Whether you realize it or not, youve
heard the guitar of Bob Bain. In all reality, you couldnt
miss it. Starting in the 1950s and through the 80s
(not counting todays 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 Bains 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 youve 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 Mance.
Having started out as a bass player 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 Slacks band,
and through fellow guitarist Jack Marshall, was introduced
to Phil Moore. He subsequently joined Phil Moores
Four and One More. Moores 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 Crosbys big band.
In addition, he had formed his own band, The San Fernando
Playboys. They actually recorded in Les Pauls own
home studio. Bob later played and recorded with Harry James
and was also a part of André Previns 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 "Franks
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 weve
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 didnt 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 didnt 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 guitar player. That was all
she said. Well, then the show goes on. She comes out and
is talking to Johnny. Johnny says "I know that youre
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 wouldnt 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 youd think that Pete and Conte hadnt
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: Youve 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 hed
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. Wed 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 didnt 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 thats the story
FP: How about the opening theme to the
TV series M.A.S.H.
BB: Thats 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 wed
come back in the next year and Lionel (Newman) would say
"Lets 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, youll
notice that there are different versions that they use throughout
the series. The editor for that weeks 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 didnt 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) didnt 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 Hermans ears) was a lot of fun.
It didnt 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, thats
more important than playing for Sinatra or anybody else.
FP: Lets segue here and talk about
your many years playing for a man named Henry Mancini. Didnt
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 "well 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 Tiffanys 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 couldnt 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 its 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 Hanks 80th
birthday, they re-recorded The Pink Panther using
a big orchestra and Plas, once again, played the main melody.
I didnt get to do that album because, I believe, they
wanted all "younger" players for that session.
FP: A lot of people might not realize that
when watching a movie and seeing their favorite star sing
while strumming along on guitar, that you are actually the
one providing the guitar track. I seem to remember the late
Natalie Wood (with guitar) singing a beautiful ballad called
"The Sweetheart Tree" in the Blake Edwards
comedy The Great Race. How did that work?
BB: That was, of course, pre-recorded with
Natalie. In Breakfast At Tiffanys there was
kind of an interesting thing. You had a big orchestra scoring
the picture at Paramount and then, when the date was over
the contractor (Phil Coggin) came over and said "Bobby,
you stay." The whole orchestra left and Im sitting
around. Hank said "Why dont you go over to Nicks.
We wont need you for another half hour. All youll
need is your gut string (guitar)." I figured that they
wanted me to play a little background music or something.
When I came back, Audrey Hepburn was in the studio. The
studio had been darkened and the only people there were
the engineer in the booth, the producer (Blake Edwards),
Hank, and an assistant in the booth to run the tape machine.
They had told everybody else to essentially get lost. Audrey
did not want to sing with a big orchestra. She wanted to
record "Moon River" with just guitar and voice.
She was so nice and very easy to accompany. She was really
a good singer, too. She sang for My Fair Lady and
was pretty good. There are some outtakes of her singing
all of those tunes. She made one take and we went in the
booth to listen to it. Hank asked her if she thought she
could do it one more time and she agreed. We did a second
take and that was it. Then Hank took that track (with just
guitar and voice) and overdubbed strings. In the picture,
the first sixteen bars has Audrey in a window or a doorway
singing "Moon River" with just guitar and then
the orchestra sneaks in. It ended up with this really nice
FP: Ive always wondered whether or
not Henry Mancini did the majority of his own orchestrations,
or did he have some ghost arrangers?
BB: No, Hank orchestrated almost everything.
He was very particular about that. The only time I ever
knew Hank to give some stuff out was much later when he
asked Jack Hayes to help arrange some of his concert pieces.
But in the beginning, Hank did everything himself.
FP: Bob, out of all of the film and television
composers that youve worked with over the years, do
you have a favorite?
