First stop, studying music theory in college. But feeling the classes he was taking were designed more to produce music teachers than musicians, he began to look elsewhere for the answers. He first found Merv Kennedy, a jazz musician and an inspirational teacher. Sam studied privately with Merv for two years and soaked up everything the improvisationalist had to offer.
Sam also attended Dick Grove music workshops, but he was still searching for that special musical guru to take his knowledge to the next level. It was while working part-time at Wallach’s Music City in Hollywood that he found such a man. All of the top musicians in Hollywood frequented Wallach’s, and Sam would ask who was the best of the best as a composition, arranging, and orchestration teacher. Time and time again, one name would come up, and that name was “Spud Murphy.” Over a lifetime devoted to music, Spud, who is now in his 90s, has developed a unique composition and orchestration course: the “Equal Interval System.” His students have included Oscar Peterson, Stan Kenton, Buddy Colette, and Andre Previn. Sam spent over eight years studying with Spud, while playing gigs as a guitarist and teaching music theory and guitar to young, aspiring musicians. When Sam graduated from his course, Spud authorized him to teach it.
During this time, Sam also tackled yet another aspect of music that requires education and experience to acquire a level of expertise—the art of audio recording. Again, Sam attended college classes and studied privately at other recording studios to learn about audio engineering and the technical end of the music business. Along with many other musicians at the time, Sam had started with a four-track Teac tape recorder and had graduated to eight-tracks. For several years, the only bedroom of the apartment he shared with his wife in Santa Monica was entirely filled with “studio” gear. In 1983, Sam opened a 16-track studio in Santa Monica, Tempo Recording. Opening Tempo turned out to be a wise decision as Sam is still married to this day. Tempo soon grew to 24-tracks. It was at this point that Sam started writing music for film and television, a long-awaited dream realized.
Not long after, Tempo moved to larger facilities in Hollywood where Tempo’s clientele included Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, Henry Mancini, James Horner, and Will Jennings, just to name a few. The principle client of Tempo, however, has always been Sam himself, working on his many film and television projects, as well as songs.
It is his extreme diversity in background that enhances Sam’s abilities in the field of composition. Some composers are classically trained but have no feeling for improvisation or understanding of rock, reggae or other styles of popular music. Some musicians who come from the rock world find themselves at a loss when it comes to expressing a musical idea with an orchestra—composing music for film and television is a very different animal than writing songs for a band—but producers are constantly looking for that energy of their favorite band and trying to do something different than older established scoring styles.
So today’s projects often present the challenge of a vast diversity of styles within the same program. In the series “Lizzie McGuire,” one of Sam’s more recent projects, the cues represented the entire musical spectrum, from dramatic, full orchestra, Bernard Herrmann-style cues to the latest in rock, pop, alternative, and rap styles. Requiring classical quotes from Handel to recreations of Also Sprach Zarrathustra used in 2001: A Space Odyssey or the love theme from Romeo & Juliet, every week had a new challenge. Great fun! No culture was left out: from East Indian to Scottish, Latin American, Japanese, Chinese, African, Caribbean, alpine-European, not to mention marching band as well as big-band jazz. Due to budget restraints these were all done with samples—one person at a keyboard recreating each and every part an entire orchestra would play.
It takes a complete understanding of all of these musical styles as well as a firm grasp of the latest technology to create such diverse soundtracks and have them sound as if a sixty- or eighty-piece orchestra performed it. Such are the challenges that Sam looks forward to in his career: the varied styles of music from other time-periods and regions around the world, and the new, innovative way of approaching and enhancing a scene. In music, the possibilities are endless.