title track The Ballad of Deaf and Ears and also Even if you’re not the First one, both of which had lyrics and were performed by Anne Collin with music provided by Patucchi. The score included instrumental versions of these also and a scattering of dramatic and quite bombastic sounding cues.

With the music sounding more like Bernstein and Goldsmith in places, this was a straight LP (issued in 1973) track to CD release containing no extras for the compact disc which was issued in 1991, and was like so many of the CAM first CD releases notoriously short in its running duration which was just over thirty minutes, but the music is worth adding to your collection.

It was one of very few spaghetti westerns that had an LP release outside of Italy with the soundtrack appearing on EMI in the UK. Patucchi also scored movies such as Black Killer and Death Played the Flute both released onto CD by Hillside/GDM.  

Another, release from CAM was one that carried on the practise that CAM had begun back in the 1960’s of releasing two scores on one LP which was good news for collectors, the CD release contained Adios Gringo (1965) and Un Dollaro Tra I Denti (For a Dollar in the Teeth) (1967) aka-Stranger in Town, the latter being the first in the trilogy of movies in the stranger series of movies that starred Tony Anthony.

Both scores were the work of composer Benedetto Ghiglia, who also created the music for El Rojo, and Four Dollars for Vengeance, and were not what we know as traditional Spaghetti western scores, if traditional is a word in the vocabulary of the Italian western soundtrack. Ghiglia who was an already established composer of film scores was known for experimenting with percussive sounds within his soundtracks, and in a way, he successfully invented his own unique sound to accompany the very few westerns he scored.

The CD for Adios Gringo and For a Dollar in the Teeth was released in 1996 and had a running time of nearly an hour, it again is certainly well worth listening to as both scores are inventive and innovative and a look into the musical world of the Italian western before the sound that we are now familiar with established itself.

Another movie in the stranger series was A Man, A Horse, and A Gun, Shoot First Laugh Last or The Stranger Returns. The now iconic soundtrack was written by Stelvio Cipriani. I say iconic mainly because of the score’s central theme, which was covered by so many artists throughout the world including Henry Mancini and LeRoy Holmes. The theme being quite simple and sparse sounding but straight away conjuring up the feel and atmosphere of a western. The soundtrack was issued on a CAM LP originally as the B side to Charles Dumont’s score for another Italian western The Belle Starr Story which sadly has never been released onto CD.

The premiere CD release of Cipriani’s score came as part of the first batch of the Cam Encyclopaedia and is now long out of print and rare, but it was then re-issued by CAM as a three score CD which also included selections from the Cipriani’s first western score The Bounty Killer, as well as a few tracks from Nevada, a lesser known  western from Italy, again released in the Cam Encyclopaedia series but in a later set of discs.

Cipriani.

I think the reason for a re-issue quickly was that CAM had received so many complaints about the short running time of the score which was under thirty minutes and there were so issues on the sound on a couple of the tracks. The three-score compact disc is worth having to appreciate the talent of Cipriani, but if it is a fuller version of A Man A Horse and a Gun you are wanting then the definitive edition must be the Hillside/GDM release. Which contains the long version of the theme which was for some reason missing from both CAM CD releases, even though it was featured on the original LP. The Hillside release also features the original artwork from the LP release which is stunning.

Stelvio Cipriani wrote numerous inventive scores for westerns and his music for the movie Blindman  is certainly one for your collection, as is his music from They Call Me Hallelujah both of which are on a par with the quality of A Man A Horse and a Gun.

Other titles in the first batch of C.A.M releases included in the CAM Encyclopaedia came in the form of Corri Uomo Corri by Bruno Nicolai, and The Price of Power by Luis Bacalov, two names who were thought to be pseudonyms for Morricone at one point.

LUIS ENRIQUEZ BACALOV.

But of course, we know that is not the case as both were talented Maestro’s in their own right and have since the early days produced many original sounding works, Baclov also being responsible for the music to Django, A Man Called Noon, Bullet for the General, Gold for The Bravados, The Grand Duel, Sugar Colt and many others.

With Nicolai creating scores for movies such as The Bounty Hunters, Django Shoots First, Dead Men Ride, Gentleman Jo Uccidi, 100,000 Dollari Per Ringo, Landraiders, (not an Italian Western), El Cisco, Shanghai Joe, and others.

Rustichelli.

Another soundtrack in the famed CAM series was Man Pride and Vengeance, which was sold as a western when it was issued on LP but in fact is a movie about a bullfighter and is a dramatic romance set in Spain, which had a score by Carlo Rustichelli, who contributed many scores to the western genre, such as Revenge at El Paso, Un Treno Per Durango, Dio Perdona io No!, Buffalo Bill L’Eroe Del Far West, and The Ruthless Four.

I am sure if CAM had concentrated upon releasing just westerns in the series in the initial batch it would have been more lucrative for them, instead they focused more upon the music of Nino Rota which although were all classic scores did not seem to attract the attention of as many collectors that the thought it would at the time which was in the early 1990’s. Since those early days of CDS there have been so many re-issues and definitive edition releases it is hard at times to keep track, and with Sugar music now reissuing so many titles out of the CAM catalogue, I am sure it will become even more confusing.

Giombini.

So that is why I am focusing on westerns at this time, and some of the titles I will mention are available at Hillside CD production, which has always been a forerunner in stocking Italian movie scores especially westerns. Ballata Per Un Pistolero, is a great western score penned by Marcello Giombini, and probably one of the less known titles. The score is fast paced and filled with so many of those sounds that we readily associate with the spaghetti western genre, racing timpani, trumpet solo’s, guitar riffs and strings driving all these elements forward, the composer also employing organ to great effect and adding little nuances and quirks of orchestration that could only come from an Italian western.

As well as these familiar sounds there are also flourishes of symphonic themes that evoke the style of Tiomkin, and Newman, but it is essentially a spaghetti score that is overflowing with themes and inventive compositions. This was released onto CD by Hillside GDM and is deleted but can be heard on digital platforms, In, my opinion it stands alongside Giombini’s Sabata, scores in the entertainment department and is more dramatic and has to it a rawer sound.

Scores by Angelo Francesco Lavagnino for the western genre, were always entertaining, even if they were not pure spaghetti sound as invented by Morricone and Leone, but they had to them solid and haunting themes and the composer was very inventive in utilising strange sounds and introducing quirky orchestration on certain projects, these included titles such as The Specialist, The Man With the Golden Pistol-aka-The Man Who Came to Kill, Kill the Wicked, Vendetta Per Vendetta, and Trusting is Good, Shooting is Better.

