NK: Let’s start at the beginning of the Gamma Ray Jones project. You could’ve chosen to record any type of album today why revisit a shelved project cop show music from 46 years ago?
J-Zone: It’s a lost art and Pablo and I wanted to do something totally different. We’re an instrumental group, so we need to think outside the box. All those shows and films Quincy Jones scored in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s – the soundtracks became more popular than the films themselves when they got sampled in the ‘90s. The siren in the Ironside theme song is iconic. All that made people go back and check for forgotten cult films like The Lost Man, Dollar, Deadly Affair, etc. Composers were driven by whatever was going down on the screen, so that type of stuff was really special.
We’re in the era of the sync library and the music supervisor. The composer usually submits a bunch of material to a company that controls a lot of catalogs and the music supervisor picks stuff a la carte using mood adjectives as opposed to one composer being assigned to one show. There’s Du-Rites stuff on cue sheets for different TV shows all the time. There was some of that going on back in the day with the library music albums, but the stuff we really remember is custom fit by the best composers of the era who had both the understanding of how to compose for film and what was going on stylistically in popular music at the time.
NK: You and Pablo Martin seem to work really well together on these Du-Rites releases and have come up with your own sound. Knowing you for some time now, this definitely seems to be a J-Zone concept, who came up with the idea to reopen the vaults and was there ever any second thought in doing so like maybe it would go over peoples heads in 2018?
J-Zone: I came up with it, ran it by Pablo and we agreed it’d be a cool concept for the third album since we already did the funk jam thing on the first album and the “live” album on Greasy Listening. I had been binge watching Dan August and the music was so funky…Dave Grusin did it. The idea just presented itself, really. I also did something similar when I was doing hip-hop stuff – the To Love A Hooker album from 2006, when producers were all doing instrumental albums. That record flopped, but it was always one of my personal favorites. I worked my ass off on attention to detail on that record, but it wasn’t well-received because hip-hop was on some boom bap shit and all the intricacies of following a concept distracted the hip-hop cats. People have even less attention span in 2018, but I figure we have a better shot as a band composing music than I did as a hip-hop producer.
NK: When I think of gamma rays I think of Bruce Banner and the Incredible Hulk busting out and smashing shit. Whats the meaning behind Gamma Ray funk?
J-Zone: Well, Pedro “Gamma Ray Jones” is the main character of the show. He lived hard, man, rolling that Caddy Fleetwood Brougham and fighting crime the rogue way. He was like Isaac Hayes as Truck Turner or when he played Gandy Fitch on Rockford Files. Just a head-bustin’ cat, but also ostentatious and kind of pimpish. So we groove according to how he moves.
NK: As soon as I dropped the needle down I was like oh snap, thats that shit and knew what it was hitting for. There are a lot of bands out there that are trying to recapture a very cinematic sound with an almost library approach. But unlike European television and film, American TV cop shows had a different sound that was tailored to the show instead of using ones already created and fitting them in. Did you guys have a game plan or vision that you followed before creating songs for the album?
J-Zone: That goes back to what I said earlier about some of the library stuff going on back in the day. Shows would license tracks from DeWolfe, Sonoton, KPM, Parry, Conroy, etc., but why not get a band like The Du-Rites to make something totally custom? We were looking to what Quincy and Oliver Nelson did with Ironside; Dave Grusin with Dan August; Lalo Schifrin with Mannix and Mission: Impossible; Mike Post with Rockford Files; Morton Stevens with Hawaii Five-O; Jack Elliott with Barney Miller and Night Court. That’s the bag we were in, but still being The-Du-Rites. Maybe more orchestral at times, but never too polished. No going too overboard with tympanic rolls and string hits…we remember who we are [laughs]! It’s really part cop show, part Blaxploitation flick, part straight up funk.
NK: Whenever I go in and work on a theme specific project, research is always the first thing that I do. I’ve done a few beat / soundbite projects based on Kung Fu flicks, 60’s / 70’s spy flicks and one called Watch For The Fuzz which was inspired by what else, cop shows. Prior to going in, my partner Fredy Blast and I would spend an entire weekend in the lab just watching flicks, grabbing samples and then start on the project. Where did your creative process begin before you picked up the sticks and stepped into the lab with Pablo Martin?
J-Zone: Anyone who knows me personally or knew my old rap records, the soundbites were a trademark element in my production. My love for old TV shows came out in the soundbites I’d use, and I didn’t just do that for musical purpose – I’ve actually loved those shows my whole life. I have VHS tapes in droves of stuff I taped off cable over the years. I’d be in my studio eating cereal watching Banacek every morning before I’d start making beats. I would have the DAT machine ready to record if I heard some slick dialogue that I could bend out of context for a rap song or some music to flip into a beat, but I’d be bugging out off the shows the whole time. So the research was already done and catalogued as far as aesthetic. It was just a matter of channeling that vibe as a musician and composer. It took some time to work the chord progressions and play the drums dynamically to create suspense and tension as opposed to being break beat based all the time. The sequencing was also important. Knowing which songs go where, as well as choosing the right sound bites to bridge it all together to fit what was going on visually and conceptually in the episode.
