Belated Birthday Wishes (Where's Jiminy?!) to Randy T.!


Joyeux Anniversaire (That's French for Happy Birthday!) wishes to the one and only Randy Thornton... a tad late of a few days! The wishes! Not Randy!

And thank you mucho for providing us with Disney music we never ever dreamed of having and enjoying!

Just found that nice interview of Mr T. and I am glad to share it with other readers!

Many happy returns to you, Mr Thornton!

talks about getting his first job at Disney

by Scott Wolf

For me, one of the best things about working for Disney was getting to meet some great people and learn about what they do. Back in the early '90s I was working in the same building and on the same floor as Walt Disney Records and I spent many memorable hours with Randy Thornton, talking about our shared love of Disney, getting tips about audio and editing, and observing him at his craft while he was working on some of my favorite CD's to ever come out of Walt Disney Records.

Although I never officially interviewed Randy, this day felt like a throwback to some great old times, and I'm so happy to be able to share these interviews with you.

Scott Wolf: Were you a Disney fan growing up?

Randy Thornton: Yeah, as a matter of fact the first film I ever remember seeing was ?Mary Poppins.? There was something just really magical about it. It just sort of stood out to me when I was a kid. Really completely blew me away.

I was born in 1960 so I was only like four when the film first came out and then I saw some of the animation and things and early on I wanted to be an animator for Disney, so I took art classes and stuff. Nothing really hardcore but that?s what I wanted to do.

My first hero actually was Abraham Lincoln because I was born on his birthday. So most of my school reports were about Abraham Lincoln and I think that also got me in to Disneyland, too. Because when ?Great Moments with Mister Lincoln? came out here (to Disneyland), here?s my first idol in front of me and I have very fond memories of that attraction and I think that?s when the two Disney things came together.

Honestly, it wasn?t until I started working here that I realized how much of an important figure that Abraham Lincoln was to Walt (Disney) as well. But, yeah, I wanted to be an animator.

SW: So where along the line did that change?

RT: I learned to play the saxophone in fourth grade and was very very bad. I still have my instruction book which says, ?BUY REEDS!? I was stuck on page 9 for a very very very long time. By eighth grade I improved a bit and was looking forward to high school and I started getting more and more involved in music, and I taught myself how to play the piano. I tried to take some lessons but I wanted to play. I didn?t want to do the scales and things? you need to have the foundations and things, but I just wanted to play.

I guess I had a natural aptitude or something because I could pick up any instrument and play it quickly. My high school band director went to my parents and said, ?Randy has a gift here and I don?t think I have the facilities to help him, and I think that he would benefit from a tutor.? And my parents said, ?Well, he?s not going to be a musician.? But by the same token they gave me trumpets and clarinets and pianos and things to play but, ?He?s not going to be a musician.?

Then I started getting involved in theatre in high school and was in a lot of the plays, and was fortunate to be cast as most of the leads. So at that point I?m going, ?I don?t know what I want to do now.? The Disney animation thing sort of fell off. I was still a huge Disney fan, people would always ask me, as I?m sure you remember when you were younger as well, they would always come to me about questions about Disneyland and where it was and I had it memorized.

So I was really kind of in a flux. I didn?t know what I wanted to do with music, or theatre, or art. How was I going to balance these? Do I have to pick just one? So I floundered around for awhile. I tried going to PCC (Pasadena City College), was there for a couple of years. Didn?t graduate with a degree or anything.

Then I got a job at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, running their multimedia auditorium and also handing out photo and film equipment, and I met a lot of the film students and photography students and I ended up writing a couple of student film scores. Just simple little things, and decided I wanted to become a film score composer.

Of course, in 1977 when John Williams came out with Star Wars, that sort of spun me in the musical direction even farther. So I figured, well there?s a way. The theatre?s involved to an extent as far as that I?m trying to interpret somebody?s acting as a musical style or trying to create emotion.