Lavagnino.

All of which contained strong scores, he also scored movies such as Requiem for a Gringo, Sfida a Rio Grande, Today, it’s you Tomorrow Me, and Sapevano Solo Uccidere. His style was at times more Hollywood than Cinecitta his scores containing a grandiose sound that evoked the style of American western soundtracks at times.

Gianni Ferrio has been represented well on CD and is a composer who like Benedetto Ghiglia invented his own brand and style when it came to scoring westerns. Ferrio mixed jazz influences with symphonic atmospheres to create a sound that was to become popular with fans and critics alike. His score for Quei Disperati Che Puzzano di Sudore e di Morte is not only atmospheric but contains driving and intense pieces throughout, the composer employing Spanish guitar, organ, harpsichord, strings, percussion, and brass to purvey a sense of high drama.

Ferrio.

The composer also integrated Mexican mariachi sounds into the work which were affecting and atmospheric. The score was originally released by Cinevox on LP record who later re-issued the score onto CD. And more recently have issued an expanded edition of the soundtrack containing much more music. Ferrio also worked on films such as Djurado, A Few Bullets More, Heroes of the West and Fast Hand which contained the song That Man, all are well worth a listening to see the extent of his influence within the spaghetti western genre.

Other interesting scores by Ferrio as in westerns, include the superb Find a Place to Die, Sentenza Di Morte with its unusual but effective title song The Last Game, El Desperado, and Amico Stammi Lontano Almeno Un Palmo, which also had a serviceable title song Let it Rain Let it Pour, Fort Yuma Gold, and California. All of which were made available on compact disc.   

The musical world of Guido and Maurizio De Angelis, is at times an acquired taste, but mostly a rewarding listen, the composers fusing a folk like sound with symphonic passages and adding guitar and vocal performances, we all now They Still Call me Trinity, The Man From The East and scores such as Valdez Horses and the infamous score for Keoma the Violent Breed.  

But let us not forget the entertaining music for Tedeum, Mannaja, and Zorro which I still count as a western.

Marchetti.

Talking of Zorro there was another version of the story which was filmed about the same time as the version scored by De Angelis, this outing for the masked avenger was scored by Gianni Marchetti, who worked on a handful of Italian made westerns, and produced an adventurous and melodious score for the movie, which was released on a CD that contained excerpts from two other soundtracks that were composed by Marchetti.  Going off topic just for a sentence or two,

I also recommend Marchetti’s One Step to Hell which although not a western but set in Africa contained a score with so many western references it is a must have for any Italian film music fan it was issued by Hillside CD production and GDM.

His score for Seven Red Berets too is a must have and released on CD by Kronos records. The score for this was originally released on a CAM double soundtrack LP the other score being Cowards Don’t Pray or Taste of Vengeance, a western which was also scored by Marchetti. This was also re-issued in expanded form onto compact disc on the GDM label in 2006.

Lacerenza.

Michele Lacerenza is well known as an accomplished trumpet player, it is his performance we hear on scores such as  A Fistful of Dollars and Il Malamondo by Morricone for example.

But Lacerenza was also an accomplished composer and worked on a handful of westerns in the 1960’s, most notably L’Ira di Dio, 100 Dollari Sul Nero and 20,000 Dollari Sporchi Di Sangue, all three scores are iconic and were all produced and released by Hillside CD production and GDM with re mastering by Roberto Zamori. Lacerenza’s superb trumpet performance on Johnny’s Theme from 1000 Dollari Sul Nero becoming a part of the history that has built up around the Italian western score and synonymous with the genre.

The soundtrack also contained the song Necklace of Pearls performed by the late Peter Boom who also performed the song for Corri Uomo Corri and told me in interview that Morricone conducted the score for Nicolai.       

It was also Lacerenza who performed the trumpet solo for Nora Orlandi when she scored Ten Thousand Dollars for a Massacre, an excellent score, which was released by CAM and is now available on digital platforms, as is her score from Johnny Yuma.

Carlo Savina too has produced some wonderful scores for westerns as in Comin at Ya,(A 3D Western), Joko Invoca Dio E, Muori-aka Vengeance, and Ringo and his Golden Pistol all of which were released onto CD.

Savina.

Angelo Gioachino is a composer who scored early Italian westerns, and these included Three Dollars of Lead and The Damned Pistols of Dallas both of which were originally CAM LP releases, both soundtracks have been re-issued onto CD and have become quite hard to get in recent years. Although the sound realised for both movies lean’s more towards an American sound rather than a European one.

However, they are still interesting examples of western scores from Italy and for fans and collectors of everything Spaghetti are must have items. Robby Poitevin is another composer that worked on spaghetti westerns, with scores for movies such as A Name Cried Vengeance, Killer Calibro 32, Odia Il Prossimo Tuo, and Little Rita of the West standing out.  

If I were to be asked to pick a theme that epitomised the Italian western score, I think I would have to say it would be Gunmen of the Ave Maria, which had a score composed by Roberto Pregadio, and Franco Micalizzi, it is a theme that is literally crammed full of all the stock sounds of the Italian western score, whistling by Alessandroni, choir courtesy of Il Cantori Moderni, electric guitar solo, and a soaring trumpet performance by Lacerenza,

Its all there and it’s a score that if you do not have you should get asap. The score was originally released on Hillside/GDM, again re-mastered by Roberto Zamori and produced by Lionel G Woodman. And was paired with They Call Me Trinity also by Micalizzi and Pregadio and featuring the now famous song as performed by Annibale. Both scores have since been re-issued in expanded editions. And other scores by Pregadio such as Four Pistols for Trinity, L’Ultimo Killer, Un Buco In Fronte,  and Micalizzi’s Sacremento were also made available on compact disc.

Fidenco.

Nico Fidenco I have to admit is one of my favourite composers when it comes to Italian westerns, To the Last Drop of Blood, One More For Hell and Bury Them Deep immediately come to mind as do The Texican, In the Shadow of the Colt, Dynamite Jim, A Taste of Killing, and John Il Bastardo, most of these were released on Hillside/GDM in wonderfully clear crisp sound.

