Back in high school (mid/late 80s), our assistant band director wrote an arrangement of Bruce Broughton’s iconic score to ‘Silverado’ for the marching band. It was one of ‘those’ moments for me…a shaping moment. I loved the music and how it worked with the film. That was a pivotal moment for me in my love for film music.
Fast forward to Monday, March 23rd this year. I scored (composed the music to) my first theatrical feature “Four Blood Moons” and my wife and I were getting ready for the premier in the theater that night. I was getting nostalgic thinking back to what brought me to this point and Bruce and Silverado came to mind. I was typing an email to someone else named Bruce and his email address popped up. No clue why I had it. None. I was going to send him a Facebook message and figured he may or may not see it. So I sent Bruce an email. I thanked him for Silverado and how much of an impact it had on me almost 30 years ago AND that I was going to my first theatrical feature release that night and I wanted to thank him. And I told him if he was ever back in Nashville, I’d love to take him to dinner. No agenda. Just food and thanks. To my pleasant surprise he sent me a very gracious email back thanking me and that it was good timing…he was going to be in Nashville that Thursday/Friday recording (3 days later). He invited me to come to the session to ‘sit in’ and watch if I wanted.
Fast forward to Thursday, March 26 and I am at Ocean Way here in Nashville at Bruce’s recording session for a phenomenal mini-series ‘Texas Rising’ premiering on The History Channel beginning on Memorial Day. As a composer (and orchestrator) you HAVE to admire Bruce’s scores to both ‘Silverado’ AND to ‘Tombstone’. (Academy Award, Emmy’s and a HUGE list of amazing scores!). My goal for the recording session was to simply sit, listen and watch. EVERYTHING! I watched his conducting, his scores, his orchestrations, his interaction with the players AND with the executive producer. It was one of those amazing moments to watch a hero of mine record some truly amazing music for a mini-series that executive producer Leslie Greif (Hatfields & McCoys and Walker, Texas Ranger) had created.
On the dinner break, Leslie had Bruce listen to the track/vocal of Kris Kristofferson’s cover of Tom Petty’s ‘I Won’t Back Down’. The track gave a nod to Johnny Cash’s cover of Trent Reznor’s ‘Hurt’ and also Glen Campbell’s ‘I’m Not Gonna Miss You’. They were listening to the track, and it really is a great track. Leslie just felt like it needed some more ‘oomph’ to take it over the top. You’re in the control room at Ocean Way with a bunch of amazing musicians in the next room…Hhmm…What to do? Leslie asks Bruce, ‘Do you think you could write something since we’ve got the orchestra back here tomorrow?’ It really made perfect sense. It was a great opportunity to put live orchestra on top of that great track and vocal.
Keep in mind…I’m a guest of Bruce’s to the session. They were talking back and forth about ideas of the feel and what it needed and I mentioned the Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell songs to him as possible feels/direction. I mentioned to Alan Umstead (the contractor and wonderful violin player) that it sounds like they’re looking for the ‘Nashville thing’.
***DEFINING MUSICAL DOOR OPENING***
Bruce looks at me and says, ‘Is this something you could do?’
‘Can you do it? Do you have time? Do you want to do it?’
‘I’d love to’
1 second later Bruce says to Leslie, ‘Leslie, this is my friend Jeff Anderson. He’s a composer here in Nashville and he’s going to do the arrangement’
Leslie doesn’t bat an eye, ‘Great Jeff! Let’s cue it up and I’ll let you know what I’m thinking’.
I go home and listen back to a ton of my favorite string moments with country artists (albums and cinematic tracks) and then play the track over a bunch so I can go to bed with it in my head. Greg Cahn (great musical supervisor) gets me stems and mixes so I can drop what they have in to Pro Tools and I come back the next night with a string and horn arrangement.
As I’m getting the parts ready to hand out, Leslie walks in and says, ‘Jeff, not to add any pressure but the folks from Universal just showed up.’
I literally laughed out loud. It was awesome. At that point, I’ve written an arrangement at the recommendation of one of my heroes and the executive producer of one of the most successful mini-series (Hatfields & McCoys) and an awesomely cool vibed music supervisor and Russ Bartmus from Joann Kane Music Service and now Universal were all there. And I was very well aware that my reputation was on the line here but I also felt the weight of representing Nashville as I’m a ‘local’ writing the orchestration and everyone else on the writing team is from LA. Did I mention that another amazingly gifted composer, John Debney (The Passion of the Christ AND Elf) was the co-composer for the show and he was listening in live from LA?
Yes. I felt the weight of all of that. It was heavy. I was very aware.
BUT…I quoted to someone that day before the session a great line from Gene Hackman in ‘The Replacements’.
“Winners always want the ball when the game is on the line.”
After Bruce and John had recorded all their cues for the show, I hear the words, ‘Jeff-You’re up!’
I walk out to the stage, pick up the baton and away we go. We play through the whole arrangement. There are 2 big moments that are instrumentals and as we’re playing through them, my lithmus test happens. Quincy Jones says to try and make music that moves you emotionally and trust that if it moves you, it will move others. The 2 big moments felt great to me. The first one (the turnaround between the first chorus and verse 2) felt like a great moment with the strings. It had that ‘Nashville’ thing. And the second moment (after the second chorus) when the horns and the strings came felt huge! I got, as my sister says, ‘chicken skin’ (goosebumps). To me, it felt great. It really had that energy and emotion. I had told Greg beforehand that I felt it needed to be a tribute to a country legend (one of the Highwaymen for goodness sake!) but with a cinematic flare. Kristofferson…movies..A Star is Born?
I cut the last note off.
Right now…count to 5. VERY SLOWLY. VERY VERY SLOWLY.
That’s how long I stood there on the floor looking at the booth.
‘Jeff-I love it! Sounds great. Let’s get one more and then we’ll look at doing a piano thing afterwards.’
I can’t describe how long those five seconds were.
We did just one more take and the players played superbly. They nailed it as they ALWAYS do here! So fast and with a lot of emotion for me. (Thanks guys/gals!)
I come back in the booth and Leslie is excited. It’s going to be a trailer for the show as well as be on the soundtrack. TOUCHDOWN!
I looked at Bruce and said, ‘You know…I had said there was ‘no agenda’. I wasn’t trying to wiggle my way in to get work.’
“Are you feeling guilty?”, he asks and laughs.
So one of my heroes thanks me as he already had a ton on his plate for that day without writing that arrangement and I stand there, fairly giddy, in awe of what Bruce called, a ‘serendipitous’ encounter.
There are moments in your life and career that you KNOW are defining moments of being in the ‘right place at the right time WITH the right skillset.’
So the week that begins with me sending me a note to one of my heroes simply thanking him for his score he wrote +30 years ago as I go see my first theatrical film ‘debut’ ends with him thanking me for helping him by writing an arrangement for Kris Kristofferson singing a Tom Petty classic for what is sure to be one of the most successful mini-series of all time.
And I’ve seen about an hour of footage. Leslie has created a POWERFUL story and John Debney and Bruce Broughton have created a stunning score!
I am so glad Bruce took the moment to respond to that email and ask if I wanted to stop by Ocean Way and ‘sit in’ and listen to the session.
(side note-the score for ‘The Replacements’ was composed by John Debney)
You can watch and listen to it here: