(This interview was originally published October 16, 2011 on the now-retired Kickin' it Old School blog. It is one installment in an incredible series of interviews we are republishing on Rediscover the '80s for posterity and your enjoyment. These are more than just interviews in a way; they are more like '80s timelines or oral histories on their respective subject matters. Please keep in mind the original date because some content could be specific to the time of the interview, though the majority should be timeless and totally rad.)
When the opportunity presents itself to ask a few questions to someone who contributed to the awesomeness of the '80s, I will continue to share those answers with you right here. Again, lucky for me (and hopefully you), I do get to share a little more awesomeness with you.
This time that awesomeness is Stephen Geyer. You might not recognize the name, but you should know that he was the co-writer of one of the greatest TV theme songs of all time, “Believe It Or Not” for The Greatest American Hero which originally aired from 1981-1983. The prolific writer and musician also has other successful TV Theme songs to his credit as well as other episodic songs for television, his own solo album, TV and film scripts and much more. You will find out much more about all of that and more as we get on to some selections from my interview with Stephen Geyer…
Q: When and how did you get your start in the music industry?
Stephen: I started playing professionally with my older brother, Bruce, when I was 13 (he was 16) and we lived on an Air Force base (RAF Croughton) in England in the '60s as the American folk and that whole Mersey Beat scene exploded (Beatles, Kinks, The Who, Carnaby Street, “Top of the Pops”, etc.). I had taught myself guitar, bass, and five string banjo, Bruce was a charismatic lead guitarist and singer, and we played as a folk duo, and a 4-piece rock band in English pubs and garden parties (fetes), local Church dances, and the local dance/concert halls. We loved the Beach Boys (Brian Wilson was a huge musical icon for me, actually, still is), and we actually dressed up for our rock gigs in white jeans, and vertical striped shirts a la early Beach Boys. While we were in England we cut two original songs, one penned by my brother, one by me, and submitted them to a major label. They expressed interest in signing us, however, shortly after that the owner of the label was gunned down in an apparent business related feud!
We eventually returned to our home in Maryland, (my father, worked for the CIA, and was re-stationed back to Langley, VA), and continued to play in a rock band together. It was the era of Vietnam, and soon my brother joined the Air Force rather than get drafted, and after I ended up playing bass, singing, and songwriting for a very popular local band, Curfew, in my last two years of high school. We recorded an album in New York for Reprise, produced by a couple of marginal industry writers/wannabe producers. I wrote the single and a few other tunes on the album, and arranged a Vanilla Fudge treatment of “Ode To Billie Joe” that was pretty cool, but aside from some local airplay, the album went nowhere.
Cut to me graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Art from Towson University, near Baltimore, and hopping immediately into my VW bug to drive across country with my Martin guitar, a suitcase, and a couple hundred bucks, to join some Towson friends who had set up a house in the Carmel Highlands of California. My dream was to work at A&M Studios in Hollywood, where some of my favorite artists were recording (Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, etc.). In Carmel, I happened to meet a young lady who needed a guitarist/arranger to help her get her songs finished and recorded. Her mother was Herb Alpert’s (the “A” of A&M) personal assistant, and Herb had offered her daughter free reign of his studio to record when she got her act together. We drove down to Hollywood, and I played and got the opportunity to co-produce the sessions with the great Henry Lewy, Joni Mitchell’s engineer/producer. Although no deal ensued for our efforts, evidently my work had evoked interest in a friend of the girl’s family, Manny Greenhill, who was Joan Baez’s manager, and also managed Joan’s sister, Mimi Farina, who was looking for a new duo partner. I was offered the spot, and was paid to stay in L.A. (I was given a room in Alpert’s assistant’s apartment located over the merry-go-round on the Santa Monica pier… Really!) Carousel music tooting up from the floor is an interesting way to start your day! The gig with Mimi didn’t work out, but her ex-partner, Tom Jans, a great singer/songwriter (Dobie Gray’s hit, “Lovin’ Arms”), and A&M artist in his own right, asked me to be his guitarist (in a band with keyboard player, and later, Jimmy Buffett band member and producer, Mike Utley). So once again, I was working at A&M, cutting demos with Tom, and being joined by musical greats like Joe Sample, and Harvey Mason. Another up and coming A&M artist at the time, Benard Ighner, began requesting my guitarwork for his demos, and when Shirley Bassey (“Goldfinger”) picked one of the tunes we had demoed to cut for her new album, I was thrilled to find she specifically requested me to play guitar on the date. This was my first master recording date for a major artist and label, and yes, I was petrified; but it all worked out, and there I was in L.A., in the music industry, working at A&M, amazingly living my dreams–believe it or not!