John Il Bastardo I think stands out because of its style, a style that is maybe a watered down Morricone sound, with barking male choir and racing timpani electric guitars and trumpet solos, Fidenco, taking a more pop orientated approach to scoring westerns rather than operatic and grandiose as Morricone did. Let’s not forget in Italy during the 1960’s westerns were in production 24/7 and even though Morricone was a genius it would have been impossible for him to work on every single one of them, so directors and producers asked composers such as Fidenco to write in a style like that of Morricone.

DE MASI.

Also worth a mention are the many western scores of Francesco De Masi, Quella Sporca Storia Nel West, Seven Dollars on the Red, Vado L’Ammazzo E Torno,Ringo Il Volto Della Vendetta, Arizona Colt and so many more. De Masi like the majority of Italian composers working in the western genre very often included a song within his scores,

Find a Man for example performed by Maurizio de Graf in Quella Sporca Storia Nel West and The Man from Nowhere from his classic score for Arizona Colt, De Masi also often utilised the artistry of Alessandro Alessandroni, on whistle and guitar and made effect use of Alessandroni’s choir Il Cantori Moderni.

Alessandroni.

IL CANTORI MODERNI

I always felt that Francesco De Masi like many other composers who scored Italian westerns often fused styles and whilst one can hear that the music is from a spaghetti western it also retains much of the grandeur and the sweeping symphonic prowess of movies such as High Noon and The Bravados.

Composer Nino Oliviero also penned the score to a western entitled Ringo Del Nebraska, Oliviero was the collaborator with Riz Ortolani on the score for Mondo Cane which included the international hit song More.

Then we have Lallo Gori, who wrote the music for westerns such as Buckaroo, Tequila, Black Jack, and Con Lui Cavalca La Morte. And another great Piero Piccioni, who like Ghighlia and Ferrio, did not conform to the stock sounds of the spaghetti western score, but instead fashioned his own unique style, that was at times jazz influenced, his scores for movies such as The Deserter, Minnesota Clay, In the Name of the Father the Son and the Colt, A Gun in the hand of the Devil, Sartana, and others are still to this day fresh and appealing.

As well as the few titles I have mentioned, I should also put into the equation the scores from Italian westerns or westerns scored by Italian composers that have still not received a release. Gods Gun by Sante Maria Romitelli, for example, the composer’s music for Spara Gringo Spara being an essential purchase for any film music connoisseur. Other unreleased scores include The Hunting Party and Ciakmull-Man of Vengeance by Ortolani, Seven Guns and Seven Brides for the McGregor’s by Morricone, El Puro by Alessandroni, The Stranger in Japan by Cipriani, Cemetery without Crosses by Hossein, The Belle Starr Story by Dumont, A Man Called Sledge by Ferrio, are just a handful of worthy titles that should be released onto compact disc if the tapes still exist that is.

And the scores of Felice De Stefano, which are classic in every sense of the word. Then there is the work of composer Vasili Kojucharov which are filled with so many of those familiar stock sounds of the Italian western score, such as God is My Colt 45. Pino Calvi’s incredible score for The Revengers, (which deserves a re mastered release) was his only western score as far as  I can see, and he is not alone in the one western score club, Armando Trovajoli’s excellent The Long Days of Vengeance was that composers only excursion into scoring a sagebrush saga, Pippo Franco too scored just one Italian western L’odio E Il Mio Dio, and I am sure there are more examples, whilst composers such as Piero Umiliani, worked on a handful including The Son Of Django.

The titles included in this article just scratch the surface in the world of Italian western film music, as there are so many more that you could explore, some of the titles mentioned are still available in very limited quantities from outlets such as Hillside CD production who run an excellent mail order service.

hillsidecd.co.uk

(see list below for titles they currently have in stock.).

FERRIO-EL DESPERADO

FERRIO-A FEW BULLETS MORE

FERRIO-HEROES OF THE West.

FERRIO -FASTHAND.

LAVAGNINO-THE MAN WHO CAME TO KILL

LAVAGNINO-VENDETTA PER VENDETTA 

LAVAGNINO -KILL THE WICKED

LAVAGNINO-TRUSTING IS GOOD SHOOTING IS BETTER 

FIDENCO-DINAMITE JIM

DE ANGELIS-TEDEUM

GIOMBINI -BALLATA PER UN PISTOLERO 

DE MASI-RINGO IL VOLTO DELLA VENDETTA 

CIPRIANI -THEY CALL ME HALLELUJAH 

CIPRIANI-THE GREAT ADVENTURE 

SAVINA-JESS & LESTER

GIOACHINO-THREE DOLLARS OF LEAD

GIAOCHINO-DAMN PISTOLS OF DALLAS

NICOLAI-MY NAME IS SHANGHAI JOE

MARCHETTI-ONE STEP TO HELL.* not a western but very good score.

PATUCCHI-BLACK KILLER

PATUCCHI-DEATH PLAYED THE FLUTE

KOJUCHAROV-GOD IS MY COLT 45

GHIGLIA-EL ROJO

PREGADIO-IL PISTOLERO DELL’AVE MARIA

MORRICONE-HERE WE GO AGAIN PROVIDENZA

MORRICONE-LIFE IS TOUGH EH PROVIDENZA

LACERENZA-20.000 DOLLARI DI SANGUE

FIDENCO-JOHN IL BASTARDOMARCHETTI-ZORRO 

SCORING THE ISLAND OF FORGIVENESS.

Marco Werba.

June 10th 2022, and a chance for a rare trip to London and a scoring session at the renowned Angel studios in Islington, which are now part of the Abbey Road family. The film being scored was The Island of Forgiveness directed by acclaimed filmmaker Ridah Behi which stars Claudia Cardinale, as Agostina, Katia Greco as Rosa and Paola Lavini as Elena. The movie is produced by Ziad Hamzeh, Nicole Kamato, and Ridha Bedhi.

Marco Werba Conducting the ESO.

From what I could make out from the scenes I was seeing when the scoring was taking place it is a commanding drama that contains scenes that are powerful, romantic, and emotive. The score is the work of the Spanish born award winning Maestro Marco Werba who lives and works in Italy and has been doing so for many years now. Many collectors will already be familiar with the Maestro’s film scores and his wonderful gift of melody within them. He at times took to the podium during the sessions and conducted a sixteen-piece orchestra made up of strings from the English Session Orchestra (https://www.instagram.com/englishsessionorchestra/) with cello playing an important and affecting role within the score at key points, its somber but captivating sound adding an alluring atmosphere that is filled with passion, romance, and poignancy.

