Whether you realize it or not, you’ve heard the guitar of Bob Bain. In all reality, you couldn’t miss it. Starting in the 1950’s and through the 80’s (not counting today’s re-runs or syndicated programming), if you watched television shows like Peter Gunn, Bonanza, Mission Impossible, The Munsters and M.A.S.H., it was Bob Bain’s guitar that you heard on the themes.
For 22 years, Bob was a fixture along with Doc Severinsen and The Tonight Show Band during the Johnny Carson era on NBC. But you’ve also heard his work in movies like Thoroughly Modern Millie and on recordings with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole. Bob has also recorded several albums of his own on Capitol Records, recorded with the group Guitars Unlimited, and produced a couple of releases by jazz pianist Junior
Having started out as a bassist in a trio fronted by guitarist Joe Wolverton, Bob made his way out to Los Angeles and settled into the club circuit. It was there that he met one of his heroes and mentors, Les Paul. In 1942, Bob joined Freddy Slack’s band, and through fellow guitarist Jack Marshall, was introduced to Phil Moore. He subsequently joined Phil Moore’s Four and One More. Moore’s group was introducing the new bebop sound and was one of the first interracial bands to play in the L.A. area. In 1945, Bob joined Tommy Dorsey (where he played along side Buddy Rich) and, two years later, became a part of Bob Crosby’s big band. In addition, he had formed his own band, The San Fernando Playboys. They actually recorded in Les Paul’s own home studio. Bob later played and recorded with Harry James and was also a part of André Previn’s trio.
The following interview took place during the afternoon of September 8, 2004 in Studio City, California and was organized by Frank Comstock as a part of Frank’s Summit."
FORREST PATTEN interviews
BOB BAIN – one of the Great Guitar Players
FORREST PATTEN: Bob Bain, guitarist extraordinaire, thank you for joining us today on behalf of the Robert Farnon Society. You have been on so many recordings that we’ve enjoyed over the years, but many of our non-U.S. subscribers might not be aware of your tenure with the Tonight Show Band when Johnny Carson hosted on NBC. Tell us about some of the memorable things that went on behind the scenes.
BOB BAIN: Whenever Johnny did his nightly monologue, they had cue cards for him, naturally. He would always rehearse with them. Johnny would use Doc (Severinsen) as a kind of buffer if the audience didn’t laugh at one of his lines. He would always turn to the band and expect something to come out of them. It was like when they used to do this segment called Stump The Band. This is where an audience member would come up with a song title and the band would have to try and play it. Doc was good at that and every once and a while the band would really get into it, too. I remember one night during the monologue, Johnny was talking and mentioned that he had heard one of his favorite records by Alvino Rey. I was playing a Telecaster guitar with a pitch bend that night. I hit a C chord and, with the pitch bend, brought the tone way down and then brought it back up again. It broke the place up. Things like that would just happen. I remember a time when Beverly Sills came on the show. She had just had surgery. She had just done a concert in Houston and had flown in for the show. She was extremely tired and didn’t feel like rehearsing (and wanted to lie down). They wanted her to sing a number on the show. She said that if she did sing, she would do it with a guitarist. That was all she said. Well, then the show goes on. She comes out and is talking to Johnny. Johnny says I know that you’re not feeling well, but could you do just a few bars for us?" She agreed and looked over at me and said Estrellita?" I said In F?" and she nodded. We then did a chorus and a half. She was so easy to accompany. If we had rehearsed it, it wouldn’t have come off any better. The band was always a lot of fun. We had a great brass section. The lead trumpet was John Audino. Conte Condoli was the jazz trumpet. Jimmy Zito sat on the other side. The fourth trumpet was either Snooky Young or Maurie Harris. Just having those four guys in the band was enough to make you laugh. They never stopped talking! Sometimes Pete Candoli would sub for Audino and you’d think that Pete and Conte hadn’t seen each other in ten years! They were just so funny. You had Pete Christlieb and Ernie Watts on tenor sax and, of course Tommy Newsom on lead alto. You had Ed Shaughnessy on the drums and Ross Tompkins on piano. It was a great band. I really enjoyed doing the show. You came in at 3:15 in the afternoon and got to go home at 6:30 that evening. So that was a pretty good job.
FP: You’ve played on and recorded the themes for so many memorable television shows. Tell us about Bonanza.
BB: I got a call from Dave (David) Rose and he told me that he had to record a theme that had been composed by the team of Jay Livingston and Ray Evans. He said that it was a Western and asked me what I thought. I asked him what he wanted and he replied that he’d like something with guitars. I told him that I thought he should use maybe four or five guitars and put them in unison with whatever he wanted to do. We’d just try and fake it when we got there. He said Great." He wrote his usual arrangement for strings and other parts of the orchestra. There were five guitars. Laurindo (Almeida) was there; Tommy Tedesco, Al Hendrickson, Dennis Budimir and myself. He had just a lead sheet for us. We played it in octaves. He had a nice orchestration behind us, but simple. So we recorded that as the theme song for Bonanza. Then David scored the rest of the show without guitars because he didn’t use guitars as a rule. When the show started to become a hit, I remember having dinner with Dave one night and he said, Can you imagine that they asked me to write the theme for that show and I turned them down because I told them that I was too busy!" He was doing the Red Skelton Show at the time. But that’s the story of Bonanza.
