An interview with Ford A. Thaxton by Roger Feigelson
Originally published in Soundtrack Magazine Vol 9/No. 33/1990
Text reproduced by kind permission of the editor and publisher, Luc Van de Ven
How long have you been a part of Crescendo and how did you become involved?
Formally I’ve been with Crescendo since April 1989. For 10 years I produced an ongoing weekly radio series of music for film and television called “Soundtrack Cinema” for KAOS Radio in Olympia, Washington. As a consequence of that I made a number of contacts in the industry. I got to know Neil Norman at Crescendo because he had done the three albums of science fiction film themes, and I helped Neil on the second and third records, trying to make his rerecording sound as close to the original as possible. In 1984 I found out that Neil had found the tapes to the original STAR TREK TV series. I knew that he had always wanted to release music from the series and I helped him with the project.
In 1987 I heard about the new STAR TREK – THE NEXT GENERATION TV series. One of the composers, Dennis McCarthy, is a good friend of mine. I suggested to Neil that he look into doing an album. I put him together with Dennis and I put together an album mock-up of the music. Neil loved it.
It took us a long while but we finally got it together and in April 1988 Dennis left me alone to assemble the record. I flew down to Los Angeles just as a courtesy. I just wanted to sit in while they did it. I got into the studio and Dennis had already been there and put down one cue on the record. Then Neil had gotten there with a couple of other people and we all sat down and started preparing the album. I thought I would just sit in the back of the room and tell them how it should be put together and then they’d mix it.
That wasn’t exactly what happened. Neil and Dennis had sat down with a bottle of wine to celebrate. I was at the console next to the engineer and they went through the next cue and then the engineer looked at me since I was sitting there and I guess I looked like I belonged there and asked, “Okay, how do you want this thing to sound?” Now as Bernard Herrmann’s music from PSYCHO runs through my head, I turned to Dennis and Neil and I asked, “Guys, don’t you want to do this thing here?”
“Oh no, Ford, we trust you to do things right,” they replied. More PSYCHO music echoed through my head. I just said “Oh my God” and went ahead and did it. It was terror for 7 hours and it all came together. There was only one point when I was putting together a cue and Dennis turned to me and said, “I’m not sure this is going to work”. I said, “Trust me, Dennis”. We put it together, we mixed it and we played it back. I turned to Dennis, “Okay, what do you think?” “I’ll shut up,” he said.
The record came together like a dream and afterwards Neil walked out of the studio at 3 a.m. and asked, “Ford, would you like a job?” He had known that because of the radio show I had a lot of connections in the business. Neil had a lot of faith in me.
Where was STAR TREK: The NEXT GENERATION recorded?
That was recorded at Paramount on Stage H and we paid all the re-use fee. It was a very expensive project but the thing is that it’s very popular.
Since your involvement began, Crescendo’s rate of release has increased. You’ve done George Fenton’s HIGH SPIRITS and Christopher Young’s HELLBOUND. How do you go about selecting which albums to release?
Well, it’s a very arbitrary process. If we like the movie, if we like the score, or we think the public will want to buy the score. We’ve turned down doing albums to successful films because we did not feel the music would work on a record. As to projects we’ve passed up… BIG for example; but that had to do mainly with the re-use fees. DIE HARD, which had re-use fees. There were discussions about doing BEAUTY AND TIE BEAST but for a variety of reasons we couldn’t so we passed on that. CHILD’S PLAY; but it was a time factor and we couldn’t get the record out in time.
The bottom line is you’ve got to have something that will work on a record medium that has a name value whether it’s by the film or the composer that people are going to buy. I’m the first who would like to do a lot of obscure things, but the record would just sit there in the record bin because it has no name value or because it’s a young composer that no one has heard about. A good example would be something like PLATOON LEADER that George S.Clinton wrote a marvelous score for. The blending of synthesizer and live instruments is really good. That was a project we had faith in and it was just something that we took a gamble on. It’s not doing as well as we had hoped. You live and learn.
Have you considered doing any reissues on CD, such as Silva Screen and Masters Film Music are currently doing.
There are always discussions of that. There are titles I’d like to see on CD. Crescendo has been in business for 35 years and we have world-wide distribution. We’ve had hit records in Poland and other places. Soundtracks are just part of what we do. We have over 400 records in our catalog; everything from Glenn Miller to Robin Trowler and Tangerine Dream. Soundtracks are a part of what we do and an important part, for sure, but there are a lot of other things we’re into.
So when you produce am album, how much input do you like to have? Do you just say, “You’re the composer, do what you want.” Or will you ever say, “that’s a 60 minute score with no re-use fee, that 30 minute album you’ve put together is too short. Put more music on the album.” Usually I like to have input. If it’s possible, I want the composer there and the record put together to his or her satisfaction. In the case of HELLBOUND, Christopher Young was there from the get go. He was involved in every aspect of production. It was an incredible help. That record would not have turned out half as well if we had not had him here, because it was his music and he had an idea of how it would get together. I sat there in the studio when they were mixing and suggested, “Chris, it might sound better accentuating that or toning that down or adding a little reverb to that,” and Chris would have final determination. It’s a very collaborative process. The record to HELLBOUND says produced by Christopher Young and me; it’s actually Chris’ record. A couple of tracks were shuffled around for the CD and the LP release because we wanted a certain balance. The LP is 45 minutes and the CD is 74 minutes.
The CD to HELLBOUND is 74 minutes?
We did an LP version of very good material and on the CD we put additional music from HELLBOUND – about 16 – 17 minutes. Then we added music from a score Chris had done some years ago called HIGHPOINT. There were 3 extra cuts from HIGHPOINT that we were going to add to make a suite including a love theme that was not on the original DEF-CON album. The reason that it was there on the cassette and CD release is simple.,. I liked it. It was with the same film company.
