Hugo Montenegro earned the moniker “The Quad father” in the early 1970s as a pioneering composer for quadrasonic recording. He rose to recognition through his work as a film and television composer and introduced the use of synthesizers to movie and television soundtracks.
Montenegro was born in New York in 1925. He began his music career during his two years in the U.S. Navy, where he arranged music for Service bands. After the Navy, Hugo Montenegro studied composition at the Manhattan College in New York. Once he graduated, he decided to work in the music industry. In 1955, he worked with Andre Kostelanetz as a staff manager. He went on to serve as both a conductor and arranger for several artists, including Henry Belefonte.
During the mid-1960s, Montenegro moved to California, where he began composing and recording music for film and television. He released the soundtracks Original Music from “The Man from UNCLE” and More Music from “The Man from UNCLE” in 1966. The following year, he wrote the musical score for the Otto Preminger film Hurry Sundown starring Michael Caine and Jane Fonda.
The same year, Hugo Montenegro released the record that would launch his name and cement his popularity. His recording of Ennio Morricone’s theme for the “spaghetti western” The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood, climbed to number two on the U.S. charts and became number one in the U.K., selling well over a million copies. Arthur Smith played the ocarina, and Muzzy Marcellino provided the whistling. The theme included some unusual instruments for the time, such as the electric violin, electric harmonica, and a piccolo trumpet. “The instrumental contrasted with Montenegro’s big romantic sound, and the effects were startling,” one writer commented in The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Montenegro later released Music from “A Fistful of Dollars” & “For a Few Dollars More” & “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly,” a compilation of music from the three movies, which made the Top 10 albums in the U.S. in 1966. He also provided the score for Matt Helm’s film The Ambushers starring Dean Martin.
Montenegro wrote the theme and soundtrack for Hang ‘Em High in 1969, another Clint Eastwood western that attempted to match the style of the “spaghetti” originals. During the same year, Montenegro either contributed to the score or wrote the entire soundtrack for four other films: Matt Helm’s The Wrecking Crew, starring Dean
For the Record…
Born in 1925 in New York, NY; died of emphysema, February 6, 1981, in Palm Springs, CA; married; wife’s name, Cathy; two children. Education: Graduated from Manhattan College in musical composition.
Began music career arranging bands for the U.S. Navy; entered the music industry as director, arranger, and composer, 1955; moved to California in the mid-1960s; composed and recorded music for film and television, 1966-1980; released first quadrasonic pop album, Love Theme from the Godfather, 1972.
Martin; a Western with Elvis Presley called Charrol: The Undefeated, featuring John Wayne; and Viva Max! In addition, Montenegro released his own album on RCA Victor called Moog Power —the first in a series of “space-age” pop stylings.
Hugo Montenegro made his mark on the future of film music in 1972 with his work in quadrasonic recording. The technique, an early version of surround sound, involved recording for four speakers instead of two so that the listener would hear sounds from the front and back, as well as left and right. RCA Records wanted a pop quadrasonic album to debut at the International Music Industry Conference that year in Acapulco, Mexico. When the label asked Montenegro to write and produce it, he began to do research into psychoacoustics. He had realized the potential of quadrasonic sound the very first time he heard an example of it. He believed he could use the technique to create a complete circle of sound, motion in every direction, as well as a feeling of spaciousness.
Montenegro studied with Dr. Archer Michael, who helped him gain an understanding of how the ear and the brain process interact to “create” sound. Montenegro began recording the album for RCA, but wasn’t happy with the quadrophonic medium until he met with RCA’s Red Seal division executive producer Jack Pfieffer, who had a background in electronics. Pfieffer explained the technical aspects of the four-channel recording process along with the concept of ambiance.
“It wasn’t until the end of my research at RCA that I found Jack Pfieffer, and he told me why I felt gaps in the music,” Montenegro told Eliot Tiegel in Billboard. “He began expounding concepts and words new to me. The problem was I wasn’t aware of psychoacoustics and how people react and perceive sound phenomenon around them.”
After he went back to the recording process to test and experiment with his new knowledge, Montenegro discovered the tricks and techniques to composing music for quadrasonic sound. His work resulted in the first ever four-channel pop album, Love Theme from the Godfather. The title of the album became the source of his new nickname “The Quadfather. “The LP included the tracks “Norwegian Wood,” “I Feel the Earth Move,” and “Baby Elephant Walk.” Montenegro soon communicated his discoveries to other producers and composers interested in the quadrasonic process. He had set the stage for the future of surround sound. “The new generation of electronics oriented musicians will have it easier than we did,” Montenegro told Tiegel in Billboard.
The year after releasing Love Theme from the Godfather, JVC, a manufacturer of the four-channel system, asked Montenegro to come to Japan to promote the quadrasonic concept. He went on to produce other quadrasonic albums, including Neil’s Diamonds, a collection of covers of Neil Diamond’s hits. In the 1970s and early 1980s Montenegro continued to write, arrange, and produce music for film and television. He provided music for the film The Farmer in 1977, and wrote background music for I Dream of Jeannie and The Partridge Family television shows.
Toward the end of his life, Hugo Montenegro fought with emphysema. RCA released a compