Alan Livingston, vice president in charge of NBC's television
programming during the preparation of "Bonanza", also happened to be the
brother of Jay Livingston, who along with Ray Evans, had composed several
classic songs, including "Silver Bells", "To Each His Own", "Golden
Earrings", and a trio of Best Song Oscar winners: "Mona Lisa", "Que Sera
Sera", and "Buttons and Bows". In short, Alan wondered if Jay and his
partner would be interested in taking a shot at writing the theme song
for the network's new Western.
Though they were not given many
suggestions as to the exact nature of the show, Livingston and Evans said
they would give it a shot if they could publish the song themselves. NBC
agreed, and the royalties from the theme eventually made the songwriting
team's upfront fee of $1500 look like pocket change. Of the many recorded
versions, the most well-known are probably the instrumental by guitarist
Al Caiola (1961) and vocal renditions by Johnny Cash (1963) and
Lorne Greene (1964).
Tommy Tedesco was the famous guitarist, who played the "Bonanza" solo, you hear in the opening and closing themes. He was the guitarist who also played on "Green Acres", "M.A.S.H.", and "Batman". He is literally heard in most pop records of the 60's and 70's, and Guitar World magazine called him, "the most recorded guitarist in history", his playing encompassed over 35 years. He was born on July 3, 1930, in Niagara Falls, New York, and died on November 10, 1997, in Northridge, California.
Dortort did not think much of the lyrics, which were not publicly heard more than four years, but approved the use of the music as long as veteran musician David Rose could score each episode without having to incorporate the Livingston-Evans theme. Rose, who passed away in August of 1990 at the age of 80, was an award winning composer and conductor who
will no doubt be remembered for penning the camp classic, "The Stripper".
Beyond that, he was Red Skelton's longtime musical director, wrote the hit "Holiday For Strings" and won Emmy awards for a Fred Astaire special, "Bonanza", and two for "Little House On The Prairie". He also composed the themes for Dortort's "The High Chaparral", (first used in an episode of "Bonanza"), Landon's "Father Murphy" and "Highway To Heaven", as well as two short-lived Westerns on other
networks, "Dundee and Culhane" and "The Monroes". Additionally, Rose did arrange a couple of tunes for the legendary
Tommy Dorsey, in 1942--"Sleepy Lagoon" and "Melody In A", which were
released on the Red Sea label.
In a highly unusual move, Rose not only wrote original scores for each individual "Bonanza" episode, he used an orchestra of over 30 pieces to record them. Needless to say, the overall effect was nothing short of cinematic, contributing to the show's reputation as a movie for
television, before the concept even existed. Years later, Michael Landon
called Rose "a genius" with an uncanny act for knowing how a scene
needed to be scored.
David Rose was not always present when "Bonanza's" choral (effects)
music was being scored. Sometimes he would take a few weeks off to do
some other projects. He said "Bonanza" was the best he had ever worked
on. His 34-piece orchestra was always present and got the job done. The
same exact scoring room was crucial for the perfect theme song cues
and other musical cues, and choral music. The theme song written by
Livingston and Evans was simply all it was; two songwriters invented the
lyrics and gave it to producer Dortort, who then gave it to
composer-conductor David Rose. Neither one cared for it.
Livingston-Evans written lyrics were musically transformed into the
musical scale on sheet music by David Rose and the sessionists who would
come in at the start of the season in June for a week, and score the
theme cue and other musical cues. This is where Rose gets all the
musical credit for composing it with his sessionists, since all
musicians work with the musical scale, where songwriters just write down
In addition to David Rose, "Bonanza" benefitted from the musical skills of such talents as Harry Sukman (seasons eleven to fourteen), William Lava (seasons five and six), and Walter Scharf (seasons three and four). Sukman's talents were heard on "The High Chaparral", and a later Dortort series, "The Cowboys", and William Lava's talents were heard in numerous B Westerns, Disney's Zorro (Guy Williams), and the theme for the series "Cheyenne". Fred Steiner, "Star Trek's" main composer, also made contributions.
All fourteen seasons of the "Bonanza" theme song, both the beginning
and ending themes were played live at the start of every season as per
union regulations in the musician's contracts. That is for a few days
even maybe a week, but no more. The studio session musicians record
every possible music cue the show would need. Chase cues, tension,
happy, sad, etc. Variations of the main theme song are recorded at
various lengths too. Once finished with all of this, the musicians would
seek other work on another show or movie.
No series could ever afford to
score the theme music weekly for every individual show. Therefore an
extensive library is maintained by the music editor who edits in
accordingly on a weekly basis. But then again as per their union
contract, everything has to be redone each season by bringing the
musicians back into the studio. In other words, the show couldn't get
away with saving money.
NBC had to pay the musicians for their efforts
each time per season. That's why the main theme song doesn't sound
exactly the same from season one onwards. Even with the same musicians, mixing equipment, sound engineers, acoustics, arrangement and conductor, it always sounds slightly different. David Rose and his orchestra would spend the first eleven years at the
scoring stage at Paramount Studios and the last three years at the
scoring stage at Warner Brothers Studios. Rose would score the 50-minute episode's effects music in five days, a weekly chore for 14 years in a row.
David Rose and his 34-piece orchestra would begin to score the choral music at the start of the production season in the late spring. They would score one episode every five
days, Monday through Friday at the scoring stage at Paramount from
1959-1970 and later Warner Brothers from 1970-72, nine or ten months a
year. Rose would score 25 minutes of choral music which would be recorded throughout all four acts of the episodes. The cue music
would start off an establishing scene and then the choral music would
follow, and the scene would conclude with another musical cue, fading
out to a commercial intermission.
Rose would compose and conduct the theme cues with his sessionists at the start of the production season in late spring. In less then a week they would be recorded. The cues would range from 20 seconds to 3 minutes in length. A good several minutes of
cue music is heard throughout every episode. His most famous music cues
includes one he did for an NBC Peacock ad, the Bonanza theme song cues
that accompany the beginning and end credits, and years later, the music
cues used in "Little House On The Prairie" and "Highway To Heaven". The
sound editor re-records the theme cues and choral music onto the master
tape, which is then magnetically affixed on one side of the 35mm film
print at the studio's optical house prior to airing.
In 1970, Rose re-orchestrated "The Ponderosa" cue to be used as the title music for the twelfth season of the series. He titled it "The Big Bonanza" and felt it captured the wistful nature of the series. He also wrote the cue in new guises for theme and effect tracks to be used in the twelfth season throughout the final two seasons of the series. Rose wrote "The Ponderosa" cue in 1959 and always re-orchestrated it every season. In the 1967-68 season, he re-orchestrated the cue in a sweeping and melodic guise for the ninth season episodes "Check Rein," "The Gold Detector," and "The Late Ben Cartwright." He used the cue in the tenth and eleventh season episodes, once again to underscore the riding shots as a leit motif.
In 1972, the new title music was shelved because of Dan Blocker's death. New cast credits were filmed and they fell short of the cue, so the familiar Livingston-Evans cue was re-orchestrated with changes in ornamentation and given a faster tempo. David Rose carried over the music to "Little House on the Prairie" and used it for the titles, theme cues and effect tracks in the series. Rose had a flair for the women and briefly married Martha Raye and later, Judy Garland.