Q: How did you end up getting hooked up with Mike Post? Is this when you began writing TV theme songs?
Stephen: After the A&M connections I had enjoyed changed, or had played out to the extent that they could, I decided to attend a songwriter’s showcase/open mic that BMI had been running at Capital Records in Hollywood. I wanted to have a chance to perform my songs for an industry event, perhaps to be heard by A&R representatives from one of the labels, and signed as the next Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, or James Taylor! After I played my three song set of originals, a wonderful gentleman, Ron Anton, introduced himself as the V.P. of BMI, handed me his card, and invited me to meet with him to discuss my career aims. I wasn’t really aware at the time of the importance of BMI, or ASCAP, and their actual role and impact in a songwriter’s career (at the time the benefits they could offer an unknown were much broader and impactful than now). Anyway, after a few months of hitting walls in the industry, I remembered Ron’s card and called him to schedule a meeting. At that meeting I told him of my desire to get a publisher for my songs, and a recording contract. He suggested I call Mike Post, who at the time was a young, up and coming record producer (with a Grammy for producing/co-arranging/writing, Mason William’s “Classical Gas”) and a foot in the door to scoring music for television.
Long story longer, I did meet with Post, and that began a 20 year business and personal relationship that while very successful, and filled with wonderful opportunities that challenged, shaped and sharpened my musical skills, was filled (speaking for myself) with complex inequities, and inevitably frustrating circumstances, which led to a severing of our two decades long musical collaboration at the beginning of the new millennium. Along the way I was employed as a staff songwriter to Post’s BMI publishing company, and through Post, to CBS Songs (nee: April/Blackwood), played guitar on the many record and TV scoring dates Post garnered, conducted orchestras, acted as musical supervisor and toured with various acts, and played on, co-arranged, co-produced with Post many of my songs for a gifted young singer, Joey Scarbury, attempting to land him a label deal. When Stephen Cannell asked Post to score his new company’s first network series, The Greatest American Hero, Mike asked me to collaborate (primarily as lyricist) on a theme song and came up with “Believe It Or Not.” As the first episodes were being shot, Cannell invited me to his office and asked if I could write, arrange, and produce an original song per episode for the series. I thought, “Is he kidding?! Of course not!”. But I said, “Let’s do it.” (Actually I can’t remember what I said, I was so nervous and awed to be talking to the TV writer/co-creator of The Rockford Files, one of my favorite shows at the time). By the way, Post (and his scoring partner, the lovable and crusty Pete Carpenter) won a Grammy for The Rockford Files theme in 1975. We cut “Believe It Or Not” with Joey Scarbury, and after several episodes were aired, Elektra Records, released the record which shot up the charts.
Q: Speaking of that great song, you wrote the lyrics for “Believe It Or Not”, the theme song to The Greatest American Hero which was performed by Joey Scarbury. Please take us back to when the song was written and recorded. What is the back story about how that song was conceived and written? Was that song written specifically for the show? Anything else help to inspire the lyrics? How long did it take to write? Any other interesting facts or memories you can let us in on from creating this wonderful song?
Stephen: When Mike received the request from Cannell for a theme song, as opposed to an instrumental theme (By the way, it is very possible that Post suggested the theme song idea, rather than an instrumental, and that he had already considered the idea of writing a theme with me prior to meeting with Cannell on the music. I’m not certain of this, but it seems a likely scenario) he came back to his office, and as was his style, very quickly constructed a musical idea on his Fender Rhodes and recorded it to a handheld cassette recorder. After that, he called me to join him at his office at his home in the Valley, and we played with his idea, tossing general thoughts, chords, melody, and structure back and forth in a rapid fire creative shorthand we shared, and recorded the end result on a cassette for me to take and write the lyrics to.