FP: How about the opening theme to the TV series M.A.S.H.
BB: That’s a long story. Johnny Mandel is really the one who was responsible for that. He scored the original motion picture. When it came time for the TV version, Twentieth Century Fox picked it up. Johnny wrote the theme, orchestrated it, and supplied cues for the first couple of episodes. After that, he gave it to somebody else. But he did write the guitar part that appears at the opening. It was actually written for two guitars in the key of B-minor. One guitar played B and F# and the other guitar played the thirds. As the show became popular, the union law said that you had to re-record the theme every year. So we’d come back in the next year and Lionel (Newman) would say Let’s add a few more guitars." So now we did the theme with four guitars. And the next year, there would be six guitars! Since there were only two parts originally, you had guys that were adlibbing and strumming along or whatever. As it turned out, the original recording (with two guitars) continued to be used for the entire run of the series. Even though you would come in and do another annual session, the producers could use the original track as long as the guys were paid their union fees. If you ever listen to the theme on M.A.S.H. closely, you’ll notice that there are different versions that they use throughout the series. The editor for that week’s show could choose the particular rendition he wanted to use for that specific show or season. But Johnny Mandel really deserves the credit. After all, who would ever think of starting a TV show with just two guitars playing? Most people would say that it just didn’t have enough sound. But it worked.
FP: And, of course, another television favorite: The Munsters.
BB: Uan Rasey reminded me how much fun we had on that show. The leader was Jack Marshall, a good friend of ours. It was a small band, comparatively speaking for television. There were three trumpets, two trombones, tuba, guitar, bass, drums, piano and two or three woodwinds. There might have been some extra percussion, also. Jack wrote the theme that sounded a little bit like spooky" music we always thought. He put the electric guitar as the lead because electric guitar was very popular then. Les Paul was very popular at that time, too. The producers wanted that sound. He would write these cues that were so short sometimes. Jack would give you a downbeat and almost have to cut you off immediately because it might have been a six-second or less bit. But the fun thing about it was that the people who were filming The Munsters on one stage (which was only about a block away) would come over when they heard there was going to be a scoring session. Fred Gwynne as Herman Munster would come by in full Frankenstein" make-up and Al Lewis (who played Grandpa) was always there. He loved it and just liked to sit around and listen to the music. Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster) didn’t show up too much. The male characters did, even Butch Patrick who played their little boy, Eddie. Jack Marshall was so funny. It was like one big three-hour laugh session. When you had the likes of trombonist Frank Rosolino along with trumpeters Uan Rasey and Jack Sheldon, and Shelly Manne on drums, it was great. The music was funny to begin with, and then to see all of the shenanigans that went on in the show (like smoke coming out of Herman’s ears) was a lot of fun. It didn’t pay a lot, but you did it because it was with Jack Marshall and there was always a lot of laughs. That was forty years ago. The thing that amazes me today is that young guitar players will come up to me when they hear I did The Munsters. They could care less about the rest of the stuff! They say, Hey, are you the guy that played on The Munsters?" To them, that’s more important than playing for Sinatra or anybody else.
FP: Let’s segue here and talk about your many years playing for a man named Henry Mancini. Didn’t it all start with a TV program called Peter Gunn?
BB: Yes, I played the guitar part on Peter Gunn. I first met Hank Mancini when he was an orchestrator at Universal Pictures. He had originally come out to the West Coast with the Tex Beneke Band when he got a job on staff at Universal with a weekly salary. He orchestrated The Glenn Miller Story. That sort of opened the door for him. Then they gave him another picture called Rock Pretty Baby with John Saxon. It was a typical beach rock and roll picture. And then Dominic Frontiere and I did an album with him featuring accordion and guitar for Liberty Records. The next thing you knew, he had Peter Gunn come up. He was a friend of Blake Edwards who told him to write a theme and we’ll see what happens." It was a pilot show that caught on and that was the beginning. Then Hank did everything that Blake ever produced including Breakfast At Tiffany’s with Moon River." So I got to know Hank and his family very well. We became very close friends. I worked with him on just about everything he did for about the next twenty or thirty years. The reason that I stopped working with him more recently was because he was doing a lot of concerts on the road. Because I was doing The Tonight Show, I couldn’t get out of Burbank! The wonderful thing about working with Hank is that he did so many great pictures with so many great melodies. There was Days Of Wine And Roses and Soldier In The Rain. The song Dreamsville" (from the original Peter Gunn soundtrack album) was originally just thrown in" to fill up the record. Later on, Sammy Cahn wrote a lyric for it. I think it’s one of the most beautiful tunes that Hank ever wrote. Over the years, I can say that as many pictures as Hank did, the one that ended up being the most popular was The Pink Panther series. In the original picture, it started out with guitar and vibes doing fifths. The vibe player was Emil Richards and I did the guitar part. Compared to the George Shearing" style, this was more of a low- end sound. Plas Johnson played the tenor sax melody. To honor what would have been Hank’s 80th birthday, they re-recorded The Pink Panther using a big orchestra and Plas, once again, played the main melody. I didn’t get to do that album because, I believe, they wanted all younger" players for that session.