The first music spotting session for THE SIMPSONS season #2 was on September 20, 1990. I showed up at FOX as usual and was greeted by a big surprise. I was informed that Richard Gibbs was no longer the composer for the show and that the search for a replacement was underway. In the meantime, Arthur B. Rubinstein was called in to score the first two episodes of the new season and I was told that, if all went well, Arthur would be offered the job as permanent composer.
Working in show business is uncertain enough, no matter what job you have. But music editing adds one extra layer of worry about getting or keeping a job. Almost always, a music editor is hired as part of the composer’s team. The composer makes his/her deal, is hired, then assembles all the support staff to get the job done – music editor, orchestrator, recording engineer, orchestra contractor, music librarian, etc. In all my years in the biz I’ve only been hired for a job directly by the producers a small handful of times (thank you Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein for MISSION HILL). All the rest have come as a result of my working relationship with a composer. I was worried that if Arthur got the gig, he might replace me with a music editor of his own choosing which, by the way, would have been a huge disappointment but I would have understood because that’s how the game is played.
Sam Simon told me I didn’t have anything to worry about for now because Arthur had not been offered the job permanently and that I would be the music editor for him and any other try-out composer that might come through. OK, good enough for now.
Sidebar: Click here to read all about Sam’s foundation that rescues dogs and trains them to be assistance dogs for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. The foundation also operates a mobile veterinary clinic and arranges pet visitations for people in assisted living homes. This is how Sam chooses to spend his time and money after the good fortune of THE SIMPSONS entered his life.
Arthur’s music and personality were very serious and after his two episodes – 7F03 “Bart Gets an ‘F'” and 7F01 “Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish” – it seemed clear that while his music was very clever and well-crafted, it wasn’t a good fit for the show. Enter Patrick Williams.
Patrick came in and composed the score for 7F02 “Simpson and Delilah”. I really enjoyed the score, I enjoyed meeting and working with Patrick (a true Hollywood film & TV music legend – be sure to click the link above and check out his website) and looked forward to him becoming the new composer. I was sure he would be offered the job. I was wrong. I don’t know why he wasn’t hired to be our composer. I don’t know why Richard Gibbs was let go. Decisions like these are considerably above my pay grade. (I keep telling the producers if they just upped my pay, then I could know more things!)
As the search continued, it fell to producer Jay Kogen to help find our new, full-time composer. This past June, Alf Clausen was given the Golden Note Award by ASCAP and Jay was asked to introduce him. In his introduction, Jay recounted the story of how he helped get Alf the gig as composer on the longest running prime time show in television history. Jay has an uncle, Jules Greenberg, a well-known studio musician who has played percussion on hundreds of albums and soundtracks. Knowing this, Jay called Jules for a recommendation. Jay’s Aunt Joanie answered the phone and shouted down the hall, telling Jules that Jay was looking for a composer for THE SIMPSONS. Jules yelled back, “Does he know Alf Clausen?” Joanie: “Who?” Jules: “Alf Clausen!” Jules had worked many times with Alf in the past so that was his suggestion. Aunt Joanie gave Alf’s name to Jay and Alf was called in for an interview. As it turned out, Alf was available because his two most recent shows, MOONLIGHTING and ALF were no longer being produced. However, Alf wasn’t sure he wanted to score a “cartoon”. He had his sights set on more dramatic fare like another one-hour series, or TV movies or even feature films. He went in for an interview and when he expressed his misgivings he was told by Matt Groening not to think of THE SIMPSONS as a cartoon, but as a “drama where the characters are drawn”. Matt didn’t want cartoon music in the style of Mickey Mouse or Bugs Bunny, but dramatic underscore that played to the emotions of the characters and to bolster the stories. That idea appealed to Alf, so he agreed to give it a try.
Alf’s debut score was for the first-ever “Tree House of Horror” which included one of my all-time-favorite sequences and scores, “The Raven”, directed by David Sliverman and read by James Earl Jones.
After we spotted the episode, there were so many cues and so many different styles of music that Alf felt we needed a “double” session (6-hour minimum instead of the usual three hours) to record it all. Alf thought asking for a double session might be the end of his SIMPSONS career before it even started. To his surprise and delight, the producers basically told him: “Whatever you need.” Everybody loved the score, they asked Alf to do a few more, and soon he was inked as the permanent guy. So for those of you keeping score, it’s Richard Gibbs, 13; Arthur B. Rubinstein, 2; Patrick Williams, 1; and Alf Clausen 471 (as of September 14, 2011 ) and counting. What’s that you say? There’s one missing? Die-hard fans of the show know that Ray Colcord wrote one score for THE SIMPSONS – 7F08 “Dead Putting Society”. When Alf took the job as permanent composer he told the producers that he had a previous commitment for the period of time when we’d be scoring 7F08. So Ray Colcord was brought in to fill that one Alf vacancy. To this day, whenever Ray runs into Alf at some composer function, he pleads with Alf, “Couldn’t you take some more time off?”
After Alf was made “permanent” my concerns over being replaced surfaced again. After all, Alf had had his music edited by Segue Music for his time on MOONLIGHTING. But to my surprise and delight Alf said he had no intention of replacing me and that we’d be working together as this new adventure unfolded. Alf has worked with many of the same people (musicians, orchestrators, scoring mixer) for over thirty years. I’m the baby of the bunch. October 15, 2011 will mark the 21st anniversary of our first spotting session as a team for TREE HOUSE OF HORROR I. In all those years we’ve worked on a couple more TV series (BETTE and THE CRITIC) and three CD releases of SIMPSONS music together.
Picking Alf as composer for THE SIMPSONS was the best choice the producers could have ever made. His ability to write in virtually any musical expression or ethnicity has served the show brilliantly. I can’t think of any other TV show in history that has had scores with influences from so many eras in history, locales around (and above and below) the world, and numerous styles from country to pop to acid rock to Broadway and more. More than 470 episodes in, he still continues to amaze and deliver. To this day, Matt Groening calls Alf “our secret weapon”.
In future posts I’ll do my best to recall working with various guest stars, new show runners, and just how dang much fun I’ve had being the luckiest music editor in show biz.
To close this post out, I thought I’d share the entire handwritten spotting notes from that first session with Alf. A couple of interesting things on page 1 are the mention of his orchestrator at the time, Hummie Mann and a note to request the Main Title score from JoAnn Kane Music Service. Hummie has since gone on to compose his own scores and, thanks to luck = preparation + opportunity, he has hired me as music editor for most of his scores ever since including the great opportunity to work with Mel Brooks on his two most recent feature films, ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS, and DRACULA – DEAD AND LOVING IT. The request for the Main Title score was so Alf could familiarize himself with the tune and its variations so he could start adapting it for his own use in the series.
Read carefully and you’ll find the first-ever requests for our now-famous “Tree House of Horror” and “Kang & Kodos” themes.
The next time TREE HOUSE OF HORROR I airs or you watch it on DVD you can follow along with the notes and see how it all came together twenty-one years ago.