Michele Catania.

Other sections of the score were directed by composer Michele Catania who orchestrated some of the music and was on this occasion assistant to Marco Werba, he was assisted by Nicolo Braghiroli with the preparation of the scores and the parts for the musicians. . As soon as I heard the first cue, I knew that this was going to be a special day and one that would be filled with emotive and beautiful music.

Watching the scenes being scored was a thrilling and enriching experience, because seeing the film scored like this also allows one to see and hear just how important music is in movies, there is no dialogue or F/X just the images and the music being performed live to picture. In many ways watching the images with just the music is probably more emotive and affecting because there are none of the normal distractions such as dialogue or even the sounds in the theatre when you are watching the movie. The music is the prominent factor that is embellishing and underlining the emotions and actions that are being played out, rather than being a background to these scenes. The music that Marco Werba has composed for The Island of Forgiveness is eloquent, sophisticated, and deeply moving and from my point of hearing contained hints of the sound we associate with composer Ennio Morricone in movies such as Cinema Paradiso and had the same emotional impact of the work of another Italian Maestro Nicola Piovani in movies such as Life is Beautiful.

There is an aura and a sound present within Marco’s music that is totally consuming and wonderfully beguiling, at times it conveys a strong spiritual persona, that is inspiring and truly hypnotic and recalls the style of French composer Georges Delerue for the films of esteemed filmmaker Francois Truffaut such as The Woman Next Door. Despite these references, Marco Werba has his own style his own individuality and his own unique musical fingerprint that can be recognized through the various works he has written.

The music for The Island of Forgiveness has to it a freshness, but also possess familiarity purveying warmth and richness, which in turn creates highly emotional, intimate, and beguiling moments.

The Maestro slowly and precisely adding various levels of emotion, placing fragile and delicate melodies beneath sequences, adding colour and texture to these, his music never overpowering the storyline but instead empowering and ingratiating it and the images upon the screen. The composer’s music however is never merely a background to events but becomes an important and integral component of the overall cinematic experience, his compositions create an abundance of emotions and express numerous senses whether these be dramatic, or filled with melancholy and romanticism, but every time become affecting as well as effective.  I spoke to the composer about the movie and the music.

 JM.How did you become involved on the movie

M.W. One year ago I was in touch with producer Ziad Hamzeh for a film by a woman director, but the collaboration with that director didn’t move forward. Two months ago Ziad called me to propose to me the feature drama “The Island of Forgiveness” by tunisian director Ridha Behi, who has worked in the past with Nicola Piovani and Jean Claude Petit, and I immediately accepted.

He told me that they had financial problems and that I would need to find a music publisher who would be able to finance the film score. My previous score (“La Grande Guerra Del Salento”) had been financed by Kevin Ferri (Crisler Music/Soul Trade Music Publishing Group) and I proposed him to become the music publisher of this movie. He accepted. I told him that this movie would deserve to have a high-quality orchestra and that it would be wonderful to record in London with the “English Session Orchestra”. He accepted.

A few years ago I had been a guest of Dom Domalos Kelly, manager of the orchestra, during the recording session with Christian Henson for the British sci-fi movie “Robot Overlord”, at the “Air studio”, and I was really impressed by the quality of the performance. Now I finally had the chance to work with them.

J.M. Did the director have any specific requests regarding the style or sound for the movie

Good question. Director Ridha Behi is very intelligent and has good taste. It’s not easy to work with him because he is a perfectionist (like me) and loves to experiment various  solutions before choosing the definitive ones. He then asked for various options and various changes. He is one of that rare category of directors who don’t want to have too much music  in his movies. This is a choice that I respect because most of the directors I have worked with (except Cristina Comencini and Aurelio Grimaldi) have always asked me for a lot of music. 

Music is important but you need to know how to dose it well. I always give this example to the composition students I had in some masterclasses: Caviar is precious, but if you give it in large  quantities it loses its preciousness. For this film the only request from the director was to not write a Tunisian style music with Arabic instruments. I therefore wrote a dramatic music theme in various versions, two more themes and two waltzes (one was used in the film, the other will be included in the CD). There is only one composition (The Burial – L’enterrement), in which there’s a Middle Eastern flavor. Bruno Di Stefano then wrote a few short additional compositions for the movie. 

Riccardo Rocchi.


J.M. At the sessions there were the string section which I heard, were there any other instruments utilised on the score?

Yes, a Classical guitar performed by my trusted collaborator Riccardo Rocchi, a mandolin performed by my assistant Michele Catania,who also orchestrated and conducted some of the music, a piano that I performed and a few sampled instruments, Timpani, snare drums, recorder etc.

JM. How did you enlist the performance of Ellen Williams.

Ellen Williams is an excellent singer. I heard her cover versions of “No time to die” and “Gladiator” and fell in love with her voice. Her performance of the title song “Rosa’s Song” for “The Island of Forgiveness” has been truly amazing. Probably the best performance I have ever had of a song. Ellen wrote the lyrics and she is therefore co-writer of the song.

Marco Werba with Ellen Williams.

J.M. How much music did you compose for the score.

Not so much, because as I said director Ridha Behi didn’t want to have too much music in the film. I think we have more or less 30 minutes of music, but it is inserted in the most important scenes and well balanced. I would like to thank the “English Session Orchestra” for the beautiful performance, Ellen Williams for her  amazing performance, Sound engineer Marco Streccioni and his assistant Gabriele Conti per the great job they did, Michele Catania for all the work he has done, music publisher Kevin Ferri for the financing of the recording and Lanfranco Carnacina for his beautiful performance of the song “I Feel the Danger” that will not be used in this film. 

Gabriele Conti with Marco Streccioni.

The afternoon session began at around 14-10, and this was for vocal recordings, having already recorded the music the orchestra members were not present for this part of the sessions. The song that accompanies the movies end credits roll, was to be recorded the vocalist being Welsh Soprano Miss Ellen Williams, who has an amazing vocal range and such a pure and distinguished sound. I spoke to Ellen briefly before Marco returned to the sessions, and she told me she had also written the lyrics to the song and had even made a last-minute alteration to these on her way to the studio. Apparently, Marco had found her on You Tube and was impressed by her talents and wanted her to be involved on the project.