BB: Id have to say Billy May. He
was a great kick to work with. The music was good and he
was funny. Ive also enjoyed working with Nelson Riddle
and Frank Comstock. One of my heroes was Victor Young. I
didnt know Victor at all, but I certainly knew his
music. Its hard to believe that he wrote "Sweet
Sue." I was working with Andre Previn when he had a
trio. We had a guest shot on The Carnation Hour.
Victor conducted the orchestra on the show and the singer
was Buddy Clark. We did some Nat King Cole trio-type stuff
worked out in thirds for guitar and piano. It was hard because
Andre liked to play fast tempos. We played the guest spot.
When it was over, I packed up my guitar and was getting
ready to leave. Victors brother-in-law, Henry Hill
(who served as orchestra contractor on the show), came over
to me and asked if Id be interested in working for
Victor. I said sure. He told me that Victor had a call at
Paramount the following week and would like me to do it.
That was my first job with him, and we continued to work
together for years after that. Phil Sobel, Henry Hill and
I (along with Victor) would go over to Victors house
after a date and would play Casino. His wife would serve
us tea. She didnt speak English.
FP: One of my all-time favorite Victor
Young scores was his last to Around The World In 80 Days.
Were you involved with that?
BB: I worked on that quite a bit. There
was a lot of recording on that because there was so much
music in the picture to start with. It was almost wall-to-wall
music. There were a lot of scenes in the Orient (or wherever
they were) and Victor said to me "I dont want
to bother getting any authentic samisen players in
here. Can you make your banjo sound like a samisen?"
We all knew how to do that by putting a mute on the bridge
of the instrument and muffling it. It had sort of a "twangy"
sound to it and you could bend the strings a bit. Theres
a lot of music in that picture that sounds like it was done
with a Japanese instrument, but its actually a banjo
thats being muffled! But, of course, there was a lot
of guitar music in there, as well. He hired several authentic
Flamenco guitar players for the Spanish scenes. I didnt
do that. But I did a lot of work on that picture.
FP: Do you remember who the arrangers were
on that film?
BB: Sure. Leo Shuken and Jack Hayes were
involved, and even Leo Arnaud did some things. There was
so much music to be scored. Victor was so busy conducting.
We recorded it all at Todd-AO. It took six weeks, at least.
FP: Bob, youve worked with so many
of the great vocalists in the business including Frank Sinatra,
Peggy Lee and Nat King Cole. Tell us what it was like working
with such musical legends.
BB: You get a call from a music contractor.
Theyd tell you that there was a date with Nelson Riddle
at 8:00 at Capitol. When you walked in, it could be Peggy
or Frank or Keely Smith. It could be anybody. Sometimes
they would tell you in advance. For example, on the Sinatra
album Songs For Swinging Lovers, they tried to keep
the band the same so theyd tell you that you have
three sessions in a row and theyd like you to do all
of them. Every once in a while Id show up for a session
at Capitol and it would be with Nat. His regular guitar
player might be playing with the trio in Chicago. Capitol
would fly Nat out to do a couple of recording dates, but
they wouldnt bring the trio with him. So theyd
add a guitar and another bass player.
FP: Tell us about the famous guitar opening
to Nat Coles hit Mona Lisa.
BB: Over the years, theres been a
lot of speculation about how that happened. The truth is
that Nelson Riddle and I were pretty good friends. This
was a long time ago when his kids were pretty small. I was
over at his house and I always brought my guitar along because
his daughter, Cecily, liked to sing and Id provide
the accompaniment. He told me that he was writing the arrangement
on this tune and asked me what I thought. I looked at it
and he asked "How does that lay for guitar?" Well,
the original lead sheet (which was composed by Livingston
an Evans) had that beautiful melody line and I said "That
lays perfectly in thirds for the guitar." He then asked
to hear it and I played it for him. It was almost as if
a guitar player had written it out originally. He said,
"Great," but nothing else. The next thing that
I knew was that it became a hit record. Nelson had written
the arrangement and Irving Ashby played the guitar part
because he was the guitar player in Nats trio. Later
on, Irving and I talked about it. He said, "When I
first looked at the score, I thought that this Nelson
Riddle really knows how to write for guitar. But then, I
looked at the original lead sheet and realized that it was
written that way to begin with." But Irving did play
the opening guitar solo on Mona Lisa. He was a great
guitarist and joined Nat after Oscar Moore left the trio
to go with his brothers group, The Spirits Of Rhythm,
if I recall. And then John Collins took Irvings place
and that lasted to the end of the trio.
