Back in early 1989, one of my best music friends from my high school years, Jeff Beal, had arrived back to the SF Bay Area after graduating from Eastman School of Music. He and his wife Joan had moved in close by in the city. One day, sitting around scheming up plans to attack the Bay Area music scene, we decided to have my (then) wife, Krista, design a nice printed brochure and combine our eager efforts. We had a simple brochure designed, bought the REEL Directory (the CA recording industry phone book), and literally blind shotgunned 300 brochures to every production company we could manage to contact. We waited, and waited…and waited. Twiddling thumbs didn’t become us.
Then, one day…Riiiiing! “Hello?…Yes, this is SoundScapes Productions…Who?…Who?!!!…Lucasfilm?!…Skywalker Sound?…Kate Coombs…You want us to come to the Ranch…Just to talk…Tomorrow at 11am?,…(hey, Jeff, are you open tomorrow??? You’re busy watching the grass grow),…uh,…sure, I think we can,…uh, rearrange our…schedules! See you then!”
Cue staring at each other in a stunned stupor. This was the one and ONLY response we ever got from our brochure! Go figure.
We drive up Hwy 101 through the city, cross the Golden Gate Bridge, and up into Marin County all the way to…Lucas Valley Road (no relation actually – the street was named years before “he” moved in). Traveling through the beautiful woodsy two-lane road we almost miss the entrance to the Ranch because it’s kind of unmarked. We slam on the brakes realizing we had driven the requisite amount of miles on the odometer.
We call in on the outside box. The electric gate slowly swings open. We drive up to the guard kiosk next to the quaint and stately guest cottages. Our names are right. We proceed slowly up the road taking in the beautiful architectural layout of the grounds. Past the cute on-site firehouse, past a peaceful lake, then up to the big red brick building with the then very new vineyard vines in front. We park around back, make our way into the building, and ask for directions to the offices. We take in the rustic elegance (and Oscar awards) of the whole place as we make our way upstairs.
There’s Kate Coombs and Tom Scott (the business-engineer, not the sax player), who greet us very nicely, even with a plate of huge, freshly baked, warm Ranch cookies! We spend about an hour munching those amazing cookies, sipping great coffee, and being extremely politely but deeply grilled about our brochure, our music experience, and all our contacts in the music scene. That’s it. We’re done. No explanations. Just a very cordial thank you and, we’re back in the car driving back out and into the woodsy paradise towards the freeway.
Jeff and I say to each other, “Welp, that sure was fun to see the place! I wonder what that was all about?!” A couple months go by. Back in the music room at Jeff’s house we start preparing sound samples on 1/4” floppy disks (remember those?!) and loading them into the latest greatest Kurzweil triggering unit, and…
Riiiiiing!…”Hello?…Kate Coombs?!…You want us to come back…and talk with David Campbell…THE David Campbell, the writer-arranger?…Tomorrow? (Hey, Jeff, are you free tomor…) YES…of course we’ll be there, click! “Boy I hope they have more of those cookies!”
Back up 101, GG bridge, Lucas road, gate opens, kiosk guard, names good, past firehouse, brick building, beautiful lake, front vineyard, park, upstairs, “Hi Kate!”, more warm cookies (!). This time, though, after cookies, we are escorted across the grounds over to the main Ranch “plantation” house for lunch. There’s “the” light saber on a shelf, there’s George Gershwin’s actual baby grand, there’s a Maxfield Parish on the wall in the stunning research library with an exquisite stain glass dome, there’s the food area, and…there’s David Campbell!
We down some 5-star scrumptious sandwiches with delicious iced-tea and talk delightfully with David about our brochure, our experience, and he most graciously grills us about our music contacts. That’s it. No explanation. Kind thank you. Back to the freeway. Shaking our heads. “Man, those cookies are good!”
A few weeks go by. Same routine at Jeff’s doing something musical – and,…Riiiiing!
101, bridge, road, gate, guard, cottages, firehouse, lake, grapes, park, stairs, Kate, cookies (man,…), escort to plantation house, light saber, piano, Parish, stain glass, David, lunch, but…with Cate AND Tom this time! They finally spill the beans.
“We’ve talked to about 40 potential music contractors. We had the SF ballet orchestra here recording before, but we realized their and the SF Symphony schedules could conflict with freelance projects, so…we’re relying on you, and it has to be right the first time! We’re doing Linda Ronstadt’s new album ‘Cry Like A Rainstorm…’ on Electra-Asylum and we need about 80 players, good ones! David and Marty Paich are writing, George Massenberg is engineering, Peter Asher is producing, Greg Adams is writing for the Tower of Power horns who are playing, Russ Kunkle, Carlos Vega, Lee Sklar, Dean Parks, etc. are playing. Here’s the dates!”
Back to the freeway. Combined silent fear and momentous professional elation! We go to work.
First orchestra recording date comes. Pavel Farkas is up from LA as the “insurance” concert master for the LA execs (the only time we did that). We assembled a who’s-who of wonderful Bay Area talent (see album). Linda, George, Peter, David, Marty, even David Paich (Marty’s son from Toto), everyone is there! 10:00am downbeat. Orchestra tunes. Headsets on. First track goes down. Nailed it in one! Playback. Gorgeous (man can David and Marty write!). Linda sits in the scoring stage with the orchestra with the sincerest look of peace and gratitude. It’s real! Everyone feels it. Electricity is pumping. Three more tunes in the can. Handshakes and hugs. George Lucas shows up at lunch break with about 20 others from the company.
I catch…Mr. Lucas, in the hallway…”Call me George!” “Ok! Thank you Mr….uh, George! Hey, I was thinking and talking with Jeff. What if we call this…the ‘Skywalker Symphony’?!” Pause…thinking…,…”I love it. We’ll do it!”
Word is out!
We finish the three days of glorious double sessions. Contract goes in perfect. We’re on the map!!! Album released. We listen to The Whole thing, and pinch ourselves, repeatedly! Album goes PLATINUM!
WE start with THIS?! This is our very FIRST date? We expected a pizza or car dealer commercial first, maybe, and a local one at that. But THIS?! Astounding! What a future to look forward to, and all because of a blind brochure mailing with only one response! Life is good, and what a spiritual privilege it is to be in a position to give excellent musicians the best work possible! Just beautiful, and how absolutely validating to be trusted implicitly by some of the best people in the business!
A few months later…at home writing a take-down Sinatra chart for the Bob Vickers little big-band, and…
Riiiiing! “Hello?…Yes, this is Greg…John?…John Williams…not the guitarist…THE Movie music John Williams?!…You heard Linda’s album…You’re doing a digital version of the StarWars concert suites?…With us???!!!…(faint).
More warm cookies later!