The Virginian Theme – Percy Faith Orchestra
He was a cowboy in a black hat and a black shirt. He didn’t have a name. Played by James Drury for nine years between 1962 and 1971 he was The Virginian. Blond blue-eyed Doug McClure playing Trampas became the star of the show with more back-story and affection than the mysterious Virginian. We tuned in like clockwork. This was the imprinting of young minds with propaganda – how the west was won, with hard work and punch-ups, no black people or chinese, a few dodgy characters here and there, but The Virginian always won the day, tidied them away and restored calm and peace on the ranch. How we longed for the world to be like that. A key show in my village youth, both in black and white and later in colour.
And of course the show became the fertiliser for my cowboy games with Steven Criddle in the village fields and barns, using bits of wood as rifles and shotguns, running behind bales of straw and hay to avoid those pesky arrows being fired from the Comanche or Sioux raiders. Peeeow ! went the imaginary bullets. We ducked, scrambled, shimmied along on our bellies, made frantic hand signals from behind tractors and hedges. Steven Criddle’s house was full of dogs. He lived nearest to the railway at the bottom end of the village. It was a busy house, full of people, his mum, his dad, other kids, and pugs, loads of pugs and puppies. We would cycle from his house over the railway line and into the far-flung territory of Chalvington and Ripe, finding streams to fish in, learning the network of country roads. The more complex army games would be in Selmeston itself, and probably took over from cowboy games when we were about 9 years old.
Now I’m a grown up cowboy I can see what a one-sided view we were all given. In 1971 Soldier Blue came out but I’ve never seen it. Buffy Saint Marie did the haunting song. We all became aware of the story of the United States being drenched in blood. And it was a story that we had started back in 1504, in Virginia, a story re-told in Terrence Malick’s outstanding film The New World. Growing up, we had Bonanza, Rawhide and The Virginian. Films like The Big Country, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, Rio Bravo, The Magnificent Seven, Cat Ballou. All had these sweeping soundtracks which seem to my untrained ear to be linked in some vague musical way. Stephen Wrigley would know the answer to this – maybe they’re all major chords with 6ths or something, anyway, by the late 60s and 1970s the spaghetti western took over, darker stories with darker characters, with outstanding soundtracks by Ennio Morricone. The Wild Bunch directed by the great Sam Peckinpah, McCabe and Mrs Miller directed by Robert Altman, The Outlaw Josey Wales directed by Clint Eastwood are all among my favourite films. The western always had a basic appeal to me, the scenery, the scenario.
Percy Faith wrote the music for The Virginian. A Canadian bandleader and orchestrator he became known as the king of easy-listening, softening the big-band arrangements of the swing era and heralding a new era of pipe-and-slippers lounge music, “The Light Programme” as the BBC would have it – the kind of music you simply have to hate when you’re a teenager – gentle light arrangements of famous tunes, elevator music, stuff that Brian Eno would be getting into by the late 1970s, but which Percy Faith was exploring in the 1950s. Theme From A Summer Place was his big hit in 1960, but there are many many great tunes including this evergreen theme song from the hit TV show The Virginian. I could write at least a doxzen different pages for TV theme songs for some of them are simply outstanding, but this one I believe is head and shoulders above the rest.