I loved soundtracks, particularly starting with the three big influences, ?Mary Poppins,? the very first soundtrack for me, and then ?The Sting,? ragtime music, and then ?Star Wars.? I wanted to be a film score composer but I just didn?t really have the training or the background. I feel pretty lucky that I can pick up a lot of things and I think of things musically but I could never really consider myself a real musician. I mean, I have some stuff and I write music and I play things but then I meet real musicians and I go, ?Ahh? I can?t hold a candle to that.?

So I was really floundering around. I?ve always had an affection for Disney. As I?ve said I wanted to be an animator but that dream kind of went away after awhile. One of the film students got a job as an apprentice editor at the (Disney) studio and I said, ?God, it would be great to work at the studio.? To get involved in the industry somehow, I don?t care? the mailroom. I said, ?If there?s ever an opening in the mail room, let me know.? And about a year or two went by and he called me up and he said, ?Yeah, there?s a position in the mail room.?

I applied, I was at Art Center, I had been there for about three years at that point and I got a very nice letter back saying that there wasn?t a position of mutual interest and that they will keep my r?sum? on file and I thought, ?Oh well.? It was a shock.

SW: I got one of those letters, too. Actually I got it after I got the job believe it or not. (We laugh)

RT: Well, about two weeks later I get a phone call asking me to come in for an interview. So I was just stoked. They said, ?We were wondering if we could schedule an interview with you. I said, ?I?ll be there tomorrow.? I could be there NOW! I would have been there yesterday! (We laugh)

I don?t really have any high aspirations. I?m just willing to come in in the mail room or whatever, just to be in a creative environment. One of the things that was a real benefit to me, before I started working at Art Center, I knew I was different than a lot of people. I really just couldn?t fit in. I had my friends and stuff and we were all these creative types without any real focus.

SW: I was the same way. I know what you mean.

RT: When I got to Art Center I realized that there were other people out there and that they can be just as distracted but they were finding their focus, so I felt that that was a really good environment for me and figuring that if I could get into something like Disney?

So I just figured it would be just a really cool way to earn a paycheck and I go in for the interview and I do my little typing test and they go, ?Well, we?re gonna call you back for a second interview. But, just a second, let me see if Ron is available.? He goes, ?Well, first let me tell you what this is for. This is for the clerk in the music company.? And at that point the little guys in my head are going (makes a POW!! sound effect)!

SW: Did they know that you had a musical background?

RT: I had put that in there. Sort of backtracking a little bit, while I was at Art Center a friend of mine got a job as the development director for KPCC in Pasadena and the station manager, Larry Shirk, was unbelievable. We wanted to do radio drama. Now most of the things that my friend and I had been writing before when we wanted to write movies and things were all very visual comedy. We wrote a stage play that we produced at our old high school as sort of a fundraiser for them.

When our friend Frank Whitely got a job at KPCC as a Development Director we thought, ?What can we do with radio?? I loved the old radio shows and maybe we can do a spoof on that, like B Movies and ?Curse of the Clam People,? ?Sheep of Death.? These are actually titles of shows that we produced there. We had done some of that and we were getting students in to do the voices and I would write the music for it and I?d add sound effects to it.

It was after that that I applied at Disney, so working on the radio shows, some of the film scoring I had done at Art Center was all on my r?sum?, which I found the other day by the way, which was typewritten and very badly Xeroxed and it was crooked and oh my God, it looks ancient. You just expect somebody in very fine handwriting and a quill pen writing around it.

So that was on my r?sum?, back at the interview he said, ?Let me see if Ron?s available but first let me tell you what this is for? it?s the clerk for the music department. What that is is you?ll be running around and doing errands. There is a company car, but if it?s booked, would you mind using your own car?? And I said, ?(lowkey) Yeah, whatever it takes.? And he sort of outlined kind of what it was, but not really, and he leaves the room to make the call to Ron and I?m sort of, ?(to himself) AH HA HA!!? and he goes, ?Yeah, Ron?s available right now, so why don?t you just walk down Mickey Avenue (at the Disney Studio)?? so I?m really jazzed and I?m thinking it doesn?t matter from this point on. It doesn?t matter whether I get the job or anything? I am going for a second interview in the same day and I?m walking down Mickey Avenue at the Disney Studio.

