Interview: Composer Stu Phillips

  On Saturday 14 September I had the wonderful opportunity to converse with composer Stu Phillips on writing and composing the music for many TV shows, as well as...

stu_phillips

 

On Saturday 14 September I had the wonderful opportunity to converse with composer Stu Phillips on writing and composing the music for many TV shows, as well as the friendships he has made along the way.

Stu, who has worked in both the music industry and Television has many credits to his name and has written and composed music for TV shows as far ranging as the Monkees to Battlestar Galactica. Pretty soon Stu will be releasing a biography, which covers 40 plus years worth of his career in the industry. And features some anecdotal stories about the people he has worked with.

So what’s Stu up to now, I hear you all ask? “At the moment I’m semi retired,” he says. “I am currently working on selling my book, but have also been making myself busy trying to get a lot of my old LPs made into CDs. I seem to get a lot of requests from fans who have problems finding some of my older music, so am trying to get it back onto the market place.”

Many of the fans have been wondering if Stu has been at all approached by any of the producers for the new Battlestar Galactica re-imagining, or has he had any involvement with the revival efforts of Tom Desanto last year. Now Stu has actually been trying to contact Brek Eisner of late but has not really had much success, however Stu did confide the following information to me.

“In about May or April of this year, I heard about the re-imagining in much the same way as the fans did, but before that I was in contact with De’santo. In fact during my initial contact with De’santo he was excited to hear from me and said, ‘I could not possibly think about going ahead with any production on a Battlestar Galactica project without having you do the music for it.’ Anyway Tom and I actually met up quite a few times to discuss some ideas for the show from a musical perspective and I even went to the point of composing a few cues for the series on my own time, which was more for my own entertainment than anything, and then in May of this year the Re-imagining was announced. I haven’t heard from Tom since then, however I have tried on a number of occasions to contact Brek Eisner and the production team for the re-imaging but have not heard anything back from them. I also must point out here that there are numerous others involved with Battlestar and Glen Larson was and still is considering a theatrical movie, but am not sure what’s happening with that now. So mostly what I hear about Galactica is what everyone else reads on the fan sites.”

On the subject of Glen Larson Stu has no end of story’s to share about having worked with him for 14 years. “Glen and I first worked together in 1964, in fact I was his producer and produced his last record.” But what about Glens famous dry sense of humour. “Glen had a very dry sense of humour, in fact there were times when you didn’t know if he was being serious or not, and sometimes this could cause a lot of confusion on the set.” Stu goes onto relate a story about one incident involving the music for the 1986 TV Movie ‘In like Flynn’.

“Back in 1986 Glen contacted me to ask if I could come up with an idea for a theme to a Television movie of the week which was called ‘In like Flynn’. Glen and I met up and talked, and Glen said ‘Let’s see if we can dig up an old piece of classical music that we could perhaps redo.’ After playing him a few themes that jumped into my head, I started to play one that Glen immediately liked. It was a theme by the German composer G.F. Handel from a suite titled ‘Water Music’. Glen said, ‘I like it, who wrote it, and is he still alive.’ I told him that Handel wrote the piece and he has been dead for several hundred years. ‘Good, so that means we do not have to pay anyone to use this.’ I composed the score for the film and utilized the theme throughout the score. When the credit sheet arrived at my office for my okay, I noticed that the theme was credited to Stu Phillips & Glen Larson. I was not surprised at Glen’s name being there, (as it had many times before), but there was no mention or credit given toHandel. I went to Glen’s office and asked why Handel’s name wasn’t included on the credits. Looking at me with one of his wry smiles that left you wondering if he was serious or just kidding, he said,’I don’t seem to remember this Handel fellow being at our meeting when we wrote the theme.’ At first, I thought that he was just kidding. Then I realized that he was dead serious. The credits stayed as they were.”

Stu adds. “What Glen has done on television is truly amazing. He has this incredible knack of being able to sell a show to the network brass. The first show that I worked on was the pilot episode of The Six Million Dollar Man. Swithch,Quincy and Galactica followed. I worked with Glen for about 14 years, composing music to approximately 150 episodes of various shows. He has an amazing record when it comes to selling TV shows, and more often than not he would only produce the pilot and maybe the first season before moving on to the next project.. Naturally I would end up following him. All through the 70′s and 80′s Glen would have several shows running at once, in fact the only other producer to have been as consistent would be Aaron Spelling.”

One of the many shows that Stu worked with Glen on was Knightrider, which starred David Hasslehoff. Stu has gone on record to say that he was never happy with the sound of the recording of the theme for ‘Knight Rider’, ” I was happy with the score for ‘Knight Rider’, but I wasn’t happy with the sound. You see it was an experiment for me and I never quite got it the way I had imagined it.. Basically ‘Knight Rider’ was one of the first themes to be played completely with Synthesizers, with the exception of the drums and the fender bass and guitar it was all symth music. Basically I got together with four Synthesizer players and we more or less trail blazed it. However on reflection I think the mistake that we made was having all the symths play at once. Using one synth player overdubbing four or five times I think would have been better.”

“At the beginning of the second season I did approach Universal and offered to redo the sound, and I did not ask for a nickel. However the studio and the network were adamant about not changing a note of the original. In the third season, an attempt was made to write a new theme for the show. Glen Larson quickly put a stop to that idea with one call to the network brass.”

Staying on the subject of ‘Knight Rider’ I Asked Stu if he has heard anything about the new ‘Knight Rider’ series, which is supposed to be in production.

“I have only heard that there is a planned feature film in the works. But haven’t really heard anything about it of late. In fact a few months ago the topic of a Knight Rider movie was pretty hot.”

I made mention to Stu about an article I read about a proposed series of Knight Rider which is slated to be produced by Glen Larson and David Hasslehoff, Stu revealed his thoughts on Hasslehoff, “I find it strange that Glen would be working with him because Glen had occasional problems working with Hasslehoff on ‘Knight Rider’. Then again Hasslehoff is probably still somewhat of a hot property with the success he got producing Baywatch. Glen often had problems with his actors. for example while making ‘Quincy’ Glen and the shows star Jack Klugman had some problems. In fact at one point, it was rumored that Klugman told the powers that be, ‘Either he goes or I do.’ Glen ended up leaving that show after the initial episodes. I guess the producers had more banked on selling the show with Klugman than they did with Glen. However Glen had very few problems with Robert Wagner on the show ‘Switch’ and the two are close friends. Am not sure if you will remember ‘Switch’ but it starred Robert Wagner, Eddie Albert and Sharon Gless. In regards to the ‘Knight Rider’ project though, I have a feeling that they will probably use another composer but keep some of the theme music that I did as a tie in to the original show.”

Stu Phillips during the course of his career has worked and been friends with many celebs. Included in the list was Sammy Davies JR who Stu crossed fencing foils with. Stu has worked with James Darren who has recently re-launched his music career after some success as the lounge singer Vic Fontaine on ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’. So are Stu and Jimmy still friends? “Yes, in fact I have been friends with James or Jimmy for years. He is one of the warmest and most professional people you could ever hope to meet. James and I first met and worked together in 1960.”

If the opportunity arose would you like to work with Jimmy again. “Absolutely, in fact we were planning on working together in Colorado several ‘New Years Eves’ ago, but something came up and the trip was canceled. However I can say that the likelihood of Jimmy and I working on something again is very good. We both live pretty close by and talk with each other quite a lot.”

One of the questions that many fans wanted answering was is Stu was still on friendly terms with Glen Larson. Stu can safely say, “Yes Glen and I are still friendly, however, I don’t call him unless I have good news to report to him on some old project that is once again successful. Such as the Knight Rider theme being used in two differnet rap artists records. (Busta Rhymes and Timbaland & Magoo).”

