Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Who is Peter Tevis
(And Why Is Bob Cumbow
Talkin' About Him)?


The following is a portion of an email auth-
or/attorney Bob Cumbow sent to a few friends
in May. With his permission, I am reproduc-
ing it here, as I thought the information was worth sharing.

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As you might recall, I notified some of you a couple months
ago that Peter Tevis--who sang the lyrics to several of the tit-
le songs from spaghetti westerns--lives on Mercer Island (who knew?). Tevis was more important to the evolution of the spaghetti western than most people know, because, in 1962,
Peter introduced a song to Ennio Morricone. At that time, Morricone had scored two or three films, unremarkably, and
was known primarily as an arranger of pop recordings. Peter
was a Californian who had come to Italy in order to get "cheap singing lessons," and found himself becoming a sort of small-time celebrity, singing American folk ballads, cowboy songs, and western movie themes for enthusiastic Italian audiences. He
had a traveling concert show as well as several hit singles.

Anyway, Peter told Ennio that he wanted to record the song "Pastures of Plenty," one of Woody Guthrie's greatest compo-
sitions. Together, they worked out an arrangement. RCA issu-
ed it as a 45rpm vinyl single, and it became a big hit. Now you have to listen to that arrangement to really understand this,
but with only a tweak here and a shift there, that song and ar-
rangement became the main title to A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. Minus Peter's voice and Woody's lyrics, and plus Alessandro Alessandroni's whistling. RCA suppressed the hit single of "Pas-
tures of Plenty" and supplanted it with the FISTFUL theme, which became (along with the film) an international sensation. Peter pretty much got screwed, but that early collaboration with En-
nio was what created "the sound" that the world now associates with spaghetti westerns and with a "school" of about three dozen composers who worked in Italian film from the peplums through the westerns, through the giallos and the horror films.

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Postscript: Knowing this, I made
it my business to seek out Mr. Tev-
is. It turns out he has advanced Parkinson's, and though he is lucid,
he is almost voiceless—a sad thing
to happen to a singer. It was my pleasure a couple of weeks ago to lunch with him and his wife (a charming Thai woman who
cooks Italian as magnificently as she cooks Thai), and talk
about his years in Italy and his work in the films of the period.

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That marks the end of Bob's transmission. A search on Pet-
er's name brought up some of the lyrics he has sung over the
years. The following come from Spaghetti Western Lyrics:

Lonesome Billy
From Pistols Don't Argue
Music by Ennio Morricone
Sung by Peter Tevis


Always lonely
Always looking
To get even with the men,
Who did him wrong.
That was Billy
Lonesome Billy
Who was quick to think
A gun could make him strong.
No one tougher or more daring.
Only he and his gun sharing
The great fight to live
And his great love to fight.
A rough man who played with danger,
To whom trouble was no stranger,
Until one day he lay dying.
He'd filled his date with destiny.
Never friendly
Never trusting
Always kept one ready hand near his gun.
That was Billy
Lonesome Billy
The rough man
Who would rather kill than run.
The rough man
Who would rather kill than run.



A Gringo Like Me
From Gunfight at Red Sands
Music by Ennio Morricone
Sung by Peter Tevis


Keep your hand on your gun
Don't you trust anyone
There's just one kind of man
That you can trust
That's a dead man...
Or a gringo like me.
Be the first one to fire
Every man is a liar
There's just one kind of man
Who tells the truth
That's a dead man...
Or a gringo like me.
Don't be a fool for a smile
Or a kiss
Or your a bullet might miss.
Keep your eye on your goal.
There's just one rule
That can save you your life,
It's a hand on your knife
And the Devil in your soul!
Keep your hand on your gun
Don't you trust anyone
There's just one kind of man
That you can trust
That's a dead man...
Or a gringo like me.
Keep your hand on your gun
Don't you trust anyone
There's just one kind of man
That you can trust
That's a dead man...

Or a gringo like me...
Or a gringo like me...
Or a gringo like me...
...like me...



Note: Bob Cumbow is the author of Once Upon a Time: The Films of Sergio Leone. Over the years, he's loaned me countless DVDs, videos, etc. Whenever possible, I've tried to return the favor.

6 comments:

Eric Jamborsky said...

A fascinating article. I have long enjoyed the music of the Spaghetti Western genre, especially those sung by Peter Tevis. Thanks for reviving more memories.

kathy fennessy said...

Thanks so much for your comment, Eric. I'm sorry Peter hasn't gotten more credit for his contributions to the genre. And I'm also sorry I never got the chance to meet him. Sounds like a lovely man.

Mate Filipovic said...

Hello from Croatia, Europe!
I love Morricone and Tevis music. This story above is wonderful and important.
So thank you.

kathy fennessy said...

Hello from Seattle, Mate. It's nice to see Peter receiving recognition throughout the world.

Anonymous said...

I met Peter around 1974 just when he had finished the music for Flesh Gordon and I hosted a screening for Peter and Howard Zhiem, the producer and director.
Peter was a wonderful human being and I agree he never got the credit he deserved. I also think that he did a producer stint at Capitol Records and produced Al Martino. Sorry to hear of his death.

Wsperger said...

What, no mention of the Underdog theme, the greatest of all theme songs, cartoon or otherwise.
The guy could sing and I hope nobody thinks this song is supposedly "beneath him".