I had already talked with Cannell about his notion and concept for the show and the main character, and I had the first scripts in hand when I took the cassette down to my girlfriend’s house in Costa Mesa, California for the weekend. I wrote the lyrics over the course of those two days, and by the end of the next week both Stephen and Post had heard and approved of them. One glitch came up somewhere along the way: the publishers of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, a well-known book and franchise at the time, evidently made legal threats about the use of the phrase “believe it or not,” stating that if we used it they would sue for copyright infringement. Cannell actually called me to his office and asked me if I thought I could change that lyric without weakening the song. I realized that a possible expensive law suit as well as my standing with Cannell (and Post) might rest on my answer, but I felt Ripley’s people were overstepping their rights, as the phrase had a long history of common usage, and my reference to it had nothing to do with Ripley’s; so I stood firm on the song. Eventually, as I understand it, Cannell paid some small fee to Ripley’s, and the rest is history… BELIEVE IT OR NOT, Ripley’s!!!
The Greatest American Hero debuted in March of 1981 and ran for three seasons until February of 1983. The theme song for the series, “Believe It Or Not“, hit the charts in June of 1981 and would peak at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in August of 1981 while reaching the #1 spot on the Record World (now defunct) chart. The single spent 18 weeks in the Top 40 and would enjoy a long life well beyond the TV screen serving as an inspirational song for many to this day. It is definitely my favorite TV Theme song of, not only the '80s, but of all time. Here are the opening credits of The Greatest American Hero featuring a shortened version of “Believe It Or Not” written by Stephen Geyer & Mike Post and performed by Joey Scarbury…
Q: When the song was first recorded, did you have a feeling it was going to be something special? That it might have a life beyond just the TV screen? Could you have ever anticipated the reaction this theme song would have?
Stephen: It was clear from the beginning that Mike and I had written a strong song; certainly, a strong theme song. I was particularly delighted to have used the phrase “on a wing and a prayer,” in the chorus, as I had only learned it a few years earlier from my friend and musical cohort, Tom Jans. And I thought Mike’s descending chordal voicings behind “Who could it be?” in the chorus were both effective and extremely fresh for the pop milieu. It sounded like a hit to all of us (Mike, myself and Joey), but before we could even think about a single release, the show had to develop ratings and stay on the air. Once that got sorted out, Mike moved in earnest to land a label to quickly get the song out on the market. It was a thrilling several weeks after the release, as we kept daily, almost hourly, tabs on its rise up the charts. People sometimes tell me it wasn’t a #1 record because it wasn’t #1 on the Billboard charts. I just look at the plaque on my wall taken from Billboard’s industry rival at the time, Record World, where it was officially recognized as the number one record in July of 1981. I also have a gold record on my wall, as both co-writer and co-arranger, and a lot of fond memories of those times working closely with Mike, Stephen, and Joey.
Q: How did it feel to have a hit song you were responsible for?
Stephen: It was my first #1 hit, but not my first hit or major artist cover. In 1976, Glen Campbell, hot on heels of his huge hit “Rhinestone Cowboy,” recorded and released my song, “Bloodline,” as a single and the title cut of his album. The record remains one of my favorite covers of one of my songs, but unfortunately at the time the DJ’s were opposed to playing singles that went on longer than 2 to 2 and a half minutes. “Bloodline” clocked in at over 3 minutes, and so the DJ’s simply turned the 45 over and declared the B-side to be his new single. This, despite the fact that on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Glen had talked about me and his new single, just before he got up and sang it (unfortunately, with a very uninspiring film of a train running behind him). Alas… the album entitled, Bloodline reached #1 on the country charts in 1976, and I was learning some of the hard lessons of the music industry along the way.
