There's something special about working for a client you love, as I discovered when I was given the opportunity to produce a signature theme for The Philadelphia Phillies' radio and TV advertising in 1990. The timing couldn't have been better: the team had been struggling for a decade, but a colorful cast of characters was about to turn the tide and capture the city's imagination.
I'm not entirely sure how the project came my way. Allan Kalish's former partner Howard Rice was an early supporter of mine and probably recommended me to rest of the Phillies in-house marketing group including advertising manager Joanne Levy-Lamoreaux and producer Barbara Montgomery. Though Barbara and I had never met, she was aware of my work and willing to give me a shot. The direction was straightforward: create an energetic and identifiable instrumental theme that would serve as the foundation for the team's broadcast advertising.
There were two elements that I immediately knew I wanted to incorporate. The first was a sound that would convey "baseball," and a bat crack seemed the obvious choice. The second was a chordal fingerpicking technique that guitarist Eddie Van Halen had popularized on the song "Finish What You Started." I grabbed a guitar, worked out the basic chord progression, and came up with a bluesy melody intended for sax. I recorded drums and bass, dropped in the bat crack effect, added the horn section parts, and then brought in Jeff Kay to cut guitars. I'll never forget anxious look on Barbara's face when she heard the aggressive tone we got by mic'ing Jeff's amp in the long hallway outside of Baker's Studio A.
When it came time to add the sax melody Barbara made a suggestion that would have a tremendous impact on my musical life. I'd been using (Gary's cousin) Ken Moskowitz for all of my sax work, but she wanted to bring in a player she knew and trusted. I initially resisted out of loyalty to Ken, but finally agreed to record both musicians. Ken came in first and did a great job, particularly on the two high notes that end the piece. But Ron Kerber brought a warm tone and lyrical quality that gave his performance the edge. Ken was a good sport about the whole thing, and in the end I wound up using those final "honks" he had played with such gusto.
Barbara's introduction proved fortuitous, because Ken soon moved to Florida and Ron became my go-to guy. And Ron is no ordinary player. He is certainly among the most accomplished musicians in the Philly area, and is second only to guitarist Jeff Kay in shaping the sound of MONSTER TRACKS. Ron went on to play sax, flute, piccolo, and clarinet on countless subsequent productions, often provided valuable musician recommendations, and eventually persuaded me to join the composition faculty at University of the Arts.
But the memory of this piece I most cherish is of hearing it played in the ballpark. Being in the stands and hearing that track blasting out of the Vet Stadium speakers never got old. Another thrill came when I was asked to provide the sheet music for longtime Phillies organist Paul Richardson, who came up with a rendition that he would play before and after games. I had long admired Paul's playing, and at one Phillies event I had the opportunity to meet him and compliment his arrangement of my theme.
The Phillies continued to use variations on this theme for the next five seasons. There were no substantial changes for 1991 or 1992, but by the end of the '92 season it was clear that players like Dykstra, Kruk, and Dalton had given the team a hardnosed attitude that I wanted to reflect in a grittier arrangement of the theme. Baker Sound had upgraded Studio A to 24-tracks by this point, so I was also eager to deliver a better sounding production. I switched to a hip-hop-infused groove, punctuated by horn stabs and turntable effects from a Casio RAP-1 keyboard. The bat crack remained, but an iconic opening shout by singer Denise NeJame heightened the energy and provided an immediately recognizable mnemonic.
For the 1995 season the Phillies asked me to supplement the main theme with some speciality arrangements that would give them more options in creating spots. The one that got the most airplay was this country version featuring Jeff on guitars and popular Jersey Shore entertainer Lew London on fiddle.
Although it never got much use, my favorite version was this big band arrangement that featured Ron on alto and tenor saxes, his brother Rick Kerber on trumpet, and Sal Scarpa on trombone.
And quite a few spots used this fun dixieland version, which features a rare appearance by Jeff on banjo, along with Ron on clarinet, Rick on trumpet, Sal on trombone, and my buddy from the old Trump Castle house band Rich Kurtz on upright bass.
I couldn't have been more happy or proud to provide music for the Phillies during those years. I felt particularly fortunate to have been involved in '93 when the team went to the World Series, and still cherish the copy of my original score that the players autographed at the end of the season. I'm forever grateful to Howard, Joanne, Barbara, and the rest of the Phillies' marketing department for giving me the chance to be part of my hometown team.
Chuck Butler is celebrating his 30th anniversary as Baker Sound's in-house composer. For more information about Baker's music division, visit our dedicated MONSTER TRACKS website.