Music plays a big factor in every movie. Whether it’s popular music or specifically composed, it plays a more important role than one may think. I spoke with Mark Leggett and Velton Ray Bunch, composers for last year’s Dolly Parton’s Coat of Many Colors and Dolly Parton’s Christmas Of Many Colors, airing tonight (Nov 30th) on NBC. We chatted for a bit about how they got involved with Parton and the process of scoring music.
“Really out of the blue, I would say in June of last year, I had a call from Dolly and she told me that she had made a deal at NBC for a series of movies, and the first one would be called Coat of Many Colors, and she wanted to know if I was available and able to do the music,” Bunch states. “Of course, I said yes. I jumped at it. That’s really how it started. I’ve had a relationship with her for many many years doing most of the film and TV things that she has done, but hadn’t worked with her in a good little while, so this is a really pleasant surprise that came out of really nowhere.”
“Ray and I have worked together for years off an on writing things together,” Leggett recalls. “He called and said ‘Would you like to do this together?’ My studio is very well equipped with guitars, mandolins, banjos and a lot of acoustic instruments and we can record small ensembles here. He is very adept to orchestral writing which is not my forte, but definitely his, and is a really good mix because this music is orchestral score with lots of flavorings of bluegrass music and Appalachian instruments, and we’re able to put out these kind of nice little hybrid pieces of music and set them to the picture and it works out really well.”
One of the neatest aspects the pair discussed is how technology has allowed them to use Parton’s studio musicians in Nashville while Leggett and Bunch record in Los Angeles.
“We have been really honored to be able to use a lot of the musicians out of Nashville that Dolly works with on a regular basis and using players [in Los Angeles] as well as a live orchestra. We really have the best of both worlds and that’s really been a challenge and really rewarding,” Bunch states.
“This music is orchestral score with lots of flavorings of bluegrass music and Appalachian instruments.”
“Being able to work with the players in Nashville and the great musicians in Los Angeles, it’s really a hybrid of musicians and musical styles, and always with an Americana flavor to the score to all the music. It’s a really great job. It’s perfect for what we do,” states Leggett. “We can send [the Nashville musicians] the music and they’ll send us the part, send us the track or send us whatever part they’re putting on, and we’ll have it here [in Los Angeles] and when we go to record the orchestra, everything is assembled.”
Leggett also states that a third film, based on Parton’s song “Jolene,” is in the works along with talks of a weekly series, tentatively called Life Of Many Colors, that could air on NBC.
“It’s just weekly stories of her life, and that may air on NBC. It is not finalized, but they’re talking about it. It looks like this is kind of becoming it’s own machine here and keep going for awhile.”
Besides the Parton films, Leggett’s eclectic work includes scoring the Werner Herzog narrated film Dinotasia, composing theme music recorded by Levon Helm and The Band, scoring the hit NBC show My Name Is Earl, and composing compelling underscores for numerous documentaries including Anne Frank’s Holocaust, Civil Rights Martyrs and JFK: The Final Hours. He has received two Primetime Emmy nominations for The Pretender (along with Bunch) and Conquistador.
Bunch has scoring credits that include Walker, Texas Ranger, JAG, Nash Bridges, Quantum Leap and more. He has been nominated for an Emmy three times and winning the fourth for the score to the Star Trek: Enterprise episode “Similitude.”