I?m smiling and I?m not very much of a smiler and I had my sunglasses on and everything.

I sat down, waiting for Ron and one of the secretary?s was there and I actually struck up a conversation? another thing I normally don?t do. I was called in for the interview and everything was fine and I left.

I found out that during my interview I had my sunglasses on the entire time and did not know. These were Porsche Carrera driving glasses and I actually looked like a hit man.

Several people had applied for the job and were coming up and asking who was going to take the position and I found out later that somebody asked if the job was taken and Ron said, ?We?re going to give it to that Thornton guy. He seems like an assassin, to where if any of our people give us trouble??

SW: (laughing) Did he really say that?

RT: Yeah, he really said that.

SW: Who was Ron?

RT: Ron Kidd, he was the Director of Product Development. He was the guy that actually
hired me.

I started January 12, 1987 and February 12th was my birthday and that was when the Disney store first opened on the lot.

SW: That was a great store because it was very unique studio merchandise, and they didn?t have Disney Stores all over and it was things only for employees.

RT: Right, so my birthday is when they actually opened it up and I?m going, ?Wow, it?s my birthday and I?m going to work at Disney? it doesn?t really suck.? And I pull into the driveway there off of Alameda and there?s three of the seven dwarfs (from Snow White) out there waving me in, and I?m going, ?What? Are they having this for my birthday? This is a really cool place.? (I laugh) No, it?s a celebration for the Disney store. It was just sort of a big party they were having.

SW: And that kind of stuff is so cool.

RT: I know. I remember the first time I saw Mickey Mouse walking around on the lot. It really does something to you.

You know, truth be told, you know (how it works) and all that? uh uh ? not when you see them. It?s really something.



Ok! More!

talks about producing the first "Mary Poppins" CD

by Scott Wolf

For me, one of the best things about working for Disney was getting to meet some great people and learn about what they do.

Back in the early '90s I was working in the same building and on the same floor as Walt Disney Records and I spent many memorable hours with Randy Thornton, talking about our shared love of Disney, getting tips about audio and editing, and observing him at his craft while he was working on some of my favorite CD's to ever come out of Walt Disney Records.

Although I never officially interviewed Randy, this day felt like a throwback to some great old times, and I'm so happy to be able to share these interviews with you.

Randy Thornton: One of my first jobs here... they were beginning to work on our second and third CD releases. The first one being the Irwin Kostal Fantasia digital recording and that was done in 86 I believe so it was before I was here. CDs were brand new and that was the only one we had done and they were going to be putting together the Disney collections volume 1 & 2.

Scott Wolf: Those are collections of classic Disney songs?

RT: Right, our first greatest hits on CD.

I was assigned to go thru and make a list of all the defects that I heard. So I sat there and I listened and I made notes of all the things that I heard and I came back with a big stack of notes. They took that stuff with my notes and they denoised everything and cleaned everything up and it was a very long, labor intensive process at the time.

After the CDs were done I was really blown away by how great Mary Poppins sounded (some songs from that film that were on this collection). "Poppins" had always been one of my absolute favorites, and the "Poppins" stuff just really sounded great so I asked, What are the chances of actually doing a Mary Poppins soundtrack, remastered from the original sources? Nobody had done a remastered soundtrack. CDs were still coming out and they were just transferring their album masters onto CD. Nobodys gone back to the original elements and completely remixed it for CD.

And he goes, Well, Id love to but we just put Mary Poppins out on vinyl. And I said, No, I mean go back to the original sources. And he said, Id love to, its one of my favorites, too, but this version isnt doing very well and CDs are still kind of new. We would need something really special to get it pulled over with the administration.

And while I was the clerk Id be going out and be playing tapes all the time and I came across this one tape that said Mary Poppins pre-demo. I played it and it was just these two guys singing songs.

SW: Youve let me hear that and it was the Sherman brothers (the composers). Did you know who they were?

RT: I knew who the Sherman brothers were but I didnt know that that was them. Im hearing this and going, Wow, I hope thats not a finished product.

SW: And of course it was never intended to be heard by the public, it was intended to be heard by Walt.