And speaking of this I suggest you check out her album on digital platforms entitled Cinema on which she performs vocal versions of movie themes and to look at her website click here  Ellen Williams | Welsh Classical Artist

Ellen Williams, Marco Werba and Lanfranco Carnacina.

I asked Ellen a few questions.

J.M. Are you a fan of film music, if so, have you any favourite themes or composers apart from Marco Werba of course?

E.W. Absolutely, I grew up listening to Classic FM on the radio and the array of soundtracks they often play. I’ve always been captured by how the music fills a suspenseful pause in films and really brings all the emotion and drama of the storyline to life. I love the music of Hans Zimmer and John Williams. I think one of my favourite themes of all time would probably be the theme form Schindler’s List. 

J.M. You wrote the lyrics for the song that you performed, is writing lyrics something you have done before?

E.W. I love to write in not only English and Welsh, but also Italian, French and Spanish, and so when Marco asked me to write the lyrics for the song I got straight into meeting with producer Ziad Hamzeh to really understand the sentiment of the film and compose something meaningful. In December 2020 I recorded a new lyric to traditional Welsh folk song Suo Gân, which Spielberg featured in the film Empire of The Sun. The track was a reflection of all that was happening in the world at the time with the Covid19 pandemic at a peak, and I was delighted to see people connect with the song, which went to number 1 in the UK Classical Charts. 

J.M. The score will be released on CD and would think on digital platforms eventually, will there be a single release of the song?

E.W. We are currently in the process of discussing releasing Rosa’s Song as a single.

Ellen Williams.

J.M. What is next for you another film soundtrack?

E.W. The biggest project I’m currently working on is a new album, a collection of hymns and songs to inspire hope and faith which will include rousing renditions of Abide with Me, Amazing Grace, beautiful Welsh hymn Calon Lân, and World in Union. 

Her performance was truly breathtaking, as she performed, we sat in total silence not moving, transfixed by her beautiful voice. The song is a vocal version of Rosa’s Theme, which is the thematic foundation of the work. it is a haunting piece which is heard in various forms throughout the movie. The song had to it a Gaelic sound or Irish lilt which was effective adding an ethereal ambience to it. As well as the end title credits song, Ellen performed a wordless vocal for a section of the score, this was for a dramatic and impacting scene in the movie, her part was brief but its quality outstanding. The power of Miss Williams soaring vocal combined with the richness and drama of the orchestral performance act as support and punctuation for the sequence, but also elevate and add greater depth lending a wonderful atmospheric to the scene, heightening the sense of drama and tragedy adding an operatic aura to the scene.

Lanfranco Carnacina and Marco Werba.

After Miss Williams had concluded her performance, they recorded another song, “I Feel the Danger” but this was for a movie that will not be released until 2023, the music and lyrics are penned by Marco Werba the vocalist being the famous Italian singer Lanfranco Carnacina, the story of this and the score for the movie I hope to tell you soon after the recordings in Rome. I will say that it was a polished and fixating performance, and Lanfranco was as we say in England the life and soul of the party. I want to add that I have been to a few recording sessions, and this I think was the most relaxed and friendliest and will also be the most memorable for me. My thanks to Maestro Marco Werba, and his wonderful group of friends and associates that were present making this one of the most enjoyable days ever. Also, many thanks to the staff and management at the Angel studios, who made everyone welcome and were always on hand to advise and assist.

Also present were Massimo Privitera of Soundtrack City and http://www.colonnesonore.net who’s energy and enthusiasm is infectious, Lionel Woodman of Hillside CD production, Jaques Dejean of Plaza Mayor Music Publishing, and at the mixing desk the Maestro of sound Marco Streccioni who has recorded and mixed nearly five hundred scores for film and television, working with many famous Maestro’s including Ennio Morricone and Luis Bacalov. He was assisted at Angel studios on this day by Gabriele Conti.

Marco Streccioni, Marco Werba and Jaques Dejean.

Thanks also to the brilliant members of the English Session Orchestra.  w: www.englishsessionorchestra.com   fb: /EnglishSessionOrchestra   ig: englishsessionorchestra   tw: @LondonOrchestra  ,  https://www.instagram.com/englishsessionorchestra/

© MMI/John Mansell.  2022.

LES BAXTER MASTER OF UNEASY LISTENING.

Universal Pictures, Hammer Films, Tigon, Tyburn, Amicus, and American International pictures are all studios that are synonymous with the world of horror in cinema. Each studios had their own particular brand or style, and each also had a unique way in which they approached the horror genre and over the years built up a stock look which became instantly recognisable with connoisseurs and fans. Each studio also their own preference too when it came to the musical scores for the movies that they produced. Hammer often opted for a more symphonic and grandiose approach with composers that were normally classically trained being commissioned to write the scores for their movies such as James Bernard, Richard Rodney Bennett and Malcolm Williamson penning what are now regarded as classics, under the watchful eye of musical directors such as John Hollingsworth and Phil Martell. American International pictures too in the 1960’s had their favourite or go to composers, but one stood out more than any other, Les Baxter was it seemed the studios composer in residence, and worked on many of their major releases, including some of the productions that starred Vincent Price. Of course, in the early 1970’s the Hammer and AIP studios collaborated on various movies including Vampire Lovers, AIP had already utilised the talents of Scottish born composer Harry Robinson who later worked on Hammer films for their 1969 motion picture The Oblong Box. So maybe Robinson got the job for Vampire Lovers because of his involvement on that movie, going on to score Twins of Evil and Lust for A Vampire in the Karnstein series rather than him being asked to work for AIP because of his work for Hammer as many seem to think.

But it was Les Baxter that AIP invariably turned to for their horror flicks and would also engage Baxter to re-score various movies that they were distributing which were made in Italy. Baxter often re-scoring sword and sandal adventures and some horror films which were thought to have soundtracks that were not fitting for American audiences.

Goliath and The Barbarians (1959) for example, and movies such as Black Sabbath (1963). Baxter also re-scored The Cry of the Banshee (1970), which originally had music by Scottish born composer Wilfred Josephs, the Joseph’s score has sadly never been released, but Baxter’s take on scoring the Vincent Price rural horror was issued in the form of a suite that took up the A side of a Citadel Records long playing record and was subsequently re-issued on compact disc.