FP: Do you have a favorite singer that
youve worked with?
BB: Id have to say Nat Cole for a
male singer. His phrasing and sound were wonderful. He was
a great guy to work with in the studio. Nat would never
play piano after he became a stand-up singer. He always
wanted keyboard artist Buddy Cole to be there on the recording
dates with him because he admired Buddys playing so
much. Nat really knew how to read music. Ever so often if
he wasnt sure how a tune should go, hed walk
over to the piano and sit down next to Buddy and ask him
to play the part in question in single notes. He also had
a small rhythm section around him. Hed listen and
say, "OK. Ive got it," and would walk back
to the recording mic. He was such a beautiful and wonderful
guy and was such a swinging piano player with his trio.
In fact, I think he was one of the best jazz pianists Ive
ever heard. Capitol A&R man Dave Cavanagh was quoted
as saying, "There are three different sexes. Men, women
and girl singers." My favorite "girl singer"
or female vocalist would have to be Peggy Lee. We did the
album Guitars A La Lee together. I especially enjoyed
Billy Mays arrangement of "Call Me" on that
record. Peggy put so much expression into the lyric and
picked such great material. She also appreciated all the
players at the session. In fact, her first husband, Dave
Barbour, was a fine guitar player himself. I also loved
the way that Linda Ronstadt sang on the first album that
Nelson Riddle did with her doing all of those standards.
Ive worked with so many great girl singers. As I think
about it, I guess Id have to say it would be a tie
between Peggy Lee and Rosemary Clooney. Rosie was a complete
gas to work with and was so sharp. She could pick up a tune
so fast and had a great ear. I actually did her television
series, The Rosemary Clooney Show. And it goes without
saying, Doris Day also ranks right up there with my two
favorites. I think one of the nicest records I ever heard
was a Doris Days version of "Remind Me"
with just piano accompaniment. Betty Bennett also did a
beautiful rendition with Andre Previn and his orchestra.
FP: You did an album with violinist Herman
Clebanoff on Mercury Records. It was done with a full orchestra
and contained a number of standards and Latin pieces done
in a true "bossa nova" style. How did that association
BB: There was a fellow named Wayne Robinson
who was a great arranger and did a lot for Wayne King and
also did a number of string arrangements for Herman Clebanoff
(who was a violinist from Chicago). Robinson wanted to do
a Latin album featuring the Clebanoff Strings and it was
also going to have a lot of guitar in it. The pianist Caesar
Giovannini was also a part of it. Their idea was to feature
the Latin/bossa guitar sound (that was so popular at the
time) with a full string orchestra. That was back in the
FP: Im going to mention a few of
your contemporaries in the guitar world and ask you comment
on each. Lets start with Charlie Byrd.
BB: A great player and innovator. He was
really responsible for getting Stan Getz to go down to Brazil
and record with Joao and Astrud Gilberto. He had that marvelous
rough technique that I loved. He played everything with
his fingers using a gut string guitar. It was hard to believe
that Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd (playing
the rhythm) could create this great swinging sound. But
they did, and Charlie was just an amazing player. I really
think that he was responsible for making the Bossa Nova
popular and bringing Antonio Carlos Jobims music to
FP: Laurindo Almeida.