One of the few Sci Fi projects that Stu worked with Glen on other than Battlestar was the pilot of Buck Rogers In The 25th Century. “I did not write the song for the Buck Rogers pilot. Glen did and had Kipp Lennon sing it. In the score that I finally composed for the show, I found it impossible to utilize Glen’s song. This little country styled waltz did not fit the action of the show. When the network heard the score they were not particularly impressed. They felt that the music needed more continuity. I convinced Glen to let me write an action theme as a secondary theme to his. Then I rescored about 8 cues and recorded them. The score now had a direction and everyone was happy.”

Some of the other shows that Stu worked on with Glen Larson were; The Hardy Boys; BJ & the Bear; Sherriff Lobo; Evening in Byzantium; The Fall Guy and many more. Quite often while working for Larson Stu would only score the first season’s episodes before ending up working on other TV shows and movies of Glen’s.

“The only show that I worked on with Glen where I scored all the music was Battlestar Galactica. I did do the music for about 98 episodes of ‘The Fall Guy’ that’s 98 out of about 116.”

So if he could go back and redo the music for Battlestar Galactica what would Stu change? “Nothing unless the producers wanted me to change it, I’m quite happy with it as it stands.”

One of the very first TV projects that Stu was involved with was the Monkees, which was a show that launched one of the first commercial boy bands. I asked Stu why he thinks the Monkees went ka ka as he politely put it to me in his answer. “I did the background music for 2 years on the Monkees, as to why it all went Ka Ka, I can only really provide you with second-hand information about that. Basically the way I heard it from the producers secretary at the time was that Mike Nesmith wanted to produce, write and take creative control, and one thing led to another. The Monkees though did not get big ratings mostly because it was shown at different times across the USA and if it were not for RCA records insisting that they produce more shows it probably would not have made it to the second season. Although it was not a ratings success it was a commercial success for RCA and was helping them sell as many records at the time as the Beatles, so the second season of the series went ahead at RCA’s insistence. It was around this time that Nesmith and Tork began to push for more creative control, and the producer more or less told them what for. The rest as you know is history.”

So which musicians does Stu admire as in other composers who do music for the movies. “There is quite a big list of composers who I admire. First off, among those I admire that are still active, are John Williams who I am quite friendly with, and Jerry Goldsmith who I have met a couple of times. But going back a number of years I also admire the work of the late Alex North and Bernard Herrmann. I also like the earlier music of Elmer Bernstein. In his current scores I find that he is trying to hard to fit in with the current crop of composers.”

“I like Jerry Goldsmith’s music because he is very adventurous and not afraid to take chances with his music. John Williams, on the other hand, is perfection. I can go to a theatre and listen to a score by John Williams and think, there’s not a note that I would change if I had done that score.It always seems to be right on the nose.”

At this point Stu sort of turned the tables on me and asked me to ask him about another composer, so I asked him about Mike Post best known for The – A Team amongst other shows. “Mike Post is somewhat of an enigma in this business. He certainly is not one of the most talented composers, but he does have a knack of coming up with wonderful themes. Many of the producers that he has worked with have not asked for a great deal of music in their shows. In fact other than the A – Team you will find that there is only about three maybe four minutes of music in most of the current Mike Post shows. When Mike first entered into television composing he did not know a great deal about composing. He was fortunate to have a partner named Pete Carpenter who helped lesd him through the early days. Mike (who had been Andy Williams musical director on TV) learned composing as he went a long. He works work consistently and has a large staff that works with him”

The following part of this transcript is made up of questions passed on to me for Stu by Radio Galacticas T. Shaun Hardy. Stu was kind enough to answer these for me in email.

Is there any particular time of Night or day when you get ideas for musical renditions. “I prefer to work early in the morning. My mind is uncluttered and usually filled with ideas. Some good…some not. Generally when I was on a writing deadline, I would compose up until about 3 or 4 in the PM. Then after dinner I would do some orchestration. I would only compose late at night if the deadline made it necessary. “

So how did the Music for Battlestar come about, was it your ideas or did Glen have some ideas that he asked you to re-structure for the show. “Once Glenn and I worked on the main title music, I was basically on my own. Occasionally Glenn would give some notes to the associate producer. Most of the suggestions concerned places in the film where Glenn wanted to make sure that music was scored for the scene. Sometimes he would tell me to try and change the obvious mood of the scene with the music.”

