When I began my career at Baker Sound in 1987 I received invaluable support from an unexpected source: the announcers whose voices are heard on radio and TV commercials every day. Radio personality Gene Shay led the way by introducing me to (then Baker owner) Gary Moskowitz and becoming one of my first clients. Longtime NFL Films announcer Jeff Kaye was another early endorser who sent clients my way, beloved broadcaster Dick Clayton brought in some projects for local radio stations, and the ubiquitous Scott Sanders sang my praises to so many clients that he might as well have been my agent. But of the many voiceover artists who helped me in various ways, there were two who put their reputations on the line by giving an unknown and as yet unproven composer the opportunity to reach a national audience.
Gary Bridges and Dennis Steele had each spent years working in radio before Gary began producing The John Madden Sports Quiz in 1986. The nationally syndicated radio feature ran daily during sports, talk, and music programming. It was a success, and in 1988 Gary recruited Dennis to develop a second Madden-hosted program titled The John Madden Sports Calendar. Dennis immediately called and asked me to compose a custom theme for the new show.
The syndicators wanted an upbeat, energetic track that would feel equally at home on AM sportstalk or FM rock radio. Van Halen's "Finish What You Started" was a huge crossover hit at the time, and Dennis and I agreed that it had the right sensibilities to appeal to Madden and a diverse audience. So I created a drum groove that mimicked the song's quirky, offbeat snare pattern, and worked with Jeff Kay to develop a signature guitar riff using Eddie Van Halen's distinctive fingerpicking technique (a playing style we would revisit a year later in a theme for The Phillies). I filled out the rhythm section with bass and Hammond organ, and then added some horn lines to heighten the excitement and give the track a sports feel. The reel-to-reel master of the final mix is long gone, but Dennis found a completed show that demonstrates how the theme was used in the opening tease that introduced each episode.
We dubbed the piece "VanMadden," and it worked so well that the following year Gary asked me to create a new theme for the Sports Quiz. The two shows featured my themes for much of the next decade, and when Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck took over for Bob Costas as host of the syndicators' Sports Flashback program two years later I was asked to create a new theme for that series as well. This one called for a more traditional approach: a bold french horn introduces the program and then carries the melody over a driving triplet-feel drum groove inspired by the David Letterman Show theme.
Gary called again in 1997 and asked me to compose a theme for the new Sports Illustrated Golf Plus show he was producing. After deciding that the sound of hitting a golf ball would serve as an effective mnemonic, I again relied on a triplet-feel drum groove to provide theme-appropriate energy and then tried to appeal to golf's unique demographic by composing a call-and-response melody in which Ron Kerber's smooth-jazz-inflected sax lines are answered by Jeff Kay's Queen-inspired guitar licks.
Looking back at these first ten years of MONSTER TRACKS reminds me of how fortunate I was to find Baker Sound and the community of creatives that gave me a chance to realize my dreams. Within my first decade as a professional composer I had created music for dozens of local, regional, and national brands, and had begun to branch out beyond advertising. There's a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time: although I worked incredibly hard to improve at my craft and impress my clients, none of this would have been possible if I hadn't found myself in a thriving hub of creativity surrounded by people who were eager to welcome and support an enthusiastic young composer. I'm forever grateful to all of them.
Chuck Butler is celebrating his 30th anniversary as Baker Sound's in-house composer. For more information about Baker's music division, visit our dedicated MONSTER TRACKS website.