In the mid ‘80s, Director of Photography Philip Hurn and I started shooting a series for German Television’s ZDF on the history and music of the American West: “Go West Sing West.”
On camera standups with noted western stars Dale Robertson and Ken Curtis were filmed in 16mm at the ranch studios in Old Tucson, Arizona. Directed by Gunter Ciechowski, leading to 13 half hours where we traveled throughout the US filming cowboys, Indians, trains, buffalo, Civil War re-enactments, cattle drives, even by canoe with a few ex Vietnam vets living as Mountain Men in northern Wyoming.
Four guys traveling in an old van -- we would go from story to story throughout the country…stopping every few weeks to fly back to LA to look at film dailies at Fotokem. The first chance (pre-video taps) to see what we had shot. And up on the big screen! Is it ever different today on a 3” monitor…
I think we were in every Western State from California to Montana to the Dakotas where we got to smoke a piece pipe with some Lakota Sioux.
Featuring the music of the west, recorded with a stereo Nagra.
Met some really interesting people along the way including Geronimo’s great grandson, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Riders in the Sky, Glen Campbell, and Ray Price. The music from the series was an incredible education into the legacy of Country Music. It’s all sitting somewhere in Mainz, Germany…as Gunther and the networks never went further with the series than running it in Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
It was a great opportunity for a young cinematographer as I got to shoot aerials of the bayous, and later the Mississippi Queen from a Jet Ranger using the tyler mount. Horseback and from boats. Filming at the Big Horn and the Alamo. What history and what great, great fun. Even getting to film an Alligator Hunt in South Louisiana. Yes tastes like chicken.
One thing I’ve always loved about working on location is the wonderful crew we meet along the way who have become life-long friends. In New Orleans met Ian Lynch who became our assistant cameraman and David McCarty who helped us with locations to a soundman with the name of Nelson Funk.
And of course where we were shooting at Tennessee Williams’ apartment where I met Beth, at the time working for NBC.
The success of this series led to another German Network---ARD a year later---producing the series, “Songs of the South” where we traveled in the south filming Gospel at African American Churches in Mississippi, Zydeco in Western Louisiana, Jazz in New Orleans, Honky Tonk in Brackettville, Texas, Mariachis in New Mexico and Country Western at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
The opportunity to have done this kind of series was a highlight of working in the biz.
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