NK: Every cut is a standout and well played which made it hard for me to choose a favorite. But “Big Shirley’s Place” really caught my attention in a Lalo Schifrin “Bullitt” kind of way. Do you have a favorite from the album that really set the tone for you?
J-Zone: It’s hard to pick one – I like different ones for different reasons. As far as stone cold funk, “The Mean Machine” is my jam. “Big Shirley’s Place” and “Goons in The Alley” were fun because I wrote some really bizarre chords for the former and wrote in 5/4 time signature for the first time for the latter. “Showdown!” is my first actual recorded drum solo – not drum break – and Pablo had to twist my arm to do it, so that was special. But I said all that to say “Amsterdam Ave. Suite” is probably my favorite. It’s got so many twists and turns – you can actually envision a detective riding around broughaming, looking for a suspect or informant when that shit comes on. Pablo wrote his ass off on that one.
NK: There are so many TV shows that we grew up with that had incredible background music playing during heists, drug deals and car chases, who would you say would be your top composer that captures those moments best and which show had the dopest scores?
J-Zone: Man, that’s so hard. I’d have to go with Quincy Jones for a composer, though Lalo Schifrin is right there, too. As for a show, Dan August all day. It was definitely the funkiest of them all and even with the show being an early platform for both Burt Reynolds and Norman Fell, it’s surprisingly obscure and was never officially issued on DVD as far as I know.
NK: You’re a true New Yorker who loves the grittiness of the big city and obviously Kojak is one of the coolest mother fuckers out there but who would be your starting 5 lineup of super sleuths?
J-Zone: Whoo!!!! Dog, you got me out here having to choose between really good coffee and a firm mattress! I do love Kojak. Here’s my five:
1. Frank Cannon
2. Joe Mannix
3. Robert T. Ironside
5. Sam McCloud and Peter B. Clifford. Their dialogue on McCloud is priceless, so I list them as a duo.
NK: Let’s test your TV knowledge a little bit. I’m going to make a statement and you fill in who said it and what you think about that character.
“Oh, just one more thing” – Columbo. Peter Falk acted his ass off in that show. His idiosyncrasies made Lt. Columbo an unforgettable character. I loved how you knew what happened in the first 5 minutes, then they show you how Columbo figures it out. Most of the other shows used a ‘who dun it?’ plot.
“who loves ya baby” – Kojak. Hardcore, grimy New York City shit. He was a total badass, man. The lollipop though!
“Book’em Dano” – McGarrett. Man, Wo Fat is one of the greatest TV villains of all time. Evil as a motherfucker. Love him!
NK: Which production company made the best cop shows? Quinn Martin or Aaron Spelling?
J-Zone: Quinn Martin! The shows, the music, the announcer at the beginning of the shows, even the graphics in the title sequences were so far ahead of their time. The Barnaby Jones intro was so dope!
NK: For me and I’m sure you as well, the best way to watch these shows are on VHS which both you and I seem to share in the passion of having an archives worth of them on tape. With shows coming coming out on DVD / Bluray and licensing fees becoming an issue, some of the companies are stripping the original music and adding new ones to it which in my opinion ruins the show. If you had your pick, which show would you love to go in and rescore?
J-Zone: Good question. I’d say one of the shows that ran through a drastic change in instrumentation so we could have a good range of music to make. Music didn’t change all that drastically during a show like The Mod Squad’s run (1968-73), Banacek’s run (1972-74) or Hunter’s run (1984-90). But shows like Rockford Files, Kojak, McCloud, Harry-O, and Barnaby Jones started in a the earlier part of the ‘70s and ended late in the decade when composers started bringing in more synths and making things a little slicker and cleaner. I’d say Harry-O. Really underrated show with David Jansen that didn’t take off like it should have, probably because it was too similar to Rockford Files. That show only ran from 1974-76, but it’s old enough to lay in some psychedelic soul and modern enough to throw in some polyester synth slick greasy shit, some gangster boogie and some 22’ long Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham sleaze groove. And though the music for that show was good – I think J.J. Johnson even did a few episodes – Pablo and I would be able to handle it. Trying to be up here re-scoring for monster scores like Ironside or Mannix…we’re confident but not crazy!
NK: After the album drops and the dust settles, whats next for both yourself and the Du-Rites?
J-Zone: We never know what’s next. That’s the beauty of it! Pablo and I will always come up with something. Just keep practicing, getting better and learning my craft because there’s so much to learn.