Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Cartoon Music of Geordie Hormel

It would seem, at first, to be improbable that there is a connection between Quick Draw McGraw and Spam. No, we don’t mean the e-mail kind of spam. We mean that pre-cooked food-ish product invented of necessity during the waning days of the Depression. For Spam is a product of the folks at Hormel. And one of those Hormel folks brought you some of the music which you hear in the background of the early Hanna-Barbera cartoons.

Cynics will suggest another similarity—that Spam bears as much resemblance to real food as the melodies wafting behind Baba Looey’s dialogue does to real music. Cynics are entitled to be wrong.

True, the music was never scored to the cartoons, like Carl Stalling did to everyone’s great delight—and to the cartoons’ benefit—at Warner Bros. Hanna-Barbera went the inexpensive route and paid for needle-drops from production libraries. The composers were all experienced musicians but the most improbable musician out of the lot was Geordie Hormel.

George Albert Hormel II was born in 1929 and named for his grandfather, who started a family meat-packing company in 1891. But Geordie was interested in things other than canned luncheon loaves of, well, something. He sounds like a cool guy I’d loved to have met. He gave away money to charity. He bought the Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix in 1992 (being an heir has its privileges) and could be found there every Sunday playing his Steinway. He married (and divorced) Leslie Caron. He fired a bullet through the window of his home (after being acquitted on a bizarre marijuana possession charge) as a publicity gag. More germane to our story is he founded his own little record label, Zephyr Records, in Los Angeles in mid 1956. Zephyr leaned toward jazz recordings but the label also signed Paul Frees as a singer in August that year (yes, that Paul Frees). Somewhere along the way, Hormel came up with a pile of background music cues (whether he even arranged them, let alone wrote them, is open to question).

About this time, Capitol was putting together a production library. While some of the cues were specifically written for it by Bill Loose, music from other sources was acquired to flesh out the library. A lot of it came from Phil Green writing for EMI, some from the Sam Fox library (for which Loose and John Seely had earlier done work). But Capitol also picked up material from Hormel’s Zephyr Records.

Several years ago, I had a little conversation on the web with someone who had been working for four years with Geordie to restore his music. About the Capitol Hi-Q library, he wrote:


His contibution to the library consisted of 16 of the Lp's we believe. All his Q's begin with the track # and then ZR. We have Lp's in D, L, M, S and X Reel libraries.

Capitol used the term ‘reel’ to refer to both reel-to-reel tape and 33s. As for how Geordie got involved, my anonymous correspondent revealed:

Geordie told me the story shortly after I began working for him, the details are a bit fuzzy but something along the lines of ... while in the coast guard he met a gentleman, name I cannot remember, and after a brief conversation, Geordie had told him of these themes that he had written and before long they were sent to Sweden or Denmark or somewhere like that and recorded and then sent on to Capitol, I am pretty sure it was at the beginning of the Zephyr era, again most of the details elude my memory.

Some of the cues from the ‘D’ reels were re-released. As best as I can tell, ‘D’ stands for ‘dramatic’ and a number of the Hormel dramatic beds ended up (with other Capitol Hi-Q music) in the soundtrack of that cult movie favourite Night of the Living Dead. At least the soundtrack gave them interesting names; Capitol was happy enough with things like “7-ZR-33 Sombre Emotional” (on reel D 14).

The Hormel ‘L’ reels are numbers 3 and 4, and almost all the cues on L 4 were grabbed by the audio cutter at H-B and came to rest in the background of Ruff and Reddy and then in the Huckleberry Hound series (Yogi Bear continued to use Capitol cues in the first year of his own show; the other cartoons that filled out the half hour featured Hoyt Curtin’s new stock music in the background).

Below are links to the nine cues on reel L 4 ‘Metropolitan Movement’. I don’t recall if the second cut was used, but any H-B fan should recognise most of the others. Click on the title and the melody should load into your default audio player.

ZR-45 METROPOLITAN
ZR-46 LIGHT MOVEMENT
ZR-47 LIGHT MOVEMENT
ZR-48 FAST MOVEMENT
ZR-49 LIGHT EERIE
ZR-50 UNDERWATER SCENIC
ZR-51 LIGHT ANIMATION
ZR-52 LIGHT QUIET
ZR-53 COMEDY MYSTERIOSO

One note about ‘ZR 48 Fast Movement’—a practically identical cue was written for the Sam Fox library called ‘Water Skis.’ That cue is credited to Bill Loose and John Seely. My wild guess, judging by the arrangement, is it was the original cue, and Hormel re-worked it.

‘ZR 53 Comedy Mysterioso’ was used on Ruff and Reddy but didn’t quite fit the comedy cartoons. I only recall hearing it in the Pixie and Dixie short Little Bird-Mouse.

Considering Hormel was a pianist, it’s odd none of the arrangements feature a piano. They’re all led by strings.

Geordie Hormel passed away on February 12, 2006, leaving behind fond memories for many TV cartoon fans. Which is more than most of us can say for spam.

4 comments:

  1. Great stuff. I love learning all this history. Thanks for the shares!
    Bryan

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  2. I recognize the second "Light Movement" cue from Gumby's "Toy Joy!" It plays when Gumby first rides the model train set and prepares to take it home in a van, then it plays again when the train escapes! Thanks for identifying it; it's always been one of my all-time favorite Capitol Hi-Q music cues!

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  3. "7-ZR-51 Animation Quiet" and a few others could easily have been used as test card music, imho [no insult, there, btw!].

    Bryan Lord and a site he linked to titled Cosmic Bells has a bunch of those, but no cartoon music on those..

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  4. FABULOUS INFO!
    THIS IS THE BEST SITE I'VE COME ACROSS IN YEARS!
    IN DEPTH CHRONICLES, DETAILING EVERY NOOK AND CRANNY OF HANNA-BARBERA'S GOLDEN YEARS!!
    AND MY MUSIC COLLECTION HAS FINALLY BEEN COMPLETED!
    I'M IN HEAVEN!

    ReplyDelete