Composer, conductor, and arranger Les Baxter was born on March 14, 1922, in Mexia, Texas.He began his love affair with music at an early age when he began to play the piano at five years of age and then later studied at the Detroit Conservatory and at Pepperdine College in Los Angeles, California, and began his career in music as a concert pianist but later joined the “Meltones” in 1945 with singer Mel Torme. Baxter acted as conductor for a handful of radio shows which included The Bob Hope Show. His recording of The Poor People of Paris was a number one hit and sold more single copies than any other recording during the 1950’s reaching the top of the US charts in the March of 1956. Another major hit for Baxter was April in Portugal, which was based on a song by Raúl Ferrão.

It was originally entitled Coimbra taking its name from a City in Portugal. and later introduced in the US as the whispering serenade. But Jimmy Kennedy wrote a new set of lyrics in 1952 for it and it became a huge hit for the composer.  Baxter wrote the scores for over 120 motion pictures. He died of heart and kidney failure on January 15, 1996.  

Baxter became a hugely popular exotica or lounge/easy listening artist and released numerous albums of this type of music that remain popular today and are readily available on digital platforms.

Albums such as Sacred Idol, which became very hard to get in its original LP edition and compilations such as Rituals of the Savage, and Que Mango! to name but three, one only has to click onto digital platforms such as Spotify to see what a wealth of music that Baxter was involved with. It was probably the reputation he gained from these many releases that showcased his work as composer, conductor, and arranger and brought him to the attention of film studios which in turn led to a successful career as a film music composer.

In many ways Baxter’s career was very much like Henry Mancini, as in he was a composer and arranger of note, writing for film and including his own compositions in the various compilations that he released, he could turn his hand to arranging and adapting evergreen favourites and placing upon them his own unique musical fingerprint. Listening to Baxter’s easy listening albums one does detect a certain richness and haunting style, that oozed a sophistication and a classy air that maybe more contemporary music lacks.

This style and charisma too  comes across in the composers work for cinema as in his score for the AIP movie Master of The World (1961) which starred Vincent Price, this is a score that is brimming with a thematic excellence and teeming with vibrant and memorable compositions that are romantic, dramatic, and affecting. And although not in the true sense a Horror movie it did contain scenes of war and destruction, and a rather unhinged central character. I always look upon Baxter’s score for Master of the World in a very similar way to that of Victor Young’s Around the World in Eighty Days, it has that kind of aura and musical persona to it, being lavish, lush, and opulent.

The soundtrack for Master of the World was released on LP record back in 1961 on the Vee Jay label, and the cover art boasted some colourful images.

Baxter’s scores for the horrors at AIP have become slightly dated and cliched in recent years, at times seeming over dramatic and tense, even being overzealous and overshadowing of the action on screen, but we have to remember that the composer worked on the majority of these back in the 1960’s and into the early part of the 1970’s so at that time was taking his cue from those early Universal horror scores and putting his own unique twist upon them. Baxter was in effect re-inventing and at the same time setting the scene or creating the blueprint for the sound of the horror film as envisaged by AIP and also his musical notions would inspire many up-and-coming composers who adopted a similar approach during the sixties and seventies.

The opening theme for the majority of Baxter’s horror scores are highly dramatic and effectively struck a chord or even a discord of terror and jagged jolts into the watching audiences. The racing strings and the urgent brass flourishes of the opening to The Fall of the House of Usher for example initially and instantly create a sense of foreboding, a mood of chaos and a aura of darkness, but this soon melts away as we are treated to a glorious sounding core theme, performed by the string section, Baxter had a knack of writing music for film that was very supportive of the storyline and the images on screen but even though it was at times shadowy and malevolent and filled with suspense and apprehension it still remained melodic.

His score for The Raven is masterful as it not only remains sinister and suitably chilling but also has to it a real sense of comedy and irony, which perfectly compliments and underlines the scenarios on screen as they unfold and develop.

Black Sabbath is among my top five favourite Baxter soundtracks, it is a jagged and somewhat raw sounding work, but also does have interludes that act as a more tuneful and melodious respite, the film which was directed by Mario Bava starred Boris Karloff and was originally scored in Rome by Italian Maestro Roberto Nicolosi.

The score by Nicolosi was not a awful one in fact it is probably as good if not better than Baxter’s re-score, but AIP just did not think that the Italian score would be welcomed by American audiences.  The movie is an anthology of three tales of horror, that focus upon A woman terrorized in her own apartment by phone calls from an escaped prisoner from her past. A Russian count in the early 1800s who stumbles upon a family in the countryside trying to destroy a particularly vicious line of vampires; and an early twentieth century nurse who makes a fateful decision concerning a ring while preparing the corpse of one of her patients an elderly medium who died during a seance.

The same happened with the 1960 movie Black Sunday, (Mask of the Demon) again directed by Bava with an Italian release scored by Nicolosi, the film which is often confused with Black Sabbath starred the Queen of horror Barbara Steele.

Set in the seventeenth century, in Maldavia, Princess Asa Vajda (Steele) and her lover Javutich portrayed by Arturo Dominici are killed by the local population, accused of witchcraft. A mask of Satan is attached to their faces, well hammered into their faces to be more precise. Princess Asa curses her brother, promising revenge to his descendants. The body of Javutich is buried outside the cemetery, and the coffin of Princess Asa is placed in the family’s tomb with a cross over it for protection. Two hundred years later, Professor Thomas Kruvajan and his assistant, Dr. Andre Gorobec, are going to a conference in Russia and they accidentally find the tomb. Dr. Thomas breaks the cross, releasing the evil witch. When they are leaving the place, Dr. Andre meets Princess Katia Vajda, descendant of Princess Asa, and falls in love with her. Meanwhile, Katia is threatened by the witch, who has designs of entering her body so that she may live again and take her revenge.

The re-scoring schedule of Baxter was not just for Horrors, and I have already mentioned Sword and Sorcery and Sword and Sandal (Peplums), Goliath and the Barbarians originally being scored by Carlo Innocenzi, and the Italian made epic Marco Polo which had been scored in Rome by Italian Maestro Angelo Francesco Lavagnino in 1962. Baxter also re-scored a quirky spy spoof in 1966, which was also helmed by Bava and starred Vincent Price, the original title was Le Spie Vengono dal Semifreddo, which had a good soundtrack written by Italian composer, arranger Lallo Gori.

