February 8, 2016
Ray Colcord: An Appreciation
Prolific television composer left a legacy of public service by Jon Burlingame
STUDIO CITY, Calif.—Ray Colcord, who died on Friday at age 66, wasn't your average TV composer.
Yes, he scored more than 700 hours of prime-time TV, including the themes for the long-running 227 and Boy Meets World. Yes, he scored episodes of everything from Facts of Life and Dinosaurs to The Simpsons and Touched By an Angel. And yes, at the time of his death he was still scoring shows like Girl Meets World.
But Ray Colcord had what he called "the public service gene," and he had it in spades. He was a dynamo who wasn't only interested in writing music for TV (and some movies), he also believed strongly in composer advocacy.
During the 1990s, he was president of the Society of Composers & Lyricists, the organization of composers and songwriters that includes most of the working music-makers in the film and TV business. Later, he became a governor of the Television Academy and, with his tireless promotion, made sure that the legendary Earle Hagen (composer of the Andy Griffith Show and Dick Van Dyke Show themes) became the first weekly-series composer to be inducted into the TV Hall of Fame. He also co-produced an evening celebrating TV themes for the Academy.
In addition, Ray served for many years on the Board of Directors of The Film Music Society, during which time he was a zealous advocate for the Society's efforts in film and television music preservation and restoration.
Ray carefully monitored issues like composer royalties (who got them, who deserved them, who didn't) and Emmy award divisions (should we get rid of the Main Title Theme category or keep it?). He saw the business getting worse, financially, for composers, but despite a healthy cynicism, he searched for new ways to be productive. And he always encouraged young talent to try their hand at what they were most passionate about: composing for films and TV.
His longtime friend Dan Foliart (and his successor as president of the SCL) said on Friday: "Ray's passion for composers' rights was unparalleled, and his tireless work to try and achieve equality in the greater entertainment community with collective bargaining was admired by all of his peers."
Ray Colcord was smart and funny. His dry wit was famous in film-music circles and, although he kept his illness a secret from many in the business in order to keep working, there is no doubt that his sense of humor about life was one of the things that kept him alive as he battled pancreatic cancer for four years.
It's also telling that he didn't brag about his roots. I knew Ray for at least a decade before I found out that he was the first guy to hear Aerosmith's demo while working at Columbia Records in New York in the 1970s, and that he convinced Columbia president Clive Davis to sign the band. (And that he tried, but couldn't convince, Davis to sign either Bonnie Raitt or Jim Croce.)
He went on to produce Aerosmith's second album. He later went on the road with Lou Reed, playing keyboards for him – and is also on Don McLean's now-classic American Pie album. In the '80s he was musical director for L.A. comedy troupe The Groundlings, writing all the musical material for, and performing with, such now-famous actors as Paul Reubens, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz, Laraine Newman, Edie McClurg, Cassandra (Elvira) Peterson and others. TV work beckoned in the mid-1980s and he became one of the top sitcom composers of his time.
He scored a handful of movies (including Heartwood, 1998, and Amityville Dollhouse, 1996) and he had songs in movies like Dumb & Dumber and Earth Girls Are Easy. But TV was his bread-and-butter, and an amazing array of shows from the '80s and '90s – Big Brother, My Two Dads, Silver Spoons, The Charmings, etc. – sport Ray Colcord scores.
The entire composing community was stunned to hear of Ray's death on Saturday. He'll be remembered not only for his television music, but for his kindness and support for the composing and songwriting community throughout his L.A. career. He is survived by his wife Maddy, son Alex and brother Marc.
Funeral services will be Tuesday at 3 pm, Forest Lawn Hollywood Hills, Church of the Hills, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.
©2016 Jon Burlingame