All about the history behind the Airwolf Themes CD soundtrack music project
MARK J. CAIRNS is a huge AIRWOLF fan, having been Head of the International AIRWOLF Appreciation Association for over 10 years during the late 80s and early 90s, he worked hard in the late 1990s to recreate the show's music for an officially-licensed, double CD soundtrack release.
This is his story and the history of the Airwolf Themes CD project...
The project started about 1986 after the AIRWOLF TV series' cancellation on CBS. I was in love with that helicopter and that music! I searched worldwide (with no World Wide Web back then) for the official soundtrack from the show's two original composers -- Sylvester Levay and Udi Harpaz -- but no, nothing... just three horrible renditions on "television albums" -- one by the Britsh Power Pack Orchestra, the second arranged by Daniel Caine, again in England (used on about four albums since!) and the third was probably the strongest incarnation with the Japanese Airwolf / Knight Rider CD. but none of them were original arrangements. Just don't mention the two German-based so-called Airwolf soundtracks - "Airwolf: The Wonderweapon" (an insipid excuse for the composers to do their OWN synth music NOT based on the original episodic score from the show at all) and a CD simply entitled "Airwolf", which was another pitiful excuse to release a collection of pop music from the time (which didn't even include the stuff used on the 3rd season of the show such as Dire Strait's "Money For Nothing" or Animotion's "Obsession" -- both from 'Birds of Paradise').
I felt nobody understood the show's Main Theme as well as I did, probably as well as Sylvester Levay himself. I remember finding Lukas Kendall's (then running the 'The Soundtrack Club' newsletter, now Webmaster of the huge Film Score Monthly) address in the early 1991 asking him how I could contact Sly Levay.
He gave me his agent's address in Los Angeles (then Gorfaine-Schwarz), where I eventually got a letter off to him, asking things about the music -- i.e. 'when will we hear the original stuff you did on the show?'
I got a reply from Sylvester in June 1992, but he'd obviously moved on to other projects, and basically nobody had come up with the required huge licence fees for MCA / Universal to release the original Airwolf soundtrack. I've since learned that at least two separate parties had expressed interest in releasing the original works many years ago but MCA's fee and the production costs would have just made it too high to make it a commercial reality. I thought: "some day though!
I was already messing around with the theme on a Yamaha FE-40 organ in the mid-1980s, but I knew someday I'd need computer sequencing kit and proper professional synths if I was ever to recreate the show's 'Main Theme' the way it deserved – all utter self-indulgence, of course! During that period I also started the International Appreciation Association for the AIRWOLF series, producing a regular, semi-professional magazine continually until mid-1997, when the Internet took off.
I suddenly won some money from a local Northern Irish radio station competition (thank you for being me that day, Simeon Pentland!) in 1995, bought a second-hand pro synth (Yamaha SY-77) and just built my kit up from there. At the start it, again, was all self-indulgence.
The first piece of music I messed around with was, of course, the show's Main Theme... for the first time complete -- with the Yamaha synth's built-in sequencer. But I quickly outgrew that, bought an Apple PowerMac (I'm a Graphic Designer by profession) for freelance graphics work, which then doubled up as a professional music studio with the right software (an all-new approach in MOTU's FreeStyle 2 for Mac).
One day, a friend of mine heard my extended rendition of the AIRWOLF Main Theme, and said: "That's a class recording. What CD did you get that of?" I told him it was my own. He had honestly thought it was the original, it was so close. Then I let other people (within the International AIRWOLF Appreciation Association) hear it and they agreed; and the project just grew from that little acorn. I did a few more episodic tracks, sent them to Gerry R. Forrester, who was an AIRWOLF Appreciation Association member at the time and a professional soundtrack producer in his spare time. We got talking, and voilà... the AIRWOLF THEMES 2CD: Special Limited Edition was born.
The real problem since 1996 was bad advice. When we originally approached MCA Music Ltd in London we were told that we'd have to find Sylvester Levay and Udi Harpaz to get their permission to do the project, which implied they'd somehow had the rights to the music... which was unusual, but in our ignorance of the full facts a frantic search for well over a year brought up nothing... until I got on "the Net" through my job.
I couldn't find either of them, until I used a bit of lateral thinking through the search engines on the Net (Thank you 'Excite' and 'Alta Vista'!). Neither Sly nor Udi had done any TV or film work for over five years back then. This was not a good sign at the start! How would I find them now?
Well, one day in March (1998), the search engine brought up a little gem of information that Sylvester had done a German-language musical in Austria called 'Elisabeth'... a huge hit there, on par with an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical here in the UK.
Meanwhile, I was constantly developing new episodic tracks from AIRWOLF, as close to their original sound, feel and arrangement as was humanly possible without the original synths, equipment and sound engineers - even then it would have be impossible to recreate every nuance in exacting detail.
ON-LINE FAN NETWORK LEAD
I found an on-line fan's discussion forum just about 'Elisabeth', thus I wrote an e-mail regarding the project to the Webmaster of that forum and she, in turn, passed on my details to the marketing firm behind the musical, who in turn, passed my details directly on to Sylvester Levay. Isn't the 'Net' wonderful?
My producer then contacted him in April that year and, as it turns out, MCA had the sole rights to the music of AIRWOLF all along... we didn't need either Sylvester nor Udi's permission at all! Arggghhhh!
SNOWBALL THE PROJECT
Well I felt ‘let's make a good job from a set-back and snowball the project a little more’, so I asked my Co-Executive Producer, Gerry R. Forrester to approach Sylvester with an offer to do a Special Bonus CD for the project... which made a long-time dream a reality. There aren't too many people who can say they've done their "dream" project and worked with their heroes, let alone before they were 30-years-old.