Tuesday, July 09, 2024

The Lost Music of Frontierland, 1971 - 1990

Eleven years ago I began to document my journey to recreate and collect old music loops which played at Walt Disney World in its early days. I started with a few easy ones, proceeded through obscurities and new discoveries, but all through the process one of those really early music loops was seemingly lost forever.

I'm delighted to return with news that the last major 1970s music loop has been recovered, meaning we now have accurate background music for the whole of Magic Kingdom. That final missing piece of the puzzle was Frontierland, and it has quite a story behind its recovery.

Frontierland would seem, on the face of it, to suggest an obvious musical background. The logical choice to reach for is western movie themes, and that's what Disneyland and Disneyland Paris have done since the the 90s. But in the 1970s those films were still relatively recent, and may have been cost prohibitive to license.  Disney really only played movie tunes around its front entrance in those days, and so Jack Wagner had to decide what a "Frontierland" would sound like for Magic kingdom's opening in 1971.

You can hear the resulting odd mix of folk tunes for yourself; it survives as a direct tape said to come from Jack Wagner's collection, dated 1973, and probably preserved by Mike Cozart.

Frontierland 1971 (?) - 1975

01. Old Betsy [5]
02. Bile'em Cabbage Down [5]
03. Red Wing
04. Golden Slippers
05. Tangle Weed [4]
06. Swanee River
07. You Are My Sunshine
08. Tomahawk [4]
09. Down Yonder
10. Swinging Doors [1]
11. Love is Just a Four Letter Word [2]
12. Chicken Out (Joann's Theme) [3]
13. Buffalo Gals
14. Devil's Dream
15. Red River Valley
16. Old Joe Clark
17. Unknown
18. Red River Valley [5]
19.  Polly Polly Doodle [5]
20. Wabash Cannonball [5]

[1] The Buckaroos Play Buck and Merle by The Buckaroos
[2] Nashville Rock by Earl Scruggs
[3] Norwood: Music from the Motion Picture by Al De Lory
[4] Square Dance Tonight by Tommy Jackson
[5] "Mile Long Bar" BGM; George Bruns

OK, already there's some oddities to point out.

The first is the issue of the "Mile Long Bar" music, which is a can of worms all its own. This music was evidently overseen by George Bruns and was recorded in-house, at least partially with the Stoneman family (see my piece on the Country Bear Jamboree music here). It was then used in a variety of sources including the Mile Long Bar, Hungry Bear Restaurant at Disneyland, and certain tracks were issued on the Country Bear Jamboree LP from 1972.

For a long time, the six tracks released on the LP were the only ones known to exist, and since the LP itself calls out the tracks as being from the "Mile Long Bar at Walt Disney World", that's what we know it as. However, its' also become clear over the years that more than these six tracks were recorded for an unknown purpose, and no source for all of what was recorded seems to exist. In other words, I believe these tracks were recorded as background music, possibly for all of Frontierland. This would explain why Jack Wagner sprinkled them heavily into the loop he ended up creating.

And about that original loop - its fast, but not really high energy, and not very appealing. Honestly, my main motivation for not covering it when I covered all of the other Magic Kingdom loops was because I didn't like it and was holding out hope for the rediscovery of its predecessor. In the past on this blog I've suggested that early BGM with odd "tones" could possibly be due to Jack working mainly off concept art and descriptions before the opening of the park. That is just a theory, but it does make sense of Jack reaching for honky tonk piano music. There's a definite lack of a "Hollywood West" feeling in this loop, which is the sound and tone most are going to expect out of a Frontierland. 

There is one scrap of evidence of the music actually being played in park, which is this 1975 video of sound b-roll, in which Devil's Dream can be heard at 05:00:

However, with the introduction of expanded area music played throughout Magic Kingdom in 1975, Jack tried again. If there was any piece of early Magic Kingdom music I was ready to declare "lost media", it was this 39 minute 1975 atmosphere loop, and I'm incredibly pleased to finally be able to post it.

Frontierland 1975 - 1991

01. Farewell (to the Mountain) [1]
02. Bearless Love [1]
03. Bile 'Em Cabbage Down [1]
04. The Town and Country Square Dance [2] 
05. Western Saloon [3]
06. Blackberry Blossom [4]
07. Country Guitar [5]
08. Buffalo Girls [4]
09. Country and Western No. 1 [6]
10. Country and Western No. 2 [6]
11. Country and Western No. 3 [6]
12. Cripple Creek [4]
13. Country Banjo [5]
14. Country and Western No. 4 [6]
15. Country Harmonica [5]
16. Country and Western No. 5 [6]
17. Dusty Miller [4]
18. Buffalo Gal [7]
19. Country and Western No. 6 [6]
20. Flop Eared Mule [8]
21. East Tennessee Blues [4]
22. Evening Campfire [3]
23. Skip to My Lou* [9]

