The Musical World of Rocky Horror

Douglas Henderson "LP: Steinway Pianola Meets Rocky Horror" Posting (2001-11-27)        3,099 views

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Document taken from Mechanical Music Digest Archives

LP: The Steinway Pianola Meets Rocky Horror
By Douglas Henderson
November 27th, 2001

Hello MMD readers, Back when Danilo Konvalinka and I had a subsidiary 'music box' store in Dallas TX (at the European Crossroads), a friend (forcibly) took me to the Highland Park Cinema, where this cult musical movie was running -- and probably still is, even today! Upon the first viewing, in those early Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) days, I sensed that a Pianola could handle the music, since it was, in my opinion, "Mae West crossed with Gilbert & Sullivan", if one analyzed the melodies.

I started perforating in Maine during 1977 and had the seven-roll set completed in 1979, which is when the long-playing vinyl LP album came out. Since the political tides were changing, I chose to issue it under "LDH Records" instead of our "Musical Wonder House Recordings" label, used in those days for LPs and audio cassettes. (All the audio cassettes at that time were made at our museum, where I duplicated multiple copies from 15 ips open reel tapes, in 'real time' speed, for the maximum fidelity.)

The rolls were performed on select guided tours, and especially at our evening concerts at the museum, even as the multi-roll set was in progress. I worked from several LPs, including the soundtrack one, the stage show score, and a host of candid tape recordings made at the Highland Park theatre, in order to get the audience's reactions, which gradually became part of the whole movie experience. Also, I had a bootleg VHS copy of the British version of this movie, featuring some different music (such as "Superheroes") and an alternative finale.

The rolls combined the songs from the stage show and the filmed versions of Richard O'Brien's bizarre collage of old horror movies, wrapped in a topsy-turvy production combining the talents of many people, including Tim Curry in the lead, of course.

I had visions of making a Word Roll set, called "Horrorgraphic" (a parody of Aeolian's old "Audiographic" series in 88-Note and Duo-Art editions), using the Play-Rite word belt stencils plus a series of rubber stamps for illustrations, such as I put on many Artcraft releases, today, such as the "Moxie One-Step" arrangements or Jack Rummel's "Portrait of a Silver Lady". However, when leaving the museum in 1986 and making my roll business a 'full-time' activity, these projected rolls never came to be published. Moreover, the Reagan-Bush era was not the time to launch something like 'Rocky Horror' in the Pianola field, for the "joke was over", in my opinion, due to the political backlash which followed.

Meanwhile, my seven multi-tune RHPS rolls had a life of their own, and continued to be played on occasion at concerts, often for a seated audience used to classical music. Most recently, the rolls gained thundering applause at my 9th (of 10) Pianola concert in Searsport Shores, Maine. Use SEARCH for "Rocky Horror" at this URL, for the 8-25-2001 performance, and you'll see a write-up on "THE FLOOR SHOW" roll, featuring "Rose Tint My World"; "Don't Dream It, Be It" And "I'm A Wild And Untamed Thing".

These were arranged for my own use at The Musical Wonder House, originally, so they "pushed" the Player-Piano actions to the limit, especially with large chord versions of "The Time Warp" and rubato phrasing from the film soundtrack, as in "I'm Going Home". For the general public, I would have had to remaster some of the arrangements for use on players that were not up to the standards of the Steinway(s) in the museum and which are now around the corner in my roll studio.

People have told me that the used LPs, in mint condition (and with the 4-page Listener's Guide, inside), have sold for 250 dollars upwards, and I believe them, since my foreign cast albums brought good prices just ten years ago when I was clearing out some needed space. The last of these to be sold, a decade ago, was "El Show de Terror de Rocky", the Mexican cast album.

Most modern RHPS fans miss the secondary and tertiary in-jokes, which attracted university people and movie fans in my age group, for the most part. (Remember, I'm from the same era as the composer, who played Riff-Raff in the film and original stage shows!) There were references in the score to the Army's infiltration into the college arena as well as musical jokes, inherent in the score. For example, "Down At The Frankentstein Place" has a "flow, morphia, flow" line (in the treble) which is an adaptation of "Asleep In The Deep" (featuring a bass solo line).

RHPS was more than just outrageous costumes back in the 'seventies, and for those who sensed the origin of the lyrics and melodic parodies the opus was addictive for many people, including myself, in those post-Vietnam War days. In order to approach the musical, one had to expect the 'reverse' of everything, just as in many Gilbert and Sullivan operettas: bad was good, good was bad, perversion was normal, and so on. As I said, this was reinforced many times in the instrumental melodic line, for those who picked up the musical innuendoes!

It's not surprising to me that RHPS is gaining in popularity in some spheres today. We currently have a "war" which is really an "invasion" (if you stick to the actual terminology), and many government programs called "tax relief" are really "welfare" for corporate businesses. Yes, the upside down world of Dr. Frank N. Furteer is here again, but in another form, for a different era.

As with many 'happenings' and political movements, the original spirit of RHPS can't be captured today with theatrical viewings, in my opinion. The same grass roots euphoria surrounding the Harry Potter books (and first movie) will be locked in our own time as well, I should imagine.

Anyway, a lot of thought and time went into this unusual player piano version of the cult musical. It was not a "direct transcription", as one reviewer (with low musical knowledge, I suspect) said when panning the album. I cut it for the Pianola, and it was what the vice president of ABC Television wrote at the time, "Something which turned that instrument into a 'super-piano,'" due to the scope of the chords and the wide range of dynamics.

No hammer rail lifts were used during the entire recording sessions, for our 1912 pedal O Steinway doesn't have that feature -- just the graduated action chokes for bass and treble. Classical radio stations often play this album on Hallowe'en, when they've exhausted the possibilities of "Danse Macabre" and "A Night On Bald Mountain", so my out-of-print LP is definitely in good company, these days.

Unknown to most people, there was a second copy of these 7 medley rolls, created for museum performances and the vinyl album. One half of the music resides in Mass. and the second side of the album is in Ontario, today. These were gifts to friends, shortly after the LP was released.

Hope the above sheds some light in this strange Leabarjan perforating project and/or recorded performance, dating from over two decades ago.

Regards from Maine,
Douglas Henderson - Artcraft Music Rolls

P.S.: I just checked the eBay announcement of the CD. It turns out to be a "bootleg" Compact Disc, for Danilo and I (at The Musical Wonder House) never issued anything but LPs, custom-duplicated by Recorded Publications Laboratory in Camden, NJ, (now out of business) and audio Cr02 cassettes which I made in quantities at the museum. The RHPS recordings were advertised and published in the late 1970s through the mid 1980s.

We never franchised a CD of this music recording. Being 'registered' with eBay, and having an illustrated URL there, I wrote eBay today asking for a clarification of their "bootleg" recordings policies. When writing the MMD posting above earlier today I was under the impression that this was my old LP (now selling for hundreds of dollars, in many cases, used) and not a CD rip-off, which was never authorized.

Regards, Douglas Henderson