Have you worked with Glen on anything since the 1980s? “NO.”

What are you working on right now. “My book…re-arranging some of my old Hollyridge Strings music for several Symphonic Pops orchestras to perform…and various other personal projects.”

If Galactica was to come back on air, what would be your personal preference, a continuance of the original with some of the old cast returning, or a completely recast version of the show. “Personally, I don’t think recasting a portion of the cast is the worst thing that could happen. It would be nice to at least have Richard Hatch and Dirk return. The other most important cast member would have to be recast anyway, since Lorne Green is no longer with us, I do feel that the show should retain as much of the original ‘feel’ as possible–including the theme and music.”

On the net, you can find many different renditions of your music in all sorts of music styles. I’ve even done a rock version of the opening Galactica theme my self. Have you ever heard any of them and did you like any of it ? “I’ve heard most of them. Liked some…hated others. Someone did a two guitar (acoustical) arrangement that was interesting. Have you ever heard the 7 minute disco arrangement that I did? It was released as a single about a month or so after the series debut. Quite different from the original Los Angeles Philharmonic recording.”

All musicians have that one piece of music that they wished they would have Written. What would that one piece of music or song be for you and why? “Cannot answer that briefly. There are just too many choices.”

Out of all that you have done, what is your favourite piece of music and what is your least favourite piece of music ? “Galactica is still among my favourites. I’m also fond of the arrangements I did for the series of Hollyridge Strings Albums. However, the score to a film called “Follow Me” (about surfing) that was released for a week back in 1969, and unseen or heard of since (there was a soundtrack album released on Uni Records), is probably in my opinion the best all around score that I have written. There are quite a few works that I was never very happy about, and I prefer not bring them to the forefront. Enough said. Thank you in your interest in my work.”

To end this interview I asked Stu what advice he would give to people trying to break into any areas of the music industry. “That’s a tough question, all I can really say is gather as much information as you can it is a tough business to get into and having the right information at your disposal is always going to help, but you still need to get very lucky. In fact I think this industry is a lot tougher now than it was when I got in. You see in my day we could hang out and it was that hanging out which helped me gather information and I got lucky. Same as Mike Post he got very lucky because where as I had the information he did not, and look at him now he has worked on a hell of a lot of TV shows and is still working now. So I would say information helps and luck is what you need.”

Summing up Stu Phillips I have to say is as engaging in coversation as Jack Stauffer and Richard Hatch, not once did he shy away from a question. Stu is a great guy and while conducting the interview with him, I found him to be very supportive in regards to his enthusiasm to answer questions. Stu tells me that his book goes to the printers on the 27th of September and he will be mailing all the BG webmasters when the book is out. However if you would like to pre-order a signed copy of the book you can write to [email protected].

If you would like to learn more about Stu Phillips and his massive contribution to the TV/Movie and Music industry you can do so by visiting his website at www.stuwho.com.

Finally I would like to thank Stu for taking time out to talk to me and T. Shaun Hardy for helping me out with the extra questions that I needed as well as Michael Faries who has been of great support to the Sci Fi Pulse Battlestar Galactica area for the last six months. Also some additional thanks go out to Ken Thomsan,dvo47p and kingfish from the Galactica message boards fourums for some help on a couple of questions.

By Ian M. Cullen

Ian Cullen is the founder of scifipulse.net and has been a fan of science fiction and fantasy from birth.

In the past few years he has written for ‘Star Trek’ Magazine as well as interviewed numerous comics writers, television producers and actors for the SFP-NOW podcast at: www.scifipulseradio.com

When he is not writing for scifipulse.net Ian enjoys playing his guitar, studying music, watching movies and reading his comics.

Ian is both the founder and owner of scifipulse.net

You can contact ian at: [email protected]

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