The Soundtrack Music from The Lone Ranger

Radio and TV Series from the 1940's and 50's:

A New MIDI Realization

 

Return with me now to the domestic days of yesteryear: specifically, a Saturday afternoon in 1953, in the living room of a lower-middle-class home containing a less-than-middle-class Philco 12-inch monochrome TV set. Saturdays were very special at my house. At precisely noon, my mother would preheat the GE oven to 425 degrees, insert one Birds Eye chicken pie (8 ounces, retail price 25 cents, no carrots, bought from a chest freezer in Schwann's Market on the corner. I would impatiently watch the noon program on WDTV -- The Big Top, a boring circus hour featuring Jumpin' Joe Basile and his band. And then, at one o'clock, the pie was baked and my favorite TV show trumpeted to the fore.

It was the music that obsessed me. My uncle Andrew (the one whose skin was red because he drank so much tomato juice) had revealed to me that the title theme was actually a piece of classical music. The next Monday, I was in the listening booth of the local National Record Mart. The manager, Maurice, had placed the Arthur Fiedler recording of Rossini's William Tell Overture on the turntable, and I listened to the first few minutes in a very frustrated state, muttering "That's not it. That's not it."

And then, when all hope was exhausted, the trumpets blared. I screamed, "That's IT!!!" Maurice practically fell through the glass door of the booth. I had found it.

And I discovered something else, something that has been the driving force of my musical life: As I listened and bounced around the booth, I had a revelation. The music didn't sound like it did on TV. The speed was different. The orchestra sounded much different. I had discovered interpretation!

But what was all the other music on the show? The stuff they played as the Lone Ranger and Tonto rode their steeds on the way to altercations? And not just this show, either. Sergeant Preston of the Yukon had a great opening title theme. I had to find it. Uncle Andrew was no help -- he had graduated to Old Overholt -- so I wrote a letter to the local drama critic, Fred Remington, asking if he knew the tune's identity. He conducted a massive series of interviews around the newspaper building, and ultimately came up with Rezniček's Donna Diana Overture.  He published the incident in his column, the last sentence of which stated, "That will be all from you for a while, Michael Abelson Age 8."

Then my father, who listened to the radio as he worked in the bakery on the late shift, told me about a radio program called The Golden Hour. It was on WWSW AM every evening at nine, and Frank Tomasello and Ralph Wiethorn would play whatever recordings they could find in the station's motley library. Some of the music was really far out: Volkmar Andreae conducting Bruckner's Third! Schumann's Piano Concerto! Heldenleben! But the hour had to be filled, and there were copious overtures employed. Over the months that followed, I was thrilled to hear Lone Ranger music in such pieces as Der Freischtz, The Gypsy Baron, Les Preludes, Martha, Benvenuto Cellini, and many others. Oh, those halcyon days of discovery!

But some of the Lone Ranger music was never discovered. One track in particular haunted me. I have since learned that it was called Nightfall:

 

Nightfall - Original Lacquer Transcription

I couldn't find it anywhere! Then one day I was browsing the cheap classical discs (Plymouth, Varsity, Columbia Entr) when I came upon a recording that interested me because it was of recent vintage ("HiFi From Europe" blared the cover) and contained Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique conducted by Pierre Michel LeConte. I plunked down my $1.98 and rushed it home. The music was wild and disorienting, but when the second movement waltz began I almost had an accident! This music was very very close to Nightfall, at least at the beginning:

Symphonie Fantastique: 2. Waltz (This is actually conducted by the very same LeConte)

But it wasn't Nightfall! My frustration continued -- until 1987!

In that year, a man named Reginald M. Jones Jr. wrote and published a book: The Mystery of the Masked Man's Music (Scarecrow Press). Simultaneously, a vinyl recording was released which contained, on one side, all the original lacquers of the long-sought-after Lone Ranger incidental music. I finally was to learn what had caused my frustration.

It turns out that a Detroit radio station, WXYZ, the origin of numerous radio serials like The Green Hornet, Sergeant Preston and The Lone Ranger, employed soundtracks leased from a Hollywood studio called Republic. The composers were named Columbo, Hajos, Lava (of Bugs Bunny fame), and Feuer. After several years, the president of the American Federation of Musicians (who was a real militant unionist) prohibited the use of previously-recorded music on the air, reasoning that "canned" music was depriving living musicians of their livelihoods. This threw an insurmountable monkey wrench into the plans of the president of the radio station. He was now not allowed to use his extensive music library.

But this guy, who was very tight with a buck, had a great idea: Find a non-union arranger, get him to convert the existing music library into similar but different music, and have the results recorded in Mexico City by a 40-piece pickup group.

And that is exactly what he did. He brought in an arranger named Ben Bonnell (about whom there is virtually nothing on the web) to revamp the old Republic tracks. A strange thing happened during the process: Bonnell's new pieces did not resemble the old music in the least. He must have looked at each score, noted the tempo and key and time signature, and winged it! The results are part hack work (clots and sequences of whole-tone scales, augmented triads and diminished sevenths) and part sheer genius. His music sounds like the work of an obscure German opera composer of the 1880's (if you disregard the augmented stuff).

There were over twenty tracks of it, recorded on noisy lacquer pressings by an orchestra that didn't own a decent pair of cymbals or a tam-tam, and whose lead trumpet player sounded like the head of a Mariachi band. There were two conductors: Daniel Castaeda (very expressive but short on control) and Higinio Ruvalcaba (a disciplinarian, relatively speaking).

I went to work on the old tracks, declicking them and converting them to fake stereo. But I longed to hear them in modern sound, so I recently began a project to realize many of the tracks on my computer synthesizer. Since no printed score or parts exist, this had to be done entirely by ear. The result is that I not only have modern audio files of most of the tracks, but also scores and parts. There is little chance of anyone ever wanting to perform these, but they exist, and I may be contacted here if anyone is interested.

Now you too may listen to the Lone Ranger Soundtrack, or at least most of it.

 

 

 

1. Lone Ranger Main Title

2. Nightfall

3. Turmoil / Calm Part 1

4. Turmoil / Calm Part 2

5. Black Motive

6. Desert Riders

7. Heavy Agitato

8. Kidnapped

9. The Revolt

10. Life Saver

11. Mechanical Montage

12. Perpetual Motion

13. Scheming

14. Hurry

15. The Getaway

16. The Brute

17. Saddle Tempo

18. Main Title Reprise

 

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