Play Some Badass TV Guitar!

April 16, 2014

The golden age of television was a goldmine for guitar music, from moody noir-guitar and twangy spy themes (Danger, Peter Gunn, and Secret Agent) to serious sci-fi and campy fantasy (The Twilight Zone and Batman), Westerns (Bonanza), and comedies (The Munsters, The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and The Monkees). Many of today’s most popular shows continue to follow this tradition, with guitar-centric themes and incidental music cues, as well as actual song excerpts, but it’s the new wave of reality shows on A&E, Nat Geo, History, Food Network, and others that are breaking new ground. The genre has spawned a new breed of TV composer, who instead of scoring to the picture, licenses music from an extensive library of pre-recorded cues and themes in every imaginable style. You may even hear some of the same cues on different shows.

Front and center amongst the pack is the History Channel’s hugely successful Pawn Stars series, which follows the in-store and in-the-field exploits of the extended Harrison family—Rick, Big Hoss, and the Old Man, plus the always loveable Chumlee—who run the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas. (Fact: The shop has scored a few 6-string prizes over the years, including Mary Ford’s white Gibson Les Paul/SG Custom and British session great Vic Flick’s Olympic White Fender Stratocaster.)

Now in its fifth year, Pawn Stars features tons of badass guitar music courtesy of Jingle Punks, a music licensing house and cooperative co-founded by Dan Demole and “Jingle” Jared Gutstadt in 2008, and the sheer abundance of guitar-heavy cues and to-die-for tones makes every show a virtual cornucopia of modern styles and sounds. (Could there be a cooler job?) It’s nice work if you can get it, so let’s investigate how to go about creating convincing and satisfying musical snippets in any style in four bars or less.


The show’s original opening theme (Ex. 1a) is a raucous, Zep-like, start-and-stop affair—the pickup and bar 1’s rhythm motif recall “The Ocean”—laced with Example 1b and 1c’s gritty lead fills (labeled “Fill 1” and “Fill 2”) inserted between the repeats of bars 1 and 2. Note how each oblique unison bend in Fill 2 receives different rhythmic phrasing, giving the lick a totally authentic, raggedy rock vibe. Embellish the three Bb5F5 hits in bar 3 with the Gtr. 2’s country bends (labeled “Fill 3” in Ex. 1d), and then tack on Bar 4’s skranky Bb5C5G5 ending phrase to complete the picture.

The chugging, Billy Gibbons-style riff notated in Ex. 2a frequently appears as “bumper” music used to frame the multiple- choice quiz that appears onscreen prior to commercial breaks. Designed for flexibility in filling different time allotments, this figure can be repeated as often as necessary—two or three times is typical— and then appended with either one of the endings shown in Ex. 2b. Watch the show and you’ll also hear a version that cuts out bar 2 of Ex. 2a on any given repeat.


More proto-metal Zep-isms that could easily fit into Sabbath and Purple oeuvres abound in the pair of E-based cue-style snippets featured in Examples 3a and 3b, which feature power chords and hammered single-notes within the same phrase, and funky root-to-b7 syncopations. Moving to G, Ex. 3c rocks an ascending G pentatonic scale with two different endings, and you’ll find Ex. 3d adaptable to both heavy metal and swampy blues. (Tip: Try it with a slide.)

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