“START PRAYING COS THIS GAMES FOR REAL, THE STAKES ARE HIGH ITS MY TURN TO DEAL, I WISH YOU LUCK IT’S THE LAST ROUND TO GO, SURE’S TOUGH TO LOSE GUESS YOU’RE TO KNOW. I PLAY’S THIS GAME TO WIN”.
The opening lines for the song THE LAST GAME, which was from the spaghetti western SENTENZA DI MORTE, (SENTENCE OF DEATH). music by Gianni Ferrio, vocal performance by Nevil Cameron. The soulful and smouldering jazz infused cue, was something a little different in the spaghetti western music genre, but there again Gianni Ferrio never did seem to conform to the perimeters of the SOUND of the Italian western, and out of the majority of composers that were involved in the creation of the Italian western soundtrack with its distinct sound, Ferrio I think was the exception as in not going with the majority.
His western scores often being a fusion of the old style western as fashioned by American composers in Hollywood and a sound that was partly Spaghetti as we know it plus Ferrio’s own style, which often included the utilisation of jazz undertones, and a more contemporary overall musical persona. Which was also a style that was employed by fellow Italian Maestro, Piero Piccioni, the thing is that this way of scoring a western worked, and it gave the quirky and gimmicky productions from Cinecitta an even more distinct flavour and musical aura, the jazz elements not sounding out of place at all. Like many other composers involved with the scoring of Italian produced westerns, Ferrio would very often utilise a song as the opening track, it was at times thought that the use of a vocal was something that non Italian cinema audiences would welcome and in effect would make the music and the film itself more acceptable to the American market.
It worked in the majority of cases but on occasion, it did fall flat and have no influence whatsoever, this was I think mainly due to the lyrics which were from time to time translated directly from the Italian into English, and this is when the saying it got lost in translation comes to mind. Prime examples of an Italian western song would for me be, FIND A MAN from QUELLA SPORCA STORIA NEL WEST by De Masi, ANGEL FACE from A PISTOL FOR RINGO by Morricone, I MUST GO from UCCIDI O MUORI by Rustichelli and DJANGO by Luis Bacalov. Ferrio had a style that maybe was not as grandiose or operatic as composers such as Morricone, Nicolai, De Masi and Bacalov to identify just four, but his style and the placing of his music in films was effective and memorable.
Ferrio also conducted the majority of his western scores, whereas other composers would from time to time have a conductor such as Bruno Nicolai, Gianni Dell Orso. Willy Brezza and Gianfranco Plenzio. I would not say that the western scores of Gianni Ferrio were as powerful or as well structured as the work of say, Morricone within the genre, but they still managed to enhance and support the picture in question and became part of spaghetti western music history. Even though Ferrio would employ a jazz orientated style to many of the western movies he scored, he would also utilize instrumentation that we as a cinema going audience would associate with the genre of the western film whether it be Italian or American made. Harmonica, guitar, galloping passages and kind of home on the range sounding strings that were homely and laced with brass that could either be restrained, proud or racing and urgent.
One of the best Ferrio western scores must be FIND A PLACE TO DIE, which is on a par with his soundtrack for PER POCHI DOLLARI ANCORA (FOR A FEW EXTRA DOLLARS). FIND A PLACE TO DIE however, is a score that combines elements of the Hollywood western score as realised by the likes of Bernstein, Tiomkin, Newman and Morross and fuses these with a more Spaghetti sound, plus there are elements that lean towards a faintly jazz style influence, and of course songs, yes more than one in this case. Both of which are good. JOE’ CERCATI UN POSTO PER MORIRE aka-FIND A PLACE TO DIE was originally issued on one side of a CAM LP way back in 1968 (MAG10.018).
I still have a copy in my collection today, it was paired with Carlo Savina’s score for another western entitled JOKO INVOCA DIO ,,,E MUORI (VENGEANCE), that contained a song penned by Nico Fidenco. Ferrio’s music for FIND A PLACE TO DIE, is nothing short of stunning. It oozes with drama and is filled with numerous and varying themes. In my opinion it is the best of Ferrio as far as western scores are concerned. It is certainly a prime example of how this innovative composer added his own musical stamp to the Italian western genre and score.