When the movie was released in the USA it was re-titled Dr. Goldfoot and the Girl Bombs and given a new score that leaned towards a more pop sounding approach penned by Baxter who also included a number of songs on the soundtrack. The movie was actually a sequel to the USA production Dr.Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine (1965) which also starred Price but was directed by Norman Taurog and scored by Baxter.  The composer was also credited as conductor on the 1965 TV movie The Wild Weird World of Dr. Goldfoot, directed by Mel Ferber. Baxter also worked on a 1972 movie Blood Sabbath, under the alias of Bax, the movie was directed by Brianne Murphy and focused upon a coven of witches who capture a young man traveling through the woods.

Who then becomes involved in a deadly power struggle between a young witch and the evil Queen who is the head of the coven. Baxter is also known for his pulsating and inventive score for The Dunwich Horror. Released in 1970 and based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft.

I thought this was a good movie, even if it did have the look of a TV film rather than a feature. It starred Dean Stockwell, Sandra Dee, and Ed Begley. Stockwell’s character is a descendant of a powerful wizard. So, I suppose this puts him in a good position to be a weirdo that frequents altars and shrines and other such eerie places keeping company with some rather strange beings and characters.

The score is certainly a highlight of the production, Baxter incorporating upbeat near pop slanted compositions with dramatic and quirky sounding pieces, the composer also employing electronic sounds within the score. I would go as far as to say that at times the music outshines the action that is being acted out on screen. So that is a basic look at Les Baxter, but please investigate further his varied and alluring musical world, I think that you will be pleasantly surprised.  

BLACK HORROR.

The horror genre has come a long way since the early days of Universal and the cinematic black and white tales of Dracula, The Wolfman, Frankenstein, and other unspeakable and chilling horrors. The genre in more recent decades has also brought to the screen examples of horror stories that had a predominantly black cast. I am not going to get into the political rights, wrongs and whatever’s in Hollywood and the film industry in general when it comes to casting black actors in leading or minor roles in a movie, but I am going to look briefly at a handful of Horror films that have black actors in the principal roles. I suppose it is best to start back in the late 1960’s when racial tensions were at their height in America and were dominating the news in a number of other countries which also included, I must sadly say the United Kingdom.

One of the first horror movies that I personally noticed a black actor cast in a prominent or leading role was the 1968 Zombie picture The Night of the Living Dead, which was brought to the screen by filmmaker George A Romero. The movie centres upon a group of seven people who find themselves thrown together and trapped in a farmhouse that is under attack from undead corpses. Actor Duane Jones takes the lead being what I suppose is the hero of the piece and is to be honest the glue that holds the production together.

The film is now considered a classic that was ground-breaking at the time because of its positive and selflessly brave portrayal of a Black man in a role that was not centred around his race or colour. The film was more effecting and chilling because it was filmed in black and white which gave it a realistic persona. It was a movie that spawned several sequels, imitations, and spin offs and is I think a pre-cursor and inspiration for the popular TV series The Walking Dead, as well as setting the stage for motion pictures such as  the Evil Dead seriesand more recent horrors such as World War Z. The plot is a simple one, Barbra (Judith O’Dea) and Johnny visit their father’s grave in a remote cemetery and are suddenly set upon by zombies. (I have this trouble daily). Barbra escapes the clutches of the undead and hides in what she thinks is an abandoned farmhouse. She is soon joined by Ben (Jones) who stops at the house in the hope that there could be fuel there for his vehicle. It soon becomes apparent that they are trapped there and are surrounded by the Zombies who have designs on attacking and devouring humans. Ben sets to work and starts to secure all the doors and windows in the hope of keeping the flesh eaters out. They manage to listen to news reports which tell them that the creatures are everywhere, seemingly rising from the dead in search of humans. Barbra and Ben discover that they are not alone and find five more people hiding in the basement of the farmhouse. Harry, Helen, Karen, and a young couple, Tom, and Judy.

Dissension soon sets in with Harry deciding that he should take charge with the group’s situation becoming steadily worsens all of them realising that their chances of surviving the night is lessening by the hour. I think this film is so frightening and unsettling because there is some sort of a scientific or partly rational explanation offered as to what is going on and because the horror and the dread is being inflicted upon ordinary people. The horror in the storyline is not happening due to something supernatural or linked to any legend or myth such as werewolves or vampires, the location of  the farmhouse in Ohio too helps greatly as it is something that audiences can relate to rather than a grand old creepy mansion, the location the acting and the music becoming important and integral features. The performances from some of the cast because they are at times so bad becoming more believable, thus adding much to the overall atmospheric aura of the production. The score was not an original one, with much of the music being re-used from stock/library music cues written by composer Fred Steiner and others and culled from 1950’s B horrors such as Teenagers from Outer Space etc. Romero utilised music cues from libraries because he was on such a low budget that it did not r.un to a composer writing an original score. The music from the movie was issued on LP record in 1982 by Varese Sarabande and has received a few re-issues which came in varying colours, the most recent being the 2018 double LP set on the Waxworks label.At the time of its released it was a movie that was met with mixed reviews, but it is now most certainly a classic horror.

We go to the seventies for the next example of Black Horror as it was dubbed, Ganja and Hess also star’s Duane Jones as one of the titular characters Hess Green, who along with his fellow anthropologist Dr Matara, uncover the remains of an ancient African tribe who are bloodsuckers called the Myrthians. When they unearth the ancient place, they unleash an evil force buried for centuries beneath the ground. Matara, is possessed by the spirit of the Myrthian queen and attacks his partner with an ancient knife and then kills himself. After the attack Hess decides t return to America, but soon discovers that he has acquired an insatiable thirst for blood. He seduces Matara’s widow and soon has her craving the same. Together they begin to lure innocent victims into a trap, leaving a trail of bodies that are all drained of blood. Although this is a movie about humans drinking other human’s blood (Renfield’s syndrome) the word vampire is never mentioned, so is it a vampire movie? Well, the elements are all there, but officially no it is not. Duane Jones, is excellent, and comes across as sophisticated, and charismatic as the bearded Dr. Green, and Marlene Clark does well in her difficult role.

The film’s soundtrack makes great use of an African chant that entwines itself through Hess’s consciousness when he is craving blood. And talking of craving if you are looking for fangs, crucifixes, holy water, bats fluttering around and capes you may find yourself disappointed, but in the end will reap the rewards of this classy and interesting movie that deals with addiction, possessiveness, and African American sexuality.