In 1979, Robbie Dupree was coming off his #1 hit, “Steal Away,” and released “Hot Rod Hearts,” a song I’d written the previous winter with the great singer/songwriter Bill LaBounty as his next single. That record made it to #3, and Robbie’s video of it was featured on the pop music TV series, Solid Gold. So prior to “Believe It Or Not,” I had had a pretty good taste of success as a songwriter, and was anxious for more.
Q: Most people remember your awesome song better than they remember the show. What are your feelings regarding The Greatest American Hero television series?
Stephen: I think for its time, the show was great fun, with a trio of great characters at the top of the cast. I had been a huge I Spy fan, which meant working on anything with Robert Culp was a thrill for me. William Katt was perfectly cast in the role and Connie [Sellecca] was the most beautiful woman on TV for my money. I loved the opportunity Stephen and Mike gave me to join that party, and though the show looks so dated now, what with the remarkable evolution in special effects and production values, it still carries the sweet bouquet of nostalgic memories for me as well as an amazing number of fans, old and new.
Q: What are your feelings regarding “Believe It or Not” today 30 years later?
Stephen: I think I have covered much of this above; but also, I have to say the song has brought me a few mystical experiences over the years that have reaffirmed my sense that there are no coincidences…
Several years after the song had been a hit, and well after the show was off network TV, I was visiting my parents at their cabin perched on the edge of a remote lake in Maine. One morning, at dawn, I was awakened by a strange, distant sound. Voices–perhaps singing–but unintelligible in the dense morning mist that blanketed the lake. I stepped out on the front porch and leaned on the railing, listening, peering into the thick fog that hung over the water. Suddenly, as if emerging from nowhere, a canoe filled with Boy Scouts came rowing past, all singing, “Believe it or not, I’m walking on air…” Just as quickly as they had appeared, they disappeared back into the fog and were gone. It was like a waking dream.
In the '80s, I was a huge fan of the Showtime Lakers, with Magic Johnson my favorite all-time athlete. Although I lived near L.A., I had never seen the Lakers play live, and never been to their (then) home court, The Great Western Forum. One year for my birthday, my friend took me to Englewood to watch a game at the Forum, and as we entered the access to the stadium seating, I was so fixated on the sight of Kareem, Worthy and, of course, Magic on the court below us, that I almost didn’t recognize the music the live band was playing from the top of the stadium seating. You guessed it: they were in the middle of a rendition of “Believe It Or Not”! And no, my friend hadn’t set that up. Coincidence? I think not.
Q: Did writing TV theme songs come naturally to you? Seems Mike Post could write music, but needed a lyricist. Is that why the two of you made good partners?
Stephen: After Cannell asked me to write a song a week for 'The Greatest American Hero', I realized quickly that I had a gift for writing a satisfactorily high quality of song on demand, week after week. In fact, I often wrote more than one a week; which means I wrote both the music and the lyrics (because of time constraints, usually an intro, a verse, a chorus, and a vamp fading out; but sometimes a second verse, or a bridge as well), arranged and produced a home demo, got approval from Cannell for the song (the only song rejection I got was for the very first episode: I’d written a lovely ballad, and he said he would prefer an up-tempo tune, which I promptly came up with), wrote the charts for the orchestra/rhythm section TV date at Universal Sound Stage 10, and co-produced the date with Post. Throughout the '80s, Post and I collaborated on numerous theme songs, many that had a brief run (i.e., The Rousters, Richie Brockleman: Private Eye, etc.), and some that had better luck, including The Greatest American Hero, Hardcastle & McCormick, Stingray, and Blossom. After my solo work on The Greatest American Hero, Post joined me on writing episodic songs for some of the subsequent series. Working together, I would help shape the structure, chords, and melodies working to wed Mike’s initial musical concepts with my lyrics. In that sense, yes, Mike had the music covered, but relied on my skills as a lyricist and songwriter to help shape and refine the songs.
Q: What was the connection between Stephen J. Cannell Productions and Mike Post Productions? It appears that you did the music for nearly every Stephen Cannell show at that time.
