A Talk with composer Dolores Claman by John Mansell © 2006/2008
Dolores Claman (born July 6, 1927) is best known for composing the theme song, known simply as The Hockey Theme, for Hockey Night in Canada, a song often regarded as Canada’s second national anthem, which she composed in 1968, and for “A Place to Stand”, the popular tune that accompanied the groundbreaking film of the same name at the Ontario pavilion of Expo 67 in Montreal. Both songs were orchestrated by Jerry Toth who, along with his brother Rudy Toth and composer Richard Morris, all worked together at Quartet Productions from 1965-1970. In 1971 she wrote the music for the “Theme from Ontario Place” for use in Ontario Place’s multi-media exhibitions celebrating the grand opening. Claman and her writing partner and husband, lyricist Richard Morris, composed over 3000 commercial jingles in a 30 year period and won more than 40 awards internationally for their work. In the 1950s, Claman composed music for ITV while living in Britain and also wrote songs for West End musical revues. In 2004, she commenced legal action against the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation alleging the network had made unauthorized use of the The Hockey Theme in various programs, including NHL Centre Ice, and by selling it as a cellular phone ringtone and using it outside of Canada. On June 9, 2008 it was announced that Claman had sold the rights to the song to private broadcaster CTV Inc. The majority owner of The Sports Network, which also broadcasts hockey games, acquired the rights to the song in perpetuity after an announcement by the CBC that a deal between the public broadcaster and Claman could not be reached.
You were born in Vancouver Canada; did you come from a family background that was musical?
My mother was a professional singer (Gilbert & Sullivan and other operettas).
What are your earliest recollections of being interested in music?
After giving up her career when she married my father, she still played and sang at home. I used to sit beside her on the piano bench and afterwards, would try to play some of her songs by ear.
What musical education did you receive?
Piano lessons from the age of 6 and then a Fellowship to the Juilliard Graduate School, where we took harmony and composition as part of our studies.
What was your first job as a musician/composer?
Playing piano at a down market Ballet School in Queens, New York and subbing in cocktail lounges while I was going to Juilliard. I also composed the ballet score ‘Reve Fantasque’ which won Montreal Ballet Festival. (Is that a job?)
I am sure it counts as a job. I understand that you came to London for a short period early on in your career where you worked on some songs for the West End theatres – what were these and what shows were they from?
Mostly musical revues: ‘Airs on a Shoestring’, ‘Fresh Airs’, ‘From Here And There’ and ‘Pieces of Eight’. Also production numbers for the ‘Talk of The Town’. Also a few TV Themes and some jingles.
I also understand that you met your husband Richard in London and after this returned to Canada where you were one of the founders of QUARTET PRODUCTIONS, how did this come about?
Richard had been working as a copywriter at an ad agency in London and joined a large Canadian ad agency in Toronto when we arrived. Because the work for theatre and TV was so sparse, we started a jingle business, which was very successful and later became Quartet Productions.
In 1971 you scored CAPTAIN APACHE was this your first full film score, and how did you become involved on this project?
I had written the score for a film starring Burl Ives, called variously HEART FARM/THE MAN WHO WANTED TO LIVE FOREVER/THE ONLY WAY OUT IS DEAD. It was shot in Canada. Also, the score and song for A PLACE TO STAND, which won an Oscar for a live short subject in 1968. I had also done scores for quite a few documentaries.
We were taking a long sabbatical in Madrid when Richard and another writer friend went to see Phil Yordan, the producer and Bernie Gordon, head writer of CAPTAIN APACHE and the other films in the series, about getting some work as scriptwriters. It turned out that they wanted a theme song or two for Lee Van Cleef, and it developed from there.
Staying with CAPTAIN APACHE, the star of the movie Lee Van Cleef sang the title song on the soundtrack. Who’s idea was it to get Van Cleef to do this – what was he like to work with and did you coach him for the performances?
As I understand it, after Lee Van Cleef heard Lee Marvin singing in PAINT YOUR WAGON, decided that he wanted to sing too. His wife, who was in Madrid with him, had been an opera singer, and encouraged him to have a go. We wrote 2 demos, thinking Yordan and Gordon would pick one, but they decided on both. To be honest, he wasn’t easy to work with. I think he felt out of his depths as a singer, and covered up by being difficult, which, of course, is not unusual. After 2 rehearsals with me on the piano, he said the piano made him sing out of tune, so a roving English guitar player was hired to be on the set and rehearse with Lee when he had a break. Funnily enough, his problem wasn’t so much about pitch, because we got him to speak a lot of the lyrics, but with the fact that he was “rhythm deaf” – not feeling where the phrase begins or ends, if you know what I mean. At the recording, the engineer had to cut up his tape and feed it into the proper places to match the orchestral accompaniment.
I am told that the songs in CAPTAIN APACHE were recorded in London. Was the main score also recorded in England or was this done in Spain?
No, they were recorded in Madrid. English speaking singers were very few and far between and not necessarily experienced, so we had to add a LOT of reverb. The score was also recorded in Madrid – but we had a very fine conductor/arranger, Pepe Nieto, with whom we worked on a lot of other projects before and after.
What size orchestra did you use on CAPTAIN APACHE?
Not a large orchestra, there was about 24 players as I remember.
On the score for CAPTAIN APACHE there is a piece of music just before Lee Van Cleef sings APRIL MORNING, this contains some whistling, it sounds very much like Alessandro Alessandroni. Did he perform on the soundtrack?
No, it wasn’t Alessandro? It was probably Antonio Areta, who sang bass in the backing track and whom we hired quite often when we needed a whistler. He was also a composer of Spanish jingles
The movie has something of a cult following nowadays, but at the time of its release it received some very unkind press, are you surprised that it is still popular now some 35 years on?
To be honest nothing surprises me nowadays.
I understand that your husband worked on BAD MAN’S RIVER. Were you involved in any way on this movie, and did you score any other Spanish or Paella westerns?
Richard was hired to write the lyrics. They had to use a Spanish composer because of co-production “points”. Actually he was a very good Argentinean born composer, but hadn’t a clue about barber shop quartets (these were used as a Greek Chorus to move the story along). So Richard, with a little help from me, actually wrote the melodies and sang them to the composer. I did some “covers” for another movie – but I can’t remember the name of the film.
Do you own the rights to your own music?
Most of it, but not film scores. Usually the production company gets the rights as publisher and can sell them on.
What would you say are the main differences between working in Spain and working in Canada and the UK?
In that era, it took a lot more time in the studio, particularly getting the brass right, but it was much less expensive. The musicians were really nice and if they arrived late, (which was usual) they made up the time later.
What composers would you say have influenced you?
Bach, Rachmaninov, Ravel, Gershwin, Bernstein, Ellington etc…
Do you orchestrate all of your own music, and do you conduct at all?
Conducting? NO, I can handle orchestrating a smallish score myself, but for a large one, I make very detailed sketches of the music on 3 or 4 staves, and work with an orchestrator. Saves a lot of time.
When you work on a film score or a TV score do you have a set way in which you approach the project, i.e. Main Titles through to End Titles, larger cues first or maybe tackle the smaller cues or musical stabs first?
Pretty much straight through – from Main Titles to End Titles – leaving out smaller cues and stabs for later.
There was a rumour recently that the songs from CAPTAIN APACHE had been issued during the 1970s on a single 45rpm record for members of the Lee Van Cleef fan club, do you know anything about this recording?
No, I don’t, but I’d love to get one, if it were issued.
What is your opinion of the state of film and TV music today, and are there any composers working in the cinema or for television that find particularly interesting or original?
There are many really interesting scores, though I am getting tired of wall to wall minimal electronic music and flashy stings. I think they’ve lost their excitement because of over-use.
Do you find it surprising that record companies want to issue your music from CAPTAIN APACHE onto CD, after all this time?
Yes. But I think there are a lot of Euro-Western fans who would be prepared to buy it.
What have you been working on recently?
Writing music and lyrics for ‘Cabaret’ songs. I like the challenge of telling a story in an oblique way. By the way, getting back to CAPTAIN APACHE – the line “He’s a Redskin in Cavalry Blue” was not ours, I’m happy to say. It was the contribution of one of the Associate Producers, so we had to go with it.
John Mansell: Many thanks to Dolores Claman for her co-operation and answering all of my questions.