Get Smart: A Scottish Moment of Cheer

I’m on tour right now in Glasgow, Scotland, and I just watched an old episode of Cheers on TV in my hotel room.
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I’m on tour right now in Glasgow, Scotland, and I just watched an old episode of Cheers on TV in my hotel room. In the old days, before most TV sitcoms used libraries for their incidental-music underscoring, there were separate recording sessions for each weekly episode. Even halfhour shows were individually scored, and this made for a lot of work for studio musicians. Eventually, most of this work went away with the advent of digital recording. These days, a show will record a “library” of musical cues to be used throughout the season in one three-hour session.

Years ago, I got a call from a composer saying I had been recommended as a good churango player. I confessed I’d never played a churango, but, in the same breath, I asked, “How many strings does it have?”

He said, “Eight.”

I replied, “I’ll be right over!”

I arrived at the studio and tuned his little instrument (the body was a tortoise shell), and I proceeded to figure it out. The cues were easy, and when I was finished, I let him know I had an ES-335 and a small amp in my car—why not put some electric on the main title?

He agreed, and I played a few more days on this movie soundtrack, which was called Stand and Deliver.

At the end of the project, he said he was scoring a new TV series next week and would give me the call. That was Cheers, and I did every episode for the next eight years. The instrumentation was acoustic piano, clarinet, bass, guitar, and drums. Besides the five musicians, there was a union contractor, a music librarian, an engineer, and two assistant engineers. There was also a small team of music copyists who worked for Paramount, as this was before music-writing software like Sibelius or Finale. All the individual parts were hand copied.

It was a nice weekly gig with a great band, and the sessions always ended early. I remember just one time when the music was difficult. Composer Craig

Safan—a fine pianist, as well— had written an eight-bar melody with the instruction, “In the style of Les Paul.”

As was my habit when I saw a page with a lot of notes, I practiced it a couple of times before the session began. Then, I noticed the metronome marking of 176 bpm!

I can play 16th notes at that speed without a problem, but fingering this sequence was next to impossible. By using the pick and fingers on my right hand, and inserting a few open strings, I was able to nail it in a few takes. Afterwards, I informed Craig that Les had recorded that stuff at half speed, and then sped those tracks up. But that’s never done on a TV date where everyone records live.

The strange coincidence is that this was the episode of Cheers I heard in my hotel room—all the way across the ocean in Scotland. It fooled me—I initially believed they’d licensed a Les Paul/Mary Ford track until I remembered it was me, all those years ago.

Carl Verheyen is a crtically acclaimed, Grammy-nominated guitarist, vocalist, songwriter, arranger, producer, clinician, educator, and tone master with 12 CDs, two live DVDs, and two books released worldwide.

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