I love making ad music and try to treat every assignment as the most important of my career. But I couldn't help feeling particularly enthusiastic about promoting one of my favorite TV shows: Jeopardy!
The work began with a call from producers Dan and Jim Price of Oink Ink Radio in 2004. I'd known Dan since he was an engineer at Baker Sound in the '80s, and met his brother Jim when the two founded their highly successful production company in 1992. We've since collaborated on numerous projects, including work for Tabasco, Dodge, and TBS. The Price brothers are among the most talented creatives I know, so I was eager to hear what they had in mind for Jeopardy!.
Jeopardy! debuted in 1964--the year I was born--and went through several iterations before Sony Pictures Television took over production in 1984. That made 2004 the 20th anniversary of the current incarnation of the show, and syndicator King World (now part of CBS) asked Oink Ink to create special radio spots celebrating the occasion. Dan & Jim dubbed the longrunning show an "American classic," and thought it would be fun to convey this by marrying its famous theme song (composed by show creator Merv Griffin) to an established "classic." The challenge was to find a piece that would be instantly recognizable and could transform into the Jeopardy! theme. One of their suggestions was Mozart's Serenade in G major ("Eine kleine Nachtmusik"), and I realized that this would make a good pairing since both melodies have a similar motion (alternating between Do and Sol). I created an electronic mockup to demonstrate this, and once we were confident that listeners would recognize both melodies and appreciate the transformation I began recording live players. The final production features Dave Schneider on oboe, Matt Cappy on trumpet, Tony Pirollo on cello, and Greg Teperman on violin.
We produced a second mashup the following spring. This time Dan & Jim wanted to work with a classic American theme, and suggested Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith's bluegrass favorite, Dueling Banjos. It was a great choice, and once I had an arrangement together I recorded a rhythm track with Jeff Kay on acoustic guitar and Joe Nero on drums. Former Baker owner Gary Moskowitz recommended local bandleader Kenny I for the fiddle part (I joined Kenny's band shortly thereafter and have been performing with him ever since). The banjo parts were handled by the late, great Tom Giacabetti. Tom was enthusiastic about the project, and showed up at the session with two different banjos so that each part would have a different tone. It took some effort to get the call and response to feel like two players, but the end result is pretty convincing.
The spot was well received and the music won some awards. But not all of our efforts fared so well. For example, when the show turned thirty in 2014, Dan & Jim wanted to highlight its longevity by taking the theme on a musical journey through the decades. This proved to be a major production challenge, because we had to decide which musical styles would be effective, create separate arrangements of the theme, record and mix each to sound authentic, and then edit them together to create a complete, composite performance. After some experimentation we settled on a progression from disco, to '80s synth-pop, to metal, to rap, to a boy band with my former UArts student Richard Smith-Beverly on vocals, to a PSY-inspired dance track featuring a sample of Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek. Unfortunately, the folks at King World weren't enthusiastic and the project was ultimately shelved. Here's the arrangement that Oink Ink approved.
We had better luck with a recent spot promoting the 2017 Teachers Tournament. Dan & Jim wrote a cute lyric to the theme and asked me to put together a group of kids to perform it. Fortunately, I'd just been involved in a local singing competition, and between the kids I met there and some others provided by VS Talent Group I was able to assemble a group that sang both intelligibly and in tune. Several of the kids mentioned that it was their first time in a recording studio, but they all knew the Jeopardy! theme and had no trouble singing it. Our studio manager, who rarely comments on production, called the final result "adorable."
I've had tremendous fun playing around with the Jeopardy! theme over the years, and I'm grateful to the Price brothers for giving me the opportunity and providing such imaginative creative direction. It's amazing to think that I share the same birth year as both Baker Sound and Jeopardy!, and here I am working at Baker and producing music to promote one of my favorite shows. What a gig! I'd do it for another 30 years if I could.
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.