When Clint Eastwood's Hand reached toward his rawhide holster during the climactic gunfight of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), audiences heard something never before included on a Western movie soundtrack: the echoing crash of a surf guitar's spring-loaded reverb tank.
This unusual creative flourish earned "spaghetti western" film music composer Ennio Morricone a perpetual place in the hearts of surf music fans. More than a dozen surf bands now pay long-overdue tribute to the Italian maestro on a new CD, For a Few Guitars More, organized by a former University of Georgia teacher.
"Spaghetti westerns are pure escapism, the distilled essence of bad-ass cool," observes professor Larry "Moon Dawg" White, who taught economics at UGA for more than 10 years before transferring to the University of Missouri. "Once you've seen the movies, the music evokes that mood. It puts you in the middle of a gunfight.
"The main appeal of Morricone's great spaghetti western themes is their incredible melodic hooks -- perfect for whistling. But the arrangements are also remarkable. Going from traditional surf music to Morricone Westerns," says White, "is like graduating from high school to college. There's so much more going on, a greater variety of instruments and moods."
For a Few Guitars' cover art perfectly illustrates its concept. The Don Vigeant cartoon depicts the headstock of a Mosrite guitar -- a key surf-rock tool -- with its M reassigned to "Morricone" and protruding from a lawman's gun holster. The disc opens with Atlanta's Penetrators performing "Guns Don't Argue" in a witty arrangement that begins with a cocking pistol and ends with gunfire killing each musician, until only the drummer continues playing.
Other remarkable tracks include Pollo del Mar's tongue-in-cheek "Navajo Joe," slyly sneaking a lick from the Shadows' "Apache" into the mix. Bernard Yin (the MiGs) and Dave Arnson (Insect Surfers) engage in a two-man guitar duel as they re-enact background music from the final showdown in Once Upon a Time in the West. And fuzz-guitar legend Davie Allan, who created scores for many '60s cult-classic teen/biker films, contributes a Morricone-influenced scorcher called "The Loud, the Loose and the Savage."
White notes that although he invited mostly traditional surf artists to participate, he was pleasantly surprised by the variety of submissions. Dave Wronski, best known for playing electric guitar with Slacktone and Jon & the Nightriders, switches to acoustic instrumentation. Canadian Brent Cooper plays the gunfight music from For a Few Dollars More on a six-string bass. The trio 3 Balls of Fire employs exotic percussion and tastefully subdued backing vocals, while the Irreversible Slacks bring a musical saw to "The Big Gundown."
The CD also contains voluminous liner notes signed by "Moon Dawg," a nickname White picked up at UGA while helping members of the Athens band Man or Astro-Man? locate space-themed surf tunes to perform.
"They all went by stage names," he recalls, "and 'Moon Dawg' seemed appropriate for mine because it was the title of a classic 1960 surf tune, with 'Moon' providing an outer-space connection and 'Dawg' a link to UGA."
White collaborated on For a Few Guitars with Dalibor Pavicic of the Bambi Molesters, a Croatian surf band. Pavicic located a record label, Dancing Bear, and arranged for the mastering and production in Europe, while White began contacting musicians and sorting out which band would cover which tune. One might expect that, as an economics professor, he would've prepared a business plan to ensure the project would be profitable. But he's quick to assert that For a Few Guitars is a labor of love.
"My only investment has been time," White says. "And except for having to nag the bands who were late with their tracks, it's all been fun. So my investment already paid for itself. The record label has a monetary stake in the project, but -- wisely -- they haven't asked me for any financial advice."
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