Laying Down a Track for "Days of Heaven"

In 1978, Roberta Friedman had a roots music show on Pacifica Radio, KPFK, Los Angeles called Richland Woman. I recall her theme song was sung by Maria D'Amato (a.k.a. Maria Muldaur) of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. From time to time, Roberta asked me to program some shows featuring harmonica players. I went back to the 30's and 40's, playing tracks by the likes of Jazz Gillum, DeFord Bailey and Gwen Foster. This also gave me the opportunity to air such unusual and under-represented players as Chester Crill (a.k.a. Max Buda of Kaleidoscope), Rick Epping (Floating House Band), Stan Behrans, Louie Lista, Charlie McCoy and Al Wilson (Canned Heat). It was great fun to put so many creative players on the airwaves. At the conclusion of one of these shows, Roberta asked me to play live. I didn't know that Roberta was editing a film up at the Redd Foxx offices. She had Paramount Pictures Production staff listening to the program because Paramount had a problem with the film she was working on.

The movie was "Days of Heaven", directed by Terry Malick and starring Richard Gere and Sam Sheperd. Essentially, I was doing an on-the-air audition. They had shot a dance scene to a track off an old Roots label re-issue but the tune was cut in the 30's and they were unable to clean up the track sufficiently to use it. They needed a fresh recording; they asked me to learn the original and to replicate it at Paramount Studio. Besides the audio quality problem, there was a second issue. The original player (whose name I can't recall) dropped time during the piece. The dance scene, of course, corresponded to that track so when I played the tune, I had to drop time at precisely the tempo of the original because the dance scene was already in place.

The Paramount Studio is cavernous enough to accommodate a symphony orchestra. The lights came down and I was alone in that space with my little Marine Band harp. I got it on the seventh take.

In 1979, "Days of Heaven" was nominated by the Academy for best picture, best music and best cinematography. "Midnight Express" beat it out for best music but Ennio Morricone's score for "Days of Heaven" remains spectacular in scope and passion. I got about a 44 second solo, a single chord ramp up, complete with idiosyncratic tempo; my claim to fame thanks to Roberta Friedman and to, unbeknownst to me, an on air audition. You never know...

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