RT: Right. So he can get the idea of the songs. Some of the lyrics were different, some of the songs werent there. There was no Spoonful of Sugar. There were other songs like Tiki Town and several of the others. And I played it and go, Thats kind of interesting. And I just put it back on the shelf again.

Later I discovered that it said R & B Sherman up in the corner just written in pencil and I thought it must be the Sherman brothers, and pre-demo... it all made sense. When Ron said we would need something really special and I pulled this tape out and I said, Do people know that this is here? and Rons jaw dropped and he calls the Sherman brothers, they thought the tape was lost 25 years earlier. They thought it was gone. So that sort of got the whole ball rolling into getting the Mary Poppins stuff.

Then Ron calls me and says, Ive got some good news and Ive got some bad news. The good news is theyre going to let us put Mary Poppins out on CD, and with your demo that you found were going to interview the Sherman brothers and have them talk about these songs. The bad news is we have to use the original album master.

So I pulled the master again and was thinking, Its just not right. They should just go back to the original elements.

SW: Had that ever been done on any album before?

RT: No. Nobody had ever done it which was part of the reason why there was a little bit of trepidation. We only had three CDs at the point, Fantasia and the two Disney Collections and those had just come out so they didnt know whether CDs were going to take off and we were a very very tiny company. There were only thirty people in all of the music company so it was a very very small company so a risk like that is pretty big particularly on an untried technology at that point.

I thought, If you only get one shot to do it, youve got to do it right. Nobodys ever gonna let you do it again because say you put that Mary Poppins out there and it does okay. Well, if it doesnt do okay its going to kill any other title. If it does marginally then nobodys going to be interested and if you want to do it again and do it the right way theyll never let you because its already been done.

SW: You were still a clerk at that time?

RT: Yeah, this is about 1989 now. When a master is made theres a protection copy and the master. The protection copy was kept in a separate location just in case anything happened to the one, thered always be this other one to go to, and that was a generation down. So I took the master and put it in the protection copy box, I took the protection copy and put it in the master box. And, I dont know how it happened (he says with a big smirk on his face) but the tape got a little too close to a magnet (I laugh) and I took it back because I figured if I have to follow my sword I follow my sword.

Its been a cool little run here and I was only 29. So Ron takes this jerry-rigged protection copy and Ron plays it for the bosses and its just (makes distorted sounds). Now, keep in mind the master is still in perfect condition. I did not touch the master this is a copy of the master. That shouldnt be done either, I acknowledge that.

He calls me up and he says, You can take the tape back now. Hmm, I dont remember it sounding that badly before and I could have sworn there was leader in between the tracks. But the good news is they were so disappointed with the sound quality of this and weve already committed to doing it that theyre going to let me go back to the original elements and let me remix it. And I go, (casually) Oh, thats really good. And he goes, Yeah (a long pause) Im watching you. (we laugh)

It was all in good fun because we ended up getting what we wanted from the beginning, but I still to this day have never really told him exactly what I did. He knows I did something, but Im sure he knows now that I also would never really destroy a master either and we have since transferred that master again recently, with digital technology so it is saved forever.

Anyway, while Ron was in the studio working on it I get this phone call that he wanted me to drop off something at CBS Television City where they were mixing it. I thought, Oh, he asked me to put that back in the well, I dont care. Ill drive out there. All it was was an excuse to get me out there because sitting in the studio was Irwin Kostal and Bob Sherman (who composed the songs with his brother Richard) and I was introduced as the guy who found the long lost Mary Poppins demo tape and thats when I met Bob for the first time and shortly after I met Dick.

SW: And Irwin wrote the whole score for Mary Poppins and then The Sound of Music.

RT: Oh, Sound of Music, West Side Story, it just goes on and on, he did Chitty Chitty Bang Bang with the Sherman brothers later on.
(Photo above, Richard M. Sherman, Randy Thornton, Robert B. Sherman)

(In 2004, Randy did a new "Mary Poppins" album filled with even more of the score and a complete second bonus disc with great interviews and actual recordings of the original story sessions with the composers and Irwin Kostal, and Mary Poppins' author P.L. Travers.)