Stephen: Mike and Stephen had established a friendship based, as I recall, on their work on The Rockford Files, which Mike wrote the theme for, and Stephen co-created with Roy Huggins. When Stephen began his own production company, it was a lock that he would call on Mike for scoring. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right skills to facilitate both Mike’s and Stephen’s musical/lyrical needs. And yes, throughout the '80s, into the '90s, Mike and I worked on all of Stephen’s shows (if I didn’t co-write the theme, or add episodic songs, I’d end up playing guitar on the scoring dates).
Q: Next up was “Drive” from Hardcastle & McCormick. What do you remember about creating this theme song? Why was a new theme song created for the second season? What are your feelings about the viewer demand that forced “Drive” to become the show’s theme song again?
Stephen: I don’t have a lot to say about “Drive” other than that I thought the metaphors and images I used in the lyrics, such as “Slow motion man, iron and steel in the palm of your hand…” and “hot wired heart, betting your life on the state of the art…” as well as others, were concise, evocative, poetic, and specific all at once, which is about as good as one can hope for, with the incredibly short amount of time one has (or had) to have their theme song heard on network TV. As for dumping “Drive” for another theme, I thought from the start that it smacked of network (nitwit?) desperation. So many network executives–so few balls (did I write that out loud?). It seemed to me like trying to keep the Titanic from sinking by replacing the first violinist in the ship’s orchestra. Mike and I wasted no time in writing “Back To Back” and while I thought it was up to our usual high standards as a theme song, I thought the impetus behind replacing “Drive” was misdirected and misguided. In a similar vein, how did changing the title of The Hogan Family to The Hogans help its ratings? I just think there is such anxiety and fear behind those kinds of decisions by network execs clinging desperately to their positions and immense salaries that it becomes an exercise in absurdity addressing what they offer as solutions to falling ratings and failed productions. For me it fell under the heading: Welcome to Hollywood.
Hardcastle & McCormick starred Brian Keith and Daniel Hugh Kelly lasting for three seasons from 1983 to 1986. “Drive” was the original theme song for the series sung by David Morgan, but for the first part of season two, the theme song was replaced by another song also composed by Post and Geyer but sung by Joey Scarbury. Public demand, however, resulted in the “Drive” theme being reinstated and kept through season three. Here are the opening credits for Hardcastle & McCormick featuring the song “Drive” written by Stephen Geyer & Mike Post and performed by David Morgan…
Q: Did anything change for you personally after your early successes?
Stephen: After the success of “Believe It Or Not,” I was more sought after for songwriting, was soon working with noted TV/film/record composer, Charles Fox (“Killing Me Softly” by Roberta Flack) on Scott Baio’s first feature movie, Zapped, as well as collaborating on the theme song, “Together Through the Years,” sung by Ms. Flack, for Valerie Harper’s new series (which had various titles over its long run, including, Valerie’s Family, The Hogan Family and The Hogans).
I also found my publishing company, CBS Songs, pairing me up with other successful songwriters, including Albert Hammond (“It Never Rains In California,” “To All The Girls I Loved”) and Jim Weatherly (“Midnight Train to Georgia”), in hopes that our collaborations would yield more hits. Aside from my collaborations with Post and LaBounty, this was not the case; and in fact, it took me years to understand that the best part of my writing was its unique point of view and voice, which, for the most part, was lost in the many compromises inherent in songwriting collaboration. For the past 25 years I have rarely chosen to collaborate, feeling that far too much time and creative energy was wasted in the past on such fiscally inspired pairings. I would direct your readers to my one and thus far, only, all original CD, available on iTunes and through Amazon, Harlequin Wind [released in 2007]. I feel this eclectic stew of songs is the best example to date of my broad range of musical styles, interests, skills, and self-referential songwriting approach, sans collaboration.
Q: How about the song “Girls Got Something Boys Ain’t Got” which you wrote for one of my guilty-pleasure favorites, 1985’s Just One of the Guys. How did you end up writing a song for that film? Did you write that song specifically for this film?