Directed by Bill Gunn and Lawrence Jordan, it was released in 1973, and contained a score by composer Sam L. Waymon, who also made an appearance in the movie. Waymon was born on August 16, 1944 in the USA. He is a composer and actor known not only for his score to Ganja and Hess (1973), but also for his work on Just Crazy About Horses in 1978 and Personal Problems in 1980. He is the brother of Nina Simone. The soundtrack from Ganja and Hess is available on Howlin’ Wolf records.

Staying with the 1970’s and the vampire theme we go back to 1972 and Blacula.  Now this was different if nothing else, and if you are looking for sophisticated well walk away now. The movie is set in a contemporary time-period, but it also had a black Vampire character lead in the form of Shakespearean actor and Opera singer William Marshall. Who although did have his failings made an imposing Vampire figure.

The story begins with an African Prince (Marshall) going to Transylvania where he meets and is bitten by the infamous Count Dracula. Cursed with the name Blacula and entombed in Dracula’s Castle after he fails to convince the Count to support him in his cause to end the slave trade. Two hundred years later, a pair of interior decorators, transport Blacula’s coffin to L.A. where he awakens with an unquenchable thirst for human blood. Blacula then begins to pursue a woman who resembles his long dead wife.

The woman’s brother-in-law, a pathologist becomes suspicious of Blacula and decides to investigate the events that seem to be following the vampire around. Sounds interesting does it not? Well maybe, the problem was the movie was attempting to bring the Vampire into the 20th Century, but instead of bringing just the horror it also attempted to give the story a Shaft like vibe and one thing that Blacula certainly was not is hip. Blacula could have been a good movie, the ideas were there but they just did not develop them enough to make it step up to what it was certainly capable of becoming.

The film was mildly successful and because of this a sequel Scream Blacula Scream soon followed in 1973, which was even more of a disaster. Many saying that it was probably the worst horror movie from the 1970’s, well that’s a matter of opinion I suppose. Blacula had a score by composer and arranger Gene Page, with the sequel being scored by Bill Marx, to tell the truth the best thing about both movies is their musical scores.

I will go out on a limb here and say that Bill Marx, did a great job and his score was more in tune with the action on screen and set the scene perfectly, whereas the Blacula score by Page, was more like a collection of disco tracks both vocal and instrumental that had been tracked to the movie, at times being out of place and sync,

I think that the idea was to make some money out of the score as Page was a big name in the popular music industry at the time, working with the likes of Barry White,  providing the arrangements for various Motown works, as well as working with Johnny Mathis & Denice Williams, Whitney Houston, Peaches & Herb, Kenny Rogers, the Righteous Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, the Whispers, Gladys Knight, and many others. As well as having hits in his own right with a disco version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the floor filler Satin Soul which was released on Atlantic records.

So, the producers of Blacula hoped that the score would become a cross over hit with many disco-goers and soundtrack collectors alike as scores such as Shaft by Issac Hayes had done two years previously. Page also scored Brewster McCloud in 1970 and provided the score for Mother Juggs and Speed in 1976. He died in 1978. Blacula was released on LP back in 1972 and is now available on digital platforms The score for Scream Blacula Scream is sadly at this time still not released, but maybe one day it too will see the light of day.

The 1970’s was also a decade in which we were treated to Blackenstein, I feel that this really needs no explanation, or maybe I just don’t want to talk about it? But suffice to say that Mary Shelley and Boris Karloff would not have been amused by this little flick. The movie had a score by Cardella Di Milo who was an actress and composer, known Pirates of Silicon Valley (1999) and Dolemite (1975). And contained music by Ukrainian composer Lou Frohman, who scored numerous movies including Slime People in 1968. Moving on swiftly, to another Black Horror which starred William Marshall, and was  a blaxploitation version of The Exorcist, or at least had a story that was similar. Abby, was released in 1974, it focused upon a marriage counsellor who was living with her pastor husband, and her deeply religious mother, her uncle (Marshall) is an exorcist and after travelling to Africa he releases a demon who follows him back to his home in America and duly possess Abby the demon of sexuality is an unholy Nigerian deity and after the demon enters her body Abby becomes a violent, obscene, and a sexually obsessed vessel of raw evil, nothing it seems can stop her or the entity that commands her.

It is then down to her uncle to attempt to free her from the evil. Music was by composer Robert O Ragland, who penned a serviceable score that underlined and punctuated in all the right places.

The movie was not that bad actually and fared better than most Black Horror’s from the 1970’s at times being referred to as a cult classic. The end sequence where the demon is expelled is explosive, literally, but its one of those moments when your not sure whether to laugh, scream or just look on in disbelief. Try and catch the film on Blu-ray or on you tube if you can, no soundtrack was released.

From the 1970’s to something more recent, and to US which I have to say is one of my favourite horrors in the last few years. I am not what you would call a horror devotee as I am too squeamish to go for the gore and the real horror stuff, but US intrigued me and my interest was fed even more by the highly effective score that composer Michael Abels wrote. Abels is in my opinion one of the most talented film music composers around today, his work is not just inventive and original, but it also works so well within the context of the film and also has to it a great entertainment value away from the images. The movie itself was an intense roller coaster ride of events, written and directed by Jordan Peele, this is a slick and classy horror, and one that you can’t stop watching even if you’re brain is telling you too, addictive viewing in other words. It’s also a movie that makes you stop and think which is always a good thing.

The plot focuses upon the Wilson family who decide to take a holiday in Santa Cruz, the plan being to stay with their friends and spend time with them. The family have a day at the beach, where their son Jason almost wanders off, which makes his mother even more protective of her family than she normally is. During the night four people break into the mother’s childhood home where they are staying, and to the families horror they see that they are strangely familiar as in they look like them, but have grotesque and malevolent personalities and are out to do them harm.

The action is fast paced and at times violent, harrowing, and blood spattered, but it is still a movie that seems to draw one in and once you are drawn in you cannot stop watching. The score is integral to the storyline and the composers use of eerie and virulent sounding voices is masterful.

The score is available on digital platforms. Abels also scored the excellent horror Get Out, which was also directed by Jordan Peele with the music also being integral to the plot and adding greater depth and atmospherics to an already affecting piece of cinema. The score is available on digital platforms.