[1] Mile Long Bar BGM, George Bruns
[2] Town and Country Square Dances (Everest Records 1960)
[3] Media Music Release No. 2 - No. 4 Western Themes/Fun Marches by Ib Glindemann
[4] Square Dance Festival, Vol.1 by Tommy Jackson
[5] Media Music Release No. 7 - No. 5 - Solo Instruments by Henrik Nielsen**
[6] Media Music Release No. 6 - No. 8 - Special Occasions / Country & Western by Henrik Nielsen
[7] Country Honky Tonk Piano by The Nashville Four and "Slim" 88 Wilson
[8] Come On In! We're Pickin' and Singin' Folk Songs by The Wanderin' Five
[9] Instrumental Music Of The Southern Appalachians (Tradition Records, 1957)

* Edited to repeat a section, so the track is 0:00.658-1:03.615, then repeats 0:41.927-1:03.615, and finally repeats 0:41.927-0:43.728
** There are 30 second versions and 60 second versions recorded of all of the tracks on this record; the loop exclusively uses the 60 second versions.

I think this effort is a lot better. The whole thing seems to be structured around the square dance and Capitol Media Music tracks, and selections were made with an eye on keeping the energy levels high. Every so often the loop slows down for a solo or a more sedate selection, but never for long. Given that many of the Media Music tracks were intended for commercials and top out at a minute long, there isn't much time for anything to outstay its welcome.

I noted this difference when editing the second version of my Musical Souvenir audio project, and it's impressive. This music could still be playing in Frontierland today and not feel dated.

And is there a lot of weirdness to point out about this loop! Again it begins with Mile Long Bar music, except different selections, then proceeds through folk music from highly obscure sources. Jack Wagner had contacts at record companies all over Hollywood, and he must have worked overtime on this one to secure clearances on some of the cheapest music imaginable (for his masterpiece in this department check out That Infernal Swiss Music).

Tommy Jackson returns from the earlier loop, but from a different record. The tracks from this Tommy Jackson Square Dance Festival album would go on to be almost as much of a stalwart of Walt Disney World as Frontierland itself, being used in The Land pavilion and, most memorably to this author, as the "Country Bear Jamboree" music used in the "A Day at the Magic Kingdom" souvenir VHS.

And then there's the Capitol Media Music line, already covered in my piece on Tomorrowland's early music. The Henrik Nielsen "Country & Western" tracks still kick around the Disney ecosystem in places like Disneyland Paris. "Western Saloon" by Ib Glindemann played at the entrance to Disneyland's Frontierland all through the 70s and 80s. The Capitol tracks really help this loop feel more cinematic, which is really what Frontierland is about.

But it's "Evening Campfire" that will send many Gen Xers a-tingling, because it's the same track used in the 1970s "Mighty Dog" dog food commercials. It's this track that Mike Cozart remembered playing at Magic Kingdom, then again at Disneyland in the late 90s, which made it possible to recover this loop at all:

For a very, very long time this track was lost with no real hope of being found, so the story of how it appears here today is worth recounting. Frontierland 1975 was not one of the tracks preserved by Mike  before the death of Jack Wagner. Michael Sweeney and I had put together some observations based on home videos and had a handful identified tracks, but we knew we were on the right track due to Mike Cozart's recollection of "Evening Campfire".

Mike also recalled that this loop, or one very much like it, playing at Disneyland in the late 90s at a "Chip n Dale" meet and greet. Again, the defining song was "Evening Campfire". And there, it seems to pass out of history.


Flash forward to 2022, when MouseBits member Pixelated noted that at least something very similar to this "Chip n Dale" loop was playing inside the Golden Horseshoe. This allowed Aubrey at DLRmusicloops to get a full recording, which as it turns out exactly synched with the partial reconstruction Michael Sweeney had begun back in 2012. The only difference was a single track, "Home Sweet Home" instead of "Bile 'Em Cabbage Down".

Except, there was still one unknown track. It was found in higher quality in the collection of WaltsMusic, where it was labeled as part of a recording called "Mile Long Bar #4". This meant the unknown song was recorded by Disney and George Bruns, dashing hopes of locating it commercially. Finally, Disney music super guru DisneyChris jumped in with the right answer: it was "Farewell", from the Davy Crockett television series. This song was composed by George Bruns to fit an actual poem written by the real Davy Crockett.

And with that, the long lost music loop was recovered. If we count Mike Cozart noticing the loop playing at Disneyland in the late 90s, it took many Disney music nerds over multiple generations to put the pieces together over a span of almost thirty years. Remarkable.

Let me be clear here... this is not the end of the story. There are still lots of vintage pieces of background music that remain unrecovered, and likely, unrecoverable. Music played in restaurants, and shops, and resorts, and weird places like the Kennel that you wouldn't even think of. But in terms of music you would recognize and remember, we now have a full representation of Magic Kingdom from 1971 until the present day. Its amazing, and I'm honored to be have helped steward the musical legacy of this park in the way I have.