Debbie Harry & Ghost Riders in the Sky

2002 interview with Dan Wool for DHBIS.com

(The Deborah Harry, Blondie Internet Site)

Tell us a little about Pray For Rain and how you became involved with scoring films.

Back in the 80’s and early 90’s Pray for Rain was a “proper” guitar based pop-band that toiled away in San Francisco playing gigs, recording demos etc. It wasn’t until we got involved with the film Sid & Nancy that scoring came on to the radar screen.

How did you form your partnership with Alex Cox?

Alex attended film school at UCLA the same time as my sister (Abbe Wool – co-writer of Sid & Nancy) so we had known each other for a few years before he started work on his second film “Love Kills” (soon to be called Sid &Nancy). After reading the script for the film I came up with a few very general ideas for the music. I knew I had very little chance of being involved with the picture because so many high profile artists had expressed their interest in it. Joe Strummer, The Pogues, John Cale among others. When Alex was in town shooting the SF scenes I gave him a cassette with my sketches on it assuming it would be forgotten in the massive pile of cassettes that had no doubt also been submitted. But about a month later Alex called saying he wanted me and Pray for Rain to come to England, where he was doing post-production, and record some of the cues for the film. Since then we have worked on several of his films most recently “Three Businessmen” that includes Debbie’s version “Ghost Riders in the Sky”

How did Debbie become involved?

Some years back Alex directed the video for the Iggy/Debbie duet “Did You Evah?” and they remained in touch after that. The idea to use “Ghost Riders in the Sky” as the end title music for Three Businessmen came about because: a) It was mentioned in a pivotal scene in the film. b) Alex wanted something funny and upbeat for the end of the film. And perhaps most importantly: c) The music editor that I frequently work with is Stan Jones Jr., son of the composer of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” so I was able to secure the sync rights to the song with a minimum of legal hassles. Alex asked me what I thought of getting Debbie to sing it for the end title and I of course loved the idea.

Where were the vocals recorded?

To make it more convenient for Debbie, since she had graciously agreed to sing the track as a favor to Alex, I flew to New York with the arrangement that my partner Jim Woody and I had come up with to record her at a studio called City Sound Productions in lower Manhattan .

Was the music recorded before Debbie became involved, or was it recorded after she joined the project?

Although there was quite a bit production work done to the track post-Debbie. It was pretty much mapped out before she put her vocal down. I had already put in the vocoder “yipee-i-oohs” so she would have something to sing to. Since Debbie was doing this as a favor I was a little reluctant to ask her to do the additional ghostly descending background vocal parts but she didn’t mind at all. Since she had no trouble getting a good take for the lead vocal there was plenty of time left over to do the backgrounds

How would you compare Debbie’s recording technique with other vocalists you’ve worked with?

Well what can I say? She’s Debbie Harry. Other vocalists I’ve worked with weren’t. I’ve worked with some very good singers but none with a voice right out of the vernacular of modern pop music. As soon as I heard her sing a little of the track I knew it was going to be cool. Frankly it was a little weird at first hearing that classic voice coming through the studio monitors on a session I was working on. I had to sort of step back a bit to gain some objectivity. Also, whereas I knew that Debbie was a good singer I wasn’t sure how much time and/or production trickery went into her tracks. I was happy to learn not much of either goes into hers. After a couple of rehearsals and few takes she was done with the lead.

Can you tell us a little bit about your studio? (i.e. Mac, Vision etc.)

It’s an on-going project (there’s always something else to buy). The studio is in the Outer Mission District of SF and is Macintosh based of course. I do record outside projects there on occasion but mainly it’s used for Pray for Rain film scores and production work. Apart from the ProTools session I took to New York to do Debbie’s vocal GRITS was composed and mixed entirely in Opcode’s StudioVision Pro – an application that has sadly been discontinued by it’s bumbling parent company Gibson Guitar Corp. I have since been forced switched to MOTU Digital Performer.

How did Chi Chi react to being in the studio?

There was some concern that Debbie’s pocket-size dog, Chi chi, would be crushed by one of the studio’s big sound proof doors. But being the old studio pro she is she managed to escape unharmed.

What significance does GRITS have to the story line of “Three Businessmen”?

It’s the favorite song of one the main character’s dog. The film discusses and explores the general feeling of alienation and emptiness that high-tech society endures …but in a fun way. Hence the hi-tech end title piece. As a joke Alex and Tod Davies (the films writer and producer) had temporarily put in a Euro-trance version of “What if God Was One of Us” at the end (I actually really liked it) before I let them know about my connection to the Ghos tRiders’ composer. I knew GRITS was one of Alex’s favorite songs so I was sure he’d go for a trance version of that song instead.

Do you have plans to work with Debbie again?

There was a discussion of a version of Ghost Riders to be included on a Debbie Harry solo project but at this time I have nothing to report.

What are you working on now?

We just finished working on the score for an independent feature film called “Never Trust a Serial Killer”. Watch for it in the not too distant future at a theater near you.