Composing TV Music
Published April 15, 1979
HOLLYWOOD--is an appropriate dateline for the second part of this column's look at the making of music for TV. Last month, I phoned the composer/arranger team considered by many to be the best in television, past or present.
In case you've never caught their two-second screen credit on Toma, The Rockford Files, or The White Shadow, they are Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. They've been scoring music together since Rockford. They met at an industry golf tournament.
In fact, the fairway might well have been the only place these two dissimilar souls could have even said hello to each other. Feed this combination into your home computer:
Mike Post, age 34. Musical background: pop music performer, arranger, and producer. Musical relationships: Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Andy Williams (music director at age 24), Sonny and Cher (guitar on "I Got You Babe"), Kenny Rogers, Mamas and Papas; Grammy award: "Classical Gas" arrangement for Mason Williams; album: The Mike Post Connection, 1970.
Pete Carpenter, age 65. Musical background: big band trombonist. Musical relationships: Skinny Ennis, Billy Vaughn Orchestra; music director (The Andy Griffith Show, Gomer Pyle, USMC, other Sixties shows).
Carpenter says he and Post are known around town as "The Odd Couple." This Odd Couple of Underscore seem to get along better than Neil Simon's Oscar and Felix.
For one thing, they are both native Californians, and Southern Californians most of their lives. That L.A.id-back drawl was obvious to the Midwesterner at the Fond du Lac end of the conversation. For another, a 1968 television job offered them the perfect showcase for their unusual combination of ingredients.
Dave Toma and Jim Rockford
Post and Carpenter made their big splash in the then-stagnant waters of ABC. It was Toma, the story of "a police detective working undercover on the East Coast."
The real David Toma was also the show's consultant and part-time bit actor. Characters were human, plotlines were believable, and the Post-Carpenter underscoring was simply fascinating.
Imagine Toma, disguised as a wino, stumbling through a dark, sleazy alley. Here comes the organ music, right? Wrong. Out of nowhere comes single electric guitar twang, seeming to bounce off the brick walls and skip across the rain puddles.
"We were the first," beams Post, "with the volume pedal and the slide guitar. A lot of people are still stealing our old wah-wah licks."
It is suggested that the team's present cop show work in Rockford might not be so innovative. Post disagrees: "Rockford and Toma are completely different characters. Toma was set in Jersey or somewhere. That show called for music that was 'streetier,' harder. Rockford Files takes place on the sunny West Coast."
The two shows do certainly differ, even though the producers of both shows are the same. The Toma lead character was married, carried a badge, and drove an aging Plymouth. Jim Rockford could be called Bret Maverick in a Pontiac Firebird.
James Garner as Maverick had to work his humor through shovelsful of studio yuk-yuk underscore. Post and Carpenter's music never impedes Rockford's sardonic wit. Says Carpenter, "The music should not distract from what's going on in the picture."
The 34-year-old rocker and the 65-year-old trombonist have learned that knack so well together that sometimes it's hard for them to tell each other's work apart. "At this point, some of the funky stuff is Pete's," says Post, paying his partner a high compliment. "Some of mine sounds legit."
Carpenter returns the favor. Referring to a favorite show, the late Black Sheep Squadron, he reveals that "Mike really picked up fast on that [1940s] style of music, even though he wasn't even alive during the war."
Up now and up ahead
The award-winning pair has not rested on its Emmys and Grammys. ("The Rockford Files" as a single release hit the Top Ten in 1975. They received an Emmy for the show's scoring. The theme is still a favorite lead-in to radio news.)
They have written for the new Robert Conrad miniseries, The Duke. Dennis Weaver will return as "Stone" in a pilot with Post and Carpenter music. In the background of our phone call, they were plunking out notes on the piano in their Woodland Hills studio.
Post's pace has been accelerating. "I definitely want to do more feature films," he explains. "And I just love making records." A production customer now is Peter Allen, going solo after writing hits for Olivia Newton-John and others.
Carpenter plans more golf and less acceleration. But he is not about to go out of the underscoring business. "We're a helluva good combination," he says with pride. "And this job is just plain fun!"
Mike Post and Pete Carpenter went on to write for the TV series Hunter, Magnum, P.I., The A-Team, and others. After Carpenter's death in 1987, Post soloed on Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, NYPD Blue, and NewsRadio. The famous theme for the Law & Order franchise is his. He even inspired a song on The Who's 2006 album Endless Wire called "Mike Post Theme."