How many of us have bought CDs that are 35 minutes and have had to pay 15 bucks? I mean it you can work a deal out to put some additional material on and can be made happy…the film company, the composer, and us… it makes the CD more attractive.
Now I’ve heard you sold 50,000 copies of the first STAR TREK album. Many albums of STAR TREK TV music have since been released, digitally rerecorded. Do you think that the market is flooded with STAR TREK albums and do you think this glut is affecting sales on the NEXT GENERATION album?
Because we put out the original it is the best selling of the lot. Due to the fact that there is a continuing ongoing interest with the films as well as the original TV series, sales remain stable. Right now there are five albums from the original TV series.., the two Varése albums, the two Southern Cross records, and ours. Plus there’s a suite that Alexander Courage did for Telarc. They’ve all done very well. They’re steady sellers. The nice thing about STAR TREK is that it overlaps generations. STAR TREK sells because people like it and the people who composed the music for the programs put in a lot of craftsmanship and dedication in writing music to the series. We are constantly flooded with requests to release music from episodes that have not been recorded, such as “Amok Tine,” “Shore Leave” and “Man Trap”.
Would you use the original tapes or would you rerecord then?
We always prefer to do the originals because that’s what people want.
Are you planning any subsequent volumes to STAR TREK – THE NEXT GENERATION?
There are discussions underway with regards to that. Nothing definite but we’re thinking about it very seriously.
So how many copies of am album like STAR TREK – THE NEXT GENERATION or HELLBOUND do you usually press?
It varies. On something like HELLBOUND we have very high hopes. We think of it as very long term because there are three opportunities to sell the album: the theatrical release, the videocassette release, and finally the pay cable release. So if you have a good product and the movie is seen you’d do well with it.
How did your relationship with Chris Young form and what it’s like to work with him?
Chris and I go back to 1984 when I was doing my radio show and heard his music for THE POWER. I saw tremendous potential. Chris is an enormous film music fan – this guy will go into a record store and hunt down a record just like any soundtrack collector.
It’s my firm belief that Chris will be one of the major powers in the business. He will have a longevity. In 20 years, when Jerry Goldsmith ultimately retires he will be Jerry’s successor. What separates Chris from a lot of the other composers is that when he writes a score, he bleeds it. Chris doesn’t think about the money when he does a picture – it’s total commitment. Every time you hear a score of his you know that Chris sweated and bled over it. His dedication is second to none. If you listen to THE POWER, which is a very good start, and you see how far he’s come from that to HELLRAISER or FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC or HELLB0UND – and he’s still in his early 30s. He hasn’t even hit his stride yet.
How did you decide to do HIGH SPIRITS?
Some months ago I had received a tape of it and I listened to it and all of a sudden I realized that this is not the George Fenton we’re used to hearing; it was an energetic, enjoyable score. This is not like the more introspective things we know – this is like a romp.
The thing that appealed to me was that it had a definite Irish quality to it. The themes were beautiful and it was just one of those scores that when you heard it just grabbed you. I said there and said we’ve got to do this. We saw the picture very late unfortunately. Fenton was enormously cooperative, but unfortunately he was not available. He was in the middle of DANGEROUS LIAISONS. He had a lot of faith in me and said fine, put it together the way you want to and he was very pleased. He wanted a couple of tracks added which I had left off. My greatest pleasure came when I was given the task of giving the titles for the record and I actually got to do one of the worst puns in the history of soundtracks. One track is a theme for when a bus-load of tourists is being taken to an Irish castle and along the way the staff of this castle are pretending to be ghosts. So I came up with a title for the music called “Ghost Bus Tours”. I take responsibility for that.
That’s almost as bad as Young’s “Jerry’s Gold Myth” on THE POWER album!
Here’s something about Chris Young you can spot on all his records. Every score has a composer in-joke. On PRANKS it’s “Her Man Awaits”. On DEF-CON 4, it’s “A New Man’s Destiny”. Or on NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 2 it’s “Freed of Her”. On HELLRAISER it was “Brought on by Night”.
So what would you consider as your pet projects?
If we had the opportunity this is something I have sworn someday will happen: I want to do ThE EARTH STOOD STILL, from the original tracks. I want to do John Williams’ music from LOST IN SPACE, TIME ThNNEL, and LAND OF THE GIANTS. I swear to everybody that come hell or high water it will happen someday. One personal thing is I’d love to see THE OMEGA MAN by Ron Grainer. I think it’s a stunning score. Tiomkim’s THE THING. And a John Scott score no one has ever heard of called BLOOD ROYAL. Also Gil Mellé’s FRANKENSTEIN: THE TRUE STORY and a number of scores he’s done for “Night Gallery” and “Night Stalker”. I heard the tapes – they’re marvelous. I would love to do a more definitive album to Basil Poledouris’ CONAN and ANERIKA.
Anything else you’d like collectors to know?
Just that we’re trying to make sure that our albums have liner notes on them. That way, not only will you know something about the program in case you haven’t seen it, but also the composer. A good example would he Dennis McCarthy. This is his first album and he’s been working a long time. We wanted to showcase him. I think as a fan I’ve got 3.000 albums of my own and nothing infuriates me more than no notes.
I would like to really reiterate that the president of Crescendo, Gene Norman, has taken a real interest in film music. You may get a project that will go gold or you may get a whole bunch of things that if you sell a thousand copies you’ll count yourself lucky. In either case, they’re very supportive. We’re in it for the very long haul.
We are always open to people making suggestions. I don’t care if you’re from Outer Mongolia. We think of the whole project in a world-wide sense and if any of the Soundtrack! readers want to let us know what they think we should do, by all means write us. We do answer our mail.