Stephen: A wonderful songwriter/singer, Marvin Morrow, and I wrote “Girls Got Something Boys Ain’t Got.” Except for Post, I collaborated more with Marvin, who was also signed to CBS Songs, during the '80s than any other writer. We remain friends to this day. The producers of the movie heard the song we’d already written and demoed, via a runner at CBS Songs, and they hooked up the group [Midnight Star] that sang it for the soundtrack.
Q: As you mentioned, you created the theme song for The Hogan Family/Valerie’s Family with Charles Fox. Was “Together Through The Years” specifically written for this show? What else can you tell us about creating this theme song?
Stephen: Adding to what I’ve already written about my work with Charles, the song was written specifically for the show and with Roberta Flack in mind as the singer. This was a joy for me, as I had been a big fan of Ms. Flack’s and loved her rendition of Charles’ and Norman Gimble’s song, “Killing Me Softly.” I was also honored to have gotten the call to work with Charles, whose reputation and work throughout the music industry was well known to me by then. My main recollection of “Together Through The Years” is of meeting both Valerie Harper and Roberta Flack in the studio on the day the track was recorded. They were both extremely forthcoming in their praise for my contribution to the song, and Ms. Flack was very keen on turning the song into a single, as were we all. Unfortunately, though understandably, that didn’t work out. But I still have a copy of the lead sheet with everyone’s signatures and well wishes on it, like a page from a high school year book. Good times.
The Hogan Family ran for six seasons from 1986 to 1991 though the series name changed from Valerie (after the original star Valerie Harper) to Valerie’s Family: The Hogans (after Harper left and was replaced by Sandy Duncan) to The Hogan Family for the final three seasons. The theme song was sung by multi-Grammy winning artist Roberta Flack, but was never released on its own as a single. It is another one of the great TV theme songs from the '80s and features the great lyric "The more you learn, the less you know." Here are the opening credits for season one of the show featuring “Together Through The Years” written by Stephen Geyer & Charles Fox and performed by Roberta Flack…
Q: When you write a TV theme song, do you write with that specifically in mind? Or do you just write a song and then adapt for use as the TV theme? It must be difficult to make an impression and/or tell a story in such a short snippet of music. What do you feel made you so skilled at doing this?
Stephen: I always liked to read the pilot script and discuss whatever ideas the producer/writer has for the main character and the show theme. In the case of a song like “Believe It Or Not,” it was the sense of incredulity (“…believe it or not it’s just me.”) and opportunity (“… breaking me out of the spell I was in, making all of my wishes come true.”) that gave me a foundation upon which to build the lyrics. When I came up with the phrase “believe it or not,” I immediately knew it was the right tone for the character. The bridge is a slight nod to the ongoing love story between Katt and Sellecca’s characters (“… look at me, fallin’ for you…”) as well as another allusion to flight, and his inability to control it. I liked the use of layering meaning, and multi-connotations inherent in well chosen words and phrases, as demonstrated in this case with that phrase “falling for you.”
I really can’t attribute my skill at this particular work to anything other than an innate love and perhaps gift for words, plus years of experience writing songs, poems, TV and film scripts (I am a long-time member of the Writer’s Guild west, and have written for both episodic TV and film). I think of songwriting in many ways, but one way which pertains to this work is as a sort of crossword puzzle. As with those puzzles, one must find exactly the right word that carries the right sound (phonetically), meaning, weight, syllabic content, connotation, and rhyme to fill a specific need within the natural restrictions of the contemporary commercial song form. One could also relate songwriting at its best to a kind of Westernized haiku. Although theme songs are more often than not required to be more plot and character heavy than the kind of imagistic and tonal targets that haiku offers.
It came as a complete surprise (“out of the blue”) to me that I was able to keep my promise to Stephen Cannell and write not only one song a week, but often many more (on Steven Bochco’s short-lived but ground-breaking series, Cop Rock  I was the supervising songwriter and on many of those episodes I wrote as many as three songs, usually collaborating with Mike or Amanda McBroom, on at least one or two of the tunes.)
Q: Why did you discontinue your partnership with Mike Post? What are your feelings about Mike Post and all of his tremendous accomplishments?
Stephen: I’m sure Mike will be glad to share his many accomplishments with you. I will add only this to what I’ve written previously regarding my relationship with Post: After “Believe It Or Not” became a hit record, Mike went on a brief national promotional tour, giving press and magazine interviews. In reading those write-ups, I thought it odd that my name was referred to only once (and even then, misspelled) in connection with Post or the theme song. I asked Mike about it then, all those years ago, and his response was that he couldn’t foresee what the interviewer wrote or how the interview was edited. I’ll let that speak for itself.
Q: It seems almost no effort goes into TV Theme songs today. What are your feelings regarding TV Theme songs in the '80s (and before) compared to what they are today? Other than your own, what are some of your personal favorite TV theme songs?
Stephen: The use of theme songs kind of disappeared after Friends, as networks looked to tighten budgets (probably to accommodate rising star and executive salaries). And when Seinfeld became the standard of the industry, with its very brief, one man keyboard (slap bass setting) set-up, the rest of the industry followed suit. Why pay for an orchestra, a studio, singers, a songwriter, etc., when with the advent of digital recording a guy can sit in his beer-stained underwear in his living room and play whatever instrument he wants as a sampled sound on his keyboard? The studios cut their musical costs by at least 75%, and with a shorter musical opening to a show, you get more time for commercials!
As for my feelings regarding TV Themes, well, biased as I am, I have to say that some of the greatest musical memories I have are around themes like Peter Gunn (Henry Mancini), Leave It To Beaver, Mr. Ed, Dragnet, Mission Impossible (Lalo Shifron), Maverick, Davy Crockett, and a zillion others, right up to and including, Cheers and Friends. The earlier themes, both lyrical songs and instrumentals, formed a great part of the musical and lyrical lexicon from which my psyche has drawn connection and inspiration over the course of my career. I believe as our culture moves at ever a quickening pace that the loss of theme songs, as overblown and self-serving as it may sound, is simply indicative of a loss of focus on human soulfulness, meaning, and the deeper aspects of our connection to ourselves and the world. In short, this is part and parcel of the “dumbing down of society,” which is sadly, all too obvious these daze (sic).
Q: Any other songs or projects from back then that you want to call out or that you are particularly proud of?
Stephen: Despite its withering reviews by critics at the time, and to this day, I want to say that Bochco’s musical vision for Cop Rock was certainly a forerunner to huge TV ratings today on shows like Glee. In that regard, I consider Bochco a real pioneer, and have to say I very much enjoyed our brief run together on that show. Besides, Randy Newman wrote the songs for the pilot, and for my money, he’s as gifted a songwriter as America has produced.
Post and I had the opportunity to work with many truly great artists, and among those I’d count working with Ronnie Milsap on his vocal for our theme to The Rousters , “Tough Enough,” as one of my favorite collaborations. Ronnie has one of those voices (like Kenny Rankin’s) that is truly a wonder of the world, and he was a joy to work with.
Q: After over three decades in the business, from your perspective, how has the music industry changed over that time? And how do you see the future?
Stephen: It’s obvious now that the music industry has been forced well out of its comfort zone, into desperate territory financially. The advent of the internet and digital recording and sampling has stripped them of their “artistic cover,” and shown them for what they’ve become which is essentially banks where only sure things (i.e., money making publishing catalogs, established stars/bands, self-made divas, etc.) are bankrolled. There is little to no development of unknowns by major labels or publishing companies. When even a name artist like Jakob Dylan and his band, The Wallflowers, with certified hits and a proven audience get dropped from a label, it’s clear that the music industry is as shaky as Wall Street.
Everything I knew about the music business when I started has changed, from the fundamental concept of a hit single, to how music is recorded, distributed, promoted and financed. My son, a prodigy songwriter/musician, who just graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Music degree at The Berklee College of Music, Boston, is all dressed up and ready to go… but where? It’s a brave new world in the music industry, and I worry for him, but I also know that it is he and his generation that will determine in large part what is to become of music as an industry. There is no lack of creative talent, of that I’m sure. There is, however, a lack of vision on the part of business executives these days. My dream started to come true all those years ago thanks to Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss forming A&M studios in a garage, based on a hit record, “The Lonely Bull.” I don’t know if we’ll ever see that kind of support for new artists again at a studio, or the kind of vision they had that would support the growth of the industry, rather than simply leach off it for corporate profits.
Even as a long-time member of BMI, I am completely dismayed by their demands on small local venues to pay substantial annual fees for live bands or solo performers to come and play for the paltry fees that such places can afford. By doing this they force venue after venue to shut down opportunities for the up and coming artists of tomorrow to learn, develop and hone their talents. This is truly unbecoming and short-sighted for an industry that existence to the work of such artists whose singular passion, new or old, rich or poor, is to create music, despite the obvious financial obstructions and challenges. BMI and ASCAP should be finding new ways to support the rise of new talent through local venues, rather than discouraging them and club owners willing to remove a money-making four-top to allow room for a performer. I guess it’s clear that I am not particularly optimistic about the state of the music industry. As to its future, I’ll leave that in the capable hands of my son and his generation of passionate dreamers and doers.
The television series Blossom debuted in July of 1990 and ran five seasons until May of 1995. The theme song "My Opinionation", co-written by Stephen Geyer and Mike Post, was performed by Dr. John. The original theme song in the pilot was actually Bobby Brown's 1988 hit single "My Prerogative" but it was changed prior to the regular series being broadcast. Here are the opening credits of Blossom featuring "My Opinionation"...
Q: You wrote the theme song for the memorable '90s sitcom Blossom. Where else did your career take you from there?
Stephen: After Blossom and Cop Rock, and my decision to leave the employ of Mike Post, I left the L.A. area and moved north a bit to raise my four-year-old son, and rethink my connection to music and reassess my goals. During that time, I wrote and recorded my debut CD, Harlequin Wind, and began sitting in with various local musicians. Eventually, I found a sense of renewal as a player, and over time have been pleased to work regularly with some excellent local musicians playing rock, jazz, country, folk, and more, in venues from L.A. to Santa Barbara and beyond. At one point, my jazz quartet got a booking to play a very exclusive wedding reception in a very chic hotel in Beverly Hills. I had set up my rig, and as I turned around to see what the invited were up to, I found myself gazing at the etheric beauty of Gwyneth Paltrow, sitting beside her new beau, Chris Martin, and his band Coldplay. They were lovely people to play for, and I subsequently became a big fan of the group.
As a solo acoustic artist, I have opened up for Taj Majal at the Ventura Theater and, at that same theater, played with a hot electric jazz combo, “Mr. O,” opening up for John Scofield and his band. These days, my enjoyment and passion for playing guitar has superseded my desire to write songs; although from time to time I still find myself working on a tune or a lyric. No deadlines anymore, though. Just writing when it comes, and in its own time.
Q: What else is Stephen Geyer up to nowadays? Musically and otherwise? Any remaining ambitions or regrets?
Stephen: I will add that I just completed my first year of graduate school at the Pacifica Graduate Institute in Montecito, CA. I’m working towards a Masters degree in Depth Psychology Counseling and am currently enjoying deep satisfaction in the counseling work I am engaged in!
Regrets? I wish I hadn’t sold that Telecaster I bought back in the early '70s– the one I stripped all the paint off of, down to the wood, and glued a rabbit’s pelt to the back. Okay, maybe I regret gluing the rabbit’s fur to the back, too, but it felt soft and comforting against my two-pack when I danced naked in the Maryland moonlight as a young man howling at the dreaming moon!
I am grateful that Stephen took some time to answer my questions so I could share them with you here. He certainly provided some interesting perspective. I want to take this opportunity to again thank Stephen Geyer for his contributions to '80s pop culture especially through “Believe It Or Not” and, even more, for taking a walk down memory lane with us here as well. “Who could it be? Believe it or not, it’s just me!”