JOSEPH CONLAN

 

An interview with the composer of the music & themes on Tour of Duty.
(This interview took place in Jan 2002 but was lost, now re-found in late 2006 and added to HUM90) 

HUM90: Hello Joseph Conlan, its very kind for you to take the time out of your busy schedule to answer these questions.
JC: Hello

HUM90: I think I said before that some of the most frequently asked questions here at HUM90.com are about with the music, Who wrote it? What's it called? , How long is it, things like that.

JC: I wrote a main title theme for the show, but just before the pilot episode was about to air, it was suggested that popular 60's tune might help sell the show to the audience, anything to improve the odds that the show would become a hit. The producers picked "Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones", that was used for the network run, three years. When the show went into syndication they used my theme. That is what you hear on TNT. The end credit theme that I wrote played on the network run and plays in syndication. As far as what it's called is concerned, these pieces were written specifically for Tour Of Duty, so they were just referred to as the 'Tour of Duty main and end titles'. They were around 45 seconds to a minute long.

Hum90: How did you go about creating the various pieces of music, what influenced did you?

JC: I had a meeting with a number of the producers, writers and the editor, Zev Braun, Bill Norton, Vahan Moosekian, John Duffy and a few others, and basically they all threw out concepts/ideas to which the music should relate. 
Someone said he thought it should have an Asian influence and someone else said it should have a militaristic character. Another thought that 60's music should be reflected. And finally someone said, yes, it should have all that, but from the standpoint of looking back at the period "with the wisdom of the 80's". 
So, those where the general guidelines for the score and the main title that I hadn't written yet. Instrumentation involved a lot of Southeast Asian instruments as well instruments from other Asian regions. Guitars, acoustic and electric, drums and so on represented the 60's. Electronics were used as well, samplers. Militaristic colours came from solo trumpet and snares and the like. And I took a big stick and stirred the pot. What came out of the pot was pretty surprising most of the time. Combining all those elements on one palette was the basis to creating what I thought was a pretty distinctive score.

HUM90: How did you get the job to write the music for Tour Of Duty? , Was it through your previous works?
JC: Bill House was the music supervisor for New World Television. 
I'd known him from before. 
He introduced me to the producers. 
I wrote a spec theme. They liked it I got the job.

HUM90: Did you watch the pilot episode to get a feel for the show? 
JC: Yes, I had to watch the pilot episode in order to write the score for it.

HUM90: How long is the actual ending theme music? 
JC: 45 seconds to a minute, I'm not sure. 
I'd re-recorded a longer version of it years ago because there was some interest in releasing a soundtrack original score. Different episodes have it differing lengths depending on the ending of the episode, I think 58 seconds is the longest recording I have of the music.

HUM90: Does it have a name, other than End credit theme music tour of duty? 
JC: It was registered with the BMI as "Tour of Duty EC" I believe.

HUM90: Was it ever released in a format the general public could buy, such as a single, or an LP/CD? 
JC: No, though the subject of a soundtrack came up again just after TNT running the series. Many of the cues have been compiled for a release. I just haven't pursed it.

HUM90: Is it available in sheet music form? 
JC: I don't think so.

HUM90: What is the musical tempo for it? 
JC: Around 80 bpm.

HUM90: What instruments did you use? 
JC: For the end credits there where guitars and a bass, some synth and sampled elements. It was really quite simple. I haven't heard it in years.

HUM90: I have found 23 different listed, copyrighted versions most with the title "end credit theme "Tour of Duty" and something you wrote , called "Ladybird Blues", and a French alternative version "Zeke's Blues", are these the same piece of music or different pieces? 
JC: Each piece or cue that was written for an episode was given a name and registered with BMI. Both titles ring a bell. I would guess that they are different pieces of music.

HUM90: From watching the show I think that the end theme is replayed sometimes in part at different speeds/tempo and with a variation of the instrument used is that correct? 
JC: I've only seen a couple of episodes that aired on TNT several years ago. I know that they edited my original music main theme to make it longer. They could have done the same with the end credits.

HUM90: Also listed are BG-Cues, which I believe are background cues. Could you tell me a little about these pieces of music, Are these the incidental snippets often in episodes to add drama to scenes? 
JC: Some of those 'incidental snippets', as you put it, were 7 - 8 minutes long. Most composers would probably rather have you refer to the music as underscore than any description that includes the word 'snippets'. 
HUM90 : SORRY!!

HUM90: Did you have to write each piece for each episode or was it a one off job were you were asked to compose X amount of music in the same style to fit the show were directors/producers wanted to insert it? 
JC: Each week I would sit down with a couple of the producers, the film editor and my music editor and we would watch the new episodes from beginning to end, stopping and starting, to decide where the music was needed and what the special needs were for each piece (spotting sessions). I would then go home with the notes taken by my music editor, and write a complete score. There was around 15 to 25 minutes of original music written for each episode each week. Themes might have been re-arranged and re-recorded to fit a different scene where using that theme was appropriate, or completely new material was written.

This is generally how it is done with hour dramatics. Sitcoms, soaps and game shows have libraries created from which they draw music to "fit" into a scene.

These spotting sessions were where it was also discussed what songs from the period would be licensed for that episode. Art Fein did that the first season, and John McCullough did it for the second and third seasons.

It was a great time for me. All the people on the show that I dealt with were very creative and hard working people. And I've had the pleasure of working with a number of them on subsequent projects.

HUM90: Again many thanks for taking the time and trouble to talk to me about your time on the show, 
It's been a pleasure and a privilege. 
JC: I hope I've been helpful and clear, Thanks.

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