Learning the Ropes: Part 1

You’ll recall last week I wrote to you about my experience breaking into the scene of Hollywood studio orchestras. We pick up now with what it took to keep getting work, which, in a way, was even more difficult. 

 As time progressed, I began to realize that getting one call did not mean I was going to get a lot of calls. No matter how well I played or was perceived as playing or was welcomed, it still didn’t mean that the pecking order was going to change. I would not automatically start working every day of the week. 

I did, however, begin to be on Sandy’s list at Universal more often as time went on. Probably for the first three or four months or so that I was starting to engage in that business, pretty much all of the work that I did was at Universal Studios. I worked almost exclusively on episodic television.

In those days, most tv shows had orchestras. They had much longer seasons than they do now, and the composer of the theme of the show might or might not have been the composer of any particular episode. I remember working for multiple composers on the same tv series. Some notable examples were Bruce Broughton, who I probably worked for on four or five different shows, Earl Hagen (the Andy Griffith Show theme), and Alexander Courage (original Star Trek theme). A few other memorable shows were Dallas, Quincy, Murder She Wrote and Magnum PI. 

During this time, the major established stars of the horn in Hollywood were Vince DeRosa, Jim Decker, Henry Sigismonti, Richard Perissi, Art Maebe, Gale Robinson and David Duke. They were doing movies and records (basically, all of the work that would eventually pay royalties). I, and colleagues of my generation, would be doing the work that they turned down. It gave me an opportunity to work with a number of people on a semi-regular basis because you would see the same crowd of people doing TV and the same crowd doing movies.

The name of the game in the studio business is take everything and work it out later. A lot of calls I would get would be last minute calls because one of the bigger fish would get a more lucrative job come in, therefore they would either send a sub – which is what Vince DeRosa would do- or they would have the contractor find a sub for them. Because Vince was the universally acknowledged “King of the Horn World” in Hollywood, he was given the authority to pick his own substitutes. It was well known-that if Vince sent someone that person was going to be reliable and do a great job. Contractors respected him that much

As time went on, I began to work for other contractors. Sometimes it was because a contractor had heard of me, other times it was because a composer had! I started getting calls from many different studios and contractors, namely Patti Zimmitti (Warner Bros.), Carl Fortina (Paramount), Marian Klein (Columbia), Mike Rubin (Fox), Harry Lojefski (MGM) and eventually Jules Chaikin, who contracted a lot of my record work. 

Eventually I would start getting calls from all of these people as my reputation grew. I still wasn’t doing many motion pictures, mostly television, but every once in a while, I would pick up a day or two on a movie.

I remember on one of the very first movie calls I ever had, I forgot to show up… I had written the date down wrong!! It was for Sandy DeCrescent. I can’t remember the name of the movie, but it was probably the most embarrassing moment I have ever had in my professional career. After being appropriately reprimanded for my lack of professionalism, fortunately I had proven myself reliable (usually!) and somebody easy-going and willing to do anything to help, so I was forgiven. 

 Some of the earliest film composers I remember working for were John Barry, Miklós Rósza (particularly Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid), Alex North, Leonard Rosenman. One of the more memorable occasions early in my career was doing a movie with Lalo Schifrin, with which I over the years had a long and wonderful professional relationship with. But that very first movie, of which I cannot remember the name, was notable for me because as Horn 6, I was looking around the room and I looked over in the bass section and I saw one of my all-time musical heroes, the great Ray Brown. I just sat there slack-jawed. Finally, David Duke who was sitting next to me, said “Rick, you OK?” I pointed with this kind of deer-in-head lights look. “That’s Ray Brown…” 

“Yeah, you wanna meet him?”

 “Uh-urgh-huh…” At this point I was speechless. I don’t even remember now if I said yes or if I just nodded. David yells over “Hey Ray! Come here for a minute!” And that was the first time I met him. 

 The next time I saw Ray Brown I was recording a jazz combo record with him led by André Previn. 


Some of these thoughts will be contained in my upcoming autobiography entitled “The Six Stages.”