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July 25, 2003
In a Stu
Musical jack-of-all-trades Stu Phillips puts his name to by Jon Burlingame

Stu Phillips thinks nobody knows who he is.

As he explained in a talk last week before the Society of Composers & Lyricists, that's why he titled his autobiography Stu Who? He even claims he has only received 15 fan letters in 30 years of writing music for movies and TV.

Yet anyone who ever loved the music of Battlestar Galactica, the catchy electronic theme for Knight Rider or the popular '60s albums of the Hollyridge Strings will instantly associate the music with the name.

Phillips spoke before several dozen fans and friends at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, part of his promotional efforts on behalf of his book, which is subtitled Forty Years of Navigating the Minefields of the Music Business. (The back cover of the 301-page memoir, from Cisum Press, calls him "the most unknown, well-known man in the music business.")

Among those attending Phillips' talk were former Donna Reed Show co-star Paul Petersen, popular '60s TV dance-show host Lloyd Thaxton, television director Mike Robe (Murder Ordained) and Emmy-winning TV variety-show producer Steve Binder.

Phillips began with an overture of some of the many popular pieces of music he has been involved with, as composer, arranger or producer, since the early 1960s. Included were several huge '60s hits that he produced, including "Blue Moon" by the Marcels, Shelley Fabares' "Johnny Angel," Paul Petersen singing "My Dad," James Darren doing "Goodbye Cruel World," even Tammy Wynette performing Phillips' theme for the motorcycle flick "Run Angel Run."

Explaining why he wrote the book, he quipped, "An autobiography is a helluva lot cheaper than an analyst." One key lesson he learned through his time in the music business: "Up is followed by down; you're in and then you're out."

Phillips answered questions about various aspects of his career. About working with Fabares, who with Petersen was one of the young co-stars of The Donna Reed Show, he said, "She would rather run naked in the streets than sing." But sing she did, and when Reed's producer husband nixed the original choice for Fabares' recording debut, "Johnny Angel" turned out to be the perfect substitute. It went to no. 1 in 1962.

Phillips didn't talk much about his own music, which has over the years included 25 feature films and an estimated 400 television shows (both episodic TV and TV-movies). He did mention some of his more interesting experiences on The Fall Guy, which included very careful attempts to simulate Monty Norman's "James Bond Theme" on a spy spoof and Ennio Morricone's spaghetti-western style on an episode set in Italy, all "without getting sued," he noted.

Much of the evening was devoted to Phillips' list of the 29 most influential film themes and film scores of the past 70 years, ranging from such classics as King Kong and Citizen Kane to more surprising choices like Leith Stevens' The Wild One and Francis Lai's A Man and a Woman. More contemporary choices were represented by Isaac Hayes' Shaft, Giorgio Moroder's Midnight Express and Vangelis' Chariots of Fire.

In each case, he played an excerpt from the score and talked about its place in movie history. Afterwards, he signed books for a number of fans.

Stu Who? covers the composer's entire career, such as stints as A&R executive for Colpix Records and scoring The Monkees, film scores including Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, and his scoring work on several series with producer Glen Larson, including McCloud, Switch, Quincy, The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, Knight Rider, Buck Rogers, The Fall Guy and perhaps his best-known theme, the lavish sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica.

© 2003 Jon Burlingame

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