Classic Jonny Quest
A Conversation with Hoyt Curtin
© 1999, Lyle P. Blosser and Gary Karpinski

What follows is a compilation of a series of e-mail exchanges between Gary Karpinski and Hoyt Curtin that took place in April-May 1999. Thanks, Gary, for sharing this with us and Jonny Quest fans everywhere!

Hoyt Curtin Autograph 1
Hoyt Curtin Autograph 2

GK: Dear Mr. Curtin, I was wondering if you might be able to grant me a small interview on some questions I had on the music you did for Jonny Quest. If it's O.K., I'll just send you a few questions via e-mail and you can respond to them that way.
HC: Hi Gary, Soitenly!
GK: Is it true that you were writing music for commercials when you met Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera?
HC: Yes, I was writng and recording at least 10 national spots a week. One of them was a Schlitz beer spot tha Bill and Joe were producing at MGM. About two weeks later they called and had a lyric they read over the phone. Could I write a tune for it? I called back in 5 minutes and sang it to them..silence...uhoh I bombed out...the next thing I heard was a deal to record it! RUFF&REDDY. At that moment they had quit at MGM and started their own company. All of our first main titles were done in that fashion. Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw, etc.
GK: What year did you start working for Hanna-Barbera?
HC: 1957
GK: Out of all the great pieces of music that you've composed for Hanna-Barbera over the years, which ones are your personal favorites?
HC: Flintstones, I guess because it is a kick to hear musicians jamming it. Jonny Quest and Jetsons because they were written to provide challenges to my friends in the band. Jonny Quest is impossible to play on the trombone!
GK: My personal favorite has to be the music that you wrote for Jonny Quest. Was all the music for that particular cartoon created and added after the animation? Or did you already have some of the pieces composed beforehand?
HC: Some of it was done as a library, the rest was done to the pictures.
GK: How many different versions of the Jonny Quest Opening Theme were there? I know that there's a longer version of it on Hanna-Barbera's "Pic-A-Nic Basket" 4-CD set.
HC: I think just those two. My pianist, Jack Cookerly, invented the synthesizer as we know it for that show. It was made of orange crates with a keyboard and thousands of vacuum tubes! Everyone in the band fell down.
GK: There was a lot of familiar music that you wrote for the JQ cartoon on the 1965 Jonny Quest "20,000 Leagues Under The Sea" Album. Just curious though: why was there a different version of the opening theme on the album? Was it one of the original "unused" themes you wrote for the cartoon? Or did you write it especially for the album? I always thought it sounded a little bit like "James Bond" music in certain areas.
HC: That's one I never heard. Could you make a cassette? (This was done, and Hoyt's comments follow...) The slow JQ version is from a record made by ? but the arranger was Marty Paitch, a good arranger type guy.
GK: So, you had nothing to do with the composing of that particular JQ opening theme version? I know on the back of the Hanna-Barbera record that you were given credit. (Song - Jonny Quest:Hoyt Curtian) And of course, they spelled your last name wrong again.
HC: Yes, I wrote the theme on that slow version of JQ but that track, I believe, was lifted from a record that was arranged by Marty Paitch.
GK: [The cues on the tape are] your music from Hanna-Barbera's Pic-A-Nic Basket; It still amazes me on how you composed these "masterpieces" one right after another.
Did you have any "official" titles for all the different pieces of music you wrote for Jonny Quest? Or did you just title each piece by number (JQ1, JQ2,etc)? Was the Jonny Quest Opening Theme written and recorded first?
HC: First the theme, then the cues. I believe the editing dept. names each cue.
GK: I enjoyed Hanna-Barbera's Pic-A-Nic Basket 4 CD set very much but was a little disappointed that it didn't feature all the music that you created for Jonny Quest. Are the rest of the remaining tracks available or are they still unreleased?
HC: I'll check but I think the cues are long gone and hard to find.
GK: I had read somewhere that you would collaborate with Hanna and Barbera on certain songs. They'd write the lyrics for a certain cartoon, give them to you, and then you would write the music. Did they already have ideas on what they wanted the music for Jonny Quest to sound like? I loved the way that you combined classical music with jazz. It really fit and made the mood for the cartoon.
HC: Yes, I usually received the lyrics and composed using them to create the main titles. 85 were instrumental and 60 had vocals. Jonny Quest was instrumental so I just winged an adventure theme.
GK: Besides the Opening and End music to Jonny Quest, some of my other favorite pieces are, as most fans label them, the "Hydrofoil" and "Mummy" music. The Band you used was incredible. How many musicians were used to record the music for Jonny Quest?
HC: A regular jazz band, 4 trumpets, 6 [trom]bones, 5 woodwind doublers, 5-man rhythm section including percussion.
GK: The Music for Jonny Quest was so powerful and energetic at times. How many trombone players did you use and what was the name of that incredible drummer?
HC: Alvin Stohler or Frankie Capp usually played drums. JQ used 6 bones because it was so tough to play. The competition among those top players was too much!
GK: How many "takes" did you usually average when you were recording the music for Jonny Quest? Or did you guys just walk in, record it in one take, and then leave?
HC: The main title took an hour to record, but that was most unusual. Most cues were play it once and then record.
GK: Do any photos of the band that you used for Jonny Quest exist? Maybe some rare film footage of the recording sessions?
HC: Don't I wish. But I remember so well recording the MT at RCA in Hollywood. I had to stay in the booth because I was laughing so hard, watching my buddies, the bone players, trying to cut that tune! Nobody would quit of course. It was written in the worst possible key for trombones...LOVE IT!
GK: Did you use the same band to record most of the music that you wrote for Hanna-Barbera?
HC: I always tried to get the same guys where possible. They were the ones who could swing and read like demons.
GK: What was it like working with Doug Wildey?
HC: Can't recall him. Was he a mixer?
GK: Doug Wildey was the creator of Jonny Quest and had a lot to do with supervising the look of the animation for that cartoon.
HC: I never get in on the cartoons until they are set and a few shows animated, which accounts for my not meeting Doug.
GK: Just curious: your last name was spelled "Curtain" on a lot of the early cartoon credits. Just a mistake on Hanna-Barbera's part?
HC: I never could fix that but like they say ...close enough.
GK: What was the last Hanna-Barbera cartoon that you wrote music for?
HC: The Smurfs series. I used classical themes and it was one of my favorites.
GK: Last question: How does it feel to be a Legend?
HC: Thanks for the kind words!
GK: I'd like to thank you once again, Mr.Curtin, for taking the time to do this interview with me. I've been playing the drums for 25 years and your music (especially Jonny Quest!) was my first major influence. I wish you the best and look foward to hearing more music from you in the future. -- Regards, Gary Karpinski

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