Interview: Don Grady
(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.
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."
Who do listen to casually?
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 towards Jazz.
Who might you say your musical influences are?
Ahmad 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.
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.
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.
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 Show.
What differences do you find in approaching a score for live
action as opposed to something for animation?
Live 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.
With 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.
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 no dialogue.
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.
What advice would you offer to those considering a scoring
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.
Can you offer a few memories of the Yellow Balloon?
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 - 2006 Joe Tracy / Digital Media
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