The quality of the music is testament to his inventiveness, and this can also be said for his soundtrack to another western, AMICO STAMMI LONTANO ALMENO UN PALMO aka FRIEND STAY AWAY or THE BALLAD OF BEN AND CHARLIE which was directed by Michele Lupo in 1972. Looked upon by many as a new take on the TRINITY movies it starred Guiliano Gemma and George Eastman. Ferrio combined a pop sound with that of ragtime and jazz to realise an effective and entertaining score. One track DIXIEBAND resembling sections of Burt Bacharach’s THE OLD FUN CITY from BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, the composer also integrated a more sinister and dramatic sound into the proceedings which contained certain elements of the spaghetti western sound.
But Ferrio was not a composer that would be influenced greatly by other composers contributions to the genre, he very rarely enlisted the whistle within the framework of his scores, and although choir did feature at times it was not ordinarily to the heightened degree of other Maestros such as Fidenco, Savina, Orlandi and their like. Although saying this there is a particularly nice cue on AMICO STAMMI LONTANO ALMENO UN PALMO which features boys voices in the form of Y CON UNO DOS TRES, which concludes with baritone voices adding a touch of comedy to the work. Ferrio also includes an array of percussive instrumentation which at certain points is embellished by a fuzzy almost rock sounding electric guitar and breathy woods in the style of Lalo Shcifrin, which are more prominent in the cues, TEMA DI PERCUSSIONI and OSTINATO PATETICO. The score also had a sweet and romantic theme for the female character in the movie, with strings purveying a melancholy theme in the cue ADDIO SARAH. The soundtrack was issued on LP in 1972 by Cinevox records, and in later years received a re-release on the same label to compact disc.
Within this western score by Ferrio more so than others he penned we also hear the more melodic side of the composer and catch glimpses of themes or at least fragments of themes from non-western soundtracks such as LA CALANDRIA and to a degree THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND OF CAPTAIN NEMO. The composer utilising harpsichord flourishes to great effect in the more romantic and less dramatic sections of the score. A BULLET FOR SANDAVOL to contains an interesting score, released in 1969, and directed by Julio Buchs the movie starred Ernest Borgnine, the movie was also known as LOS DESPERADOS in Spain and Portugal. The score was a little more downbeat than other Ferrio westerns, with the composer utilising various percussive instruments and experimenting with brass sounds that were had an echo effect to them. There was also a sense of the grandiose purveyed in the action cues, with strings, brass and percussion being employed to create exciting and fast paced interludes. But, still there was a trademark sound beneath it all, with Ferrio’s use of breathy woods and percussion that are supported via harpsichord present at key points within the score. Spanish guitar too was brought into the equation which added a certain authenticity and melancholy to the work.
It is certainly a more dramatic and less theme led work than the other western scores I have highlighted, although it does have its moments that are thematic. Originally issued on a Cinevox LP record the score received a CD release again on the same label, with a further expanded version of the soundtrack being made available in the mid 2000’s which included a handful of outtakes including a five-minute suite. Ferrio made some original and interesting contributions to the spaghetti western genre, FOR A FEW BULLETS MORE, FASTHAND, MASSACRO AL GRAND CANYON, EL DESPERADO, CALIFORNIA, DJURADO, and the excellent scores for PER POCHI DOLLARI ANCORA ( FOR A FEW EXTRA DOLLARS) (1966) which was co-written with Morricone, I say co-written but this was a Ferrio score with one composition from Morricone the majority of the score being undiluted Ferrio.
Check out the powerful opening theme entitled DIAMOND its breath taking, with its trumpet solo and commanding percussive support driving strings and flawless choral work. and UN DOLLARO BUCATO (ONE SILVER DOLLAR) (1966) which contained the song A MAN A STORY in which the composer utilised whistler, choir and a more traditional spaghetti sound if there is such a thing as traditional in the scoring of Italian westerns.
Ferrio was also responsible for the score for an early Italian/Spanish western which was a comedy, GLI EROI DEL WEST is probably a soundtrack that ONLY Ferrio completist would listen to let alone purchase, let us say that it was not just the comedy that did not cross over well to non-Italian audiences.
Gianni Ferrio worked on many genres of movies in his illustrious career, with westerns making up but a small percentage, but this small number of scores within a genre that effectively altered the way in which the western was made in the future and also influenced the way in which music was used in movies, are a long standing testimony to his talent and evident gift for writing for the cinema and at the same time creating a style within a style.