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Digital Media FX - The Power of Imagination
(interview conducted by Noell Wolfgram Evans)
Grady is the example of a child star gone completely right. The former
child actor is now an accomplished composer with a long and varied show
business career; one which has seen him lend his musical abilities to
a number of live action and animated efforts. Among his many animated
scores are: the 90's version of Johnny Quest for which he was nominated
for an Emmy in 1997, What a Cartoon - Kitchen Cassanova and Globehunters
- an animated feature. He also composed the song "Pooh Finds Love
Everywhere" (with lyrics provided by Marty Panzer), which will be
the new Winnie the Pooh theme song in The Magical World of Pooh.
Mr. Grady's career
in show business started where so many others have, at Disney. Don was
one of the original Mousketeers, sharing the stage with Bobby, Darlene,
Annette, Cubby and the others. From here he moved through various projects
before jumping into the national spotlight again in 1960 as Robbie Douglas
in the hit sitcom My Three Sons. The show, which starred Fred MacMurray
and was on the air from 1960 through 1972, was and remains an immensely
popular. During its run, Mr. Grady was able parley his popularity into
other acting roles and to opportunities with his great love, music. It's
a passion that he has pursued ever since, with some interesting stops
on the way. But more on that later.
Recently, Digital Media FX (dFX) had the opportunity to interview Mr.
Grady (DG). The conversation was lively and direct. Mr. Grady harbors
a distinct interest in music, one that he is happy to share. To set the
mood, we first discussed the types of things that he likes to listen to
when he doesn't have to be "on."
do listen to casually?
DG: I'm fortunate
enough to be spending most of just about every day listening to my own
music. Having children, I'm forced to listen to the trend, which is
not all that bad. Casually, I love the silence.
The work of Mr. Grady,
while individual and distinctive to each particular project does have
certain characteristics, which mark it as his own. Among these is a tendency
might you say your musical influences are?
Jamal. I learned jazz by needle-dropping Jamal. Hovering over a turntable
you would attempt to drop the needle on the same section of a phrase,
over and over, until the voicings were so imprinted in your mind that
you could go to the piano and fish them out. It's become a long lost
art.....thank God. Continuing, Tete Montoliu, Roger Kellaway, Stevie
Wonder, Rimsky-Korsakov, Ravel, Steely Dan, John Adams. The first film
music that got to me was an album by Mark Ishom called "Film Music."
The biggest influence on me has been Stravinsky. Right Now: I 'm quite
partial to John Powell and Christophe Beck.
We talked about how
certain composers can affect your overall body of work and how some composers
are there for you to turn to when you get in a "situational"
pinch. An animated example of this second type might be Raymond Scott
for some, but Mr. Grady has some animated musical heroes of his own.
dFX: Is there
an animation composer that you particularly admire?
Sylvestri's Roger Rabbit is the best. There's a sort of "minimalism"
going on in television animation these days, which is really due to
time constraints and deadlines. It goes back to shows like the original
Flinstones 2-D paper cutout animation which was developed so they could
crank out 5 shows a week. Today's animators grew up on that and many
of them think it's very arty. They've (animators) have kept a sampling
of this style and the music has followed suit. For my tastes, I like
to flesh things out. Doing a weekly sit-com with a gaggle of 5-second
soundbites would be a prison sentence to me.
Mr. Grady has leant
his talents to animated offerings both on screen and off. In particular
he has composed for a number of live action stage shows based (in one
way or another) on popular animated characters. These shows include Universal
Studios theme park attractions like: The Flintstones, An American Tail,
Fievel Goes West, Beetlejuice's Graveyard Revue, and The Rocky and Bullwinkle
differences do you find in approaching a score for live action as opposed
to something for animation?
action scoring is a much more modular approach, stay liquid, stay maleable,
flexible, sometimes it's not easy to get a thematic idea stated because
it may be cut off by a green light for the stuntman to jump.
such a varied group of projects that you've worked on, how do you choose
what to do?
choose me. I have had to decline projects because of time issues but
that's about it. If somebody wants me for a score that might require
8 banjos and a didgeridoo duet, I'd do it for the challenge. Right now
I'm doing a prison blues score for Cell Dogs. I've been listening to
Roy Buchanan, Howlin' Wolf, Stevie Ray Vaughan and loving it. I've been
a white boy writing scores for so long, I forgot I had the blues.
One thing that you
might expect from someone with a 40+ year career in show business is the
ability to adapt to changing mediums, which is something that Mr. Grady
excels at. Witness the way that he has taken the DVD world by storm by
composing music for menus and the interactive games that appear on some
discs. This is music that you may not immediately realize is there but
it is a major part of the immersive experience that a DVD can be. Among
the DVDs that bare the musical mark of Don Grady are: The
Emperor's New Groove, Pocahontas,
School's Out, The
Fox and The Hound, Alice
in Wonderland, Peter
Book of Pooh, Dumbo,
to Neverland, Lilo
and Stitch, and A
Very Merry Pooh Year.
dFX: What is the challenge in scoring DVDs?
new schemes to loop without being detected! Environmental pieces in
5.1 are an exciting new medium for the composer. And get this! There's
Mr. Grady spoke of
his passion for finding new and challenging situations to musically work
out of. DVD, for him, was a solution to these needs. In speaking to Mr.
Grady, one can sense a deep dedication and understanding of "entertainment
composers." This feeling particularly came through when discussing
what advice he might offer to someone.
advice would you offer to those considering a scoring career?
DG: Try anything
else first. If you can't live without doing music, then sell everything
and start building a composer's studio. Writing music has to be absolutely
necessary to your emotional life. You have to love it, so that after
they've raked you over the coals you still want to do more. It's like
a secret. (A secret you don't want to tell your employer!) Sometimes
I can't believe what I gave up to do this! It was easy becoming famous
as an actor. It's more difficult to become un-famous. But slowly I'm
succeeding at it.
So that brings us
to that stop that was mentioned earlier, the one between Robbie Douglas
and animation composer. That stop could really more accurately be described
as a ride on the Yellow Balloon. The Yellow Balloon was a 1960's rock
and roll band which was formed by Gary Zekley. It's a bit of a convoluted
story, but due to some maneuverings, Mr. Zekley had just released a hit
record as the Yellow Balloon and now needed a band to fill in the pieces.
Although acting on My Three Sons at this time, Mr. Grady was attempting
to start up a musical career of his own. Through a mixture of open schedules,
who knew who and interests, Mr. Grady and Mr. Zekley soon found themselves
as ½ of the Yellow Balloon (Mr. Grady was the drummer). In an attempt
to add some mystique to the band and allow it to be heard purely for it's
musical abilities, Mr. Grady wore a disguise every time the band played.
For a while anyway.
you offer a few memories of the Yellow Balloon?
DG: I would
work during the week portraying Robbie on "My Three Sons,"
and on weekends, I would hop on a plane and travel to the city where
the band was performing. To keep my identity a secret, I would wear
a wig, mustache, shades and a big hat. I was on drums & harmonica,
and sang too. One weekend, we were gigging in Denver, onstage for at
least two hours. All sweated up while playing my harmonica, the fake
mustache fell off. Immediately I was recognized by the fans, who stormed
the stage and ripped off my wig. The jig was up...
The jig is most certainly
not up though on Don Grady's composing career. It will be interesting
to watch him react and work to the new changes in entertainment mediums
as they come along. You can hear Mr. Grady's latest animated endeavors
when Disney's The Lion King Special Edition DVD is released in 2003.
Interview (c)copyright 2001 Joe Tracy / Digital Media FX.
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