BB: A very close friend. I met him while
doing a television show. There were just two guitars. I
got to know his family, as well. They lived out here in
the San Fernando Valley. He taught me so much. Even though
Charlie Byrd was responsible for bringing the Bossa Nova
to the public eye, Laurindo (who was originally from Brazil)
was playing the Bossa Nova long before it became so popular
here in the states. The first job he got here was with Stan
Kentons band; but he really didnt have the chance
to play a lot there. When I met him, he showed me the basic
Bossa Nova beat. He was a marvelous technician.
FP: Chet Atkins.
BB: I didnt know Chet that well,
but he was quite a gentleman. He would play as a soloist
every once in a while on The Tonight Show. He and
I would talk and then Id get a letter from him saying
"it was so nice seeing you again." He was one
of the original "finger pickers" that really got
his own style going. Its a distinct Chet Atkins
style. He was also a student of classical guitar. He
could play almost all of the things that Segovia had transcribed.
He was quite serious about that. He made his money and became
a legend in Nashville as a producer because he had such
a great ear for talent.
FP: Tony Mottola.
BB: Tony, a lovely man. He was on the east
coast. I didnt work a lot with him. I did meet him
a few times, though. One time he came out to California
to work with Frank Sinatra as an opening act. They were
doing a TV show and he called me and said "I left my
L-5 in New York. Can I borrow yours?" I was doing The
Tonight Show at NBC and he was in the studio right next
to us. I brought my L-5 down and Ill never forget
what happened. Tony picked it up and played it and then
said "Change the strings the next time you play this."
FP: That brings up an interesting point.
When youre called in to a recording session, do you
naturally bring a variety of guitars with you?
BB: You have to. In the olden days (when
one would be working everyday), the trunk of your car would
be filled with a banjo, an electric guitar, a rhythm guitar
(like the L-5), an acoustic guitar, and a twelve-string.
You might also have thrown in a mandolin, but you would
have hardly used it! I remember walking in the studio for
a Doris Day date and looking at the chart. It called for
a mandolin. Al Hendrickson and I were together for
that session which was the recording of Doris "Que
Sera Sera." As you recall, that had a lot of mandolin
in it! Later on, the studios began to pay cartage like they
did for drummers and harpists. So you had a big trunk made
that could hold a dozen instruments in it, an extra amp,
and all kinds of pedals and other special effects.
FP: Can you single out a particular guitarist
that you would consider as being your personal hero or inspiration?
BB: No doubt about it. It was Django Reinhardt.
I listened to his records when I was a kid and I couldnt
believe how meticulously he played and with such great ideas.
This was back in 1934-35. He played out of the Hot Club
in France. Another great influence on me was Les Paul. I
know Les and feel that he hasnt gotten the credit
he deserves for what he has done for guitar players. Electronically,
hes a genius with his innovations with multi-track
tape machines. Theres an interesting story. Les was
doing a show with Bing Crosby, a fifteen-minute radio show.
It was a daily show with the Les Paul Trio. Bing owned a
great deal of Ampex stock. Les asked him why Ampex couldnt
come up with a two-track machine so that when he overdubbed,
he could put two tracks on one tape (instead of going from
one machine to another). Bing took the idea to Ampex and,
by gosh, they came out with a two-track machine! And then
Les said, "If you can do it with two tracks, why not
four?" It took off from there. And, of course, Charlie
Christian is an influence on anybody who plays electric
guitar. You cant help but be amazed by all of his
ideas and the sound that he had.
FP: One last item, Bob. Do you have a word
or two that youd like to say to our friend Robert
BB: Yes, I certainly do. I have never met
you, Mr. Farnon, but I have played your arrangements while
working with Pia Zadora for six nights in the theater. They
played nothing but your arrangements. I enjoyed them so
much. I have many of your albums. In fact, the first one
I got was From The Emerald Isle. I still have it
and its one of my favorites.
FP: Bob, thank you for talking with us
and for really giving several generations so many fine performances
through your work on recordings, television, films and concerts.
BB: Its been a pleasure.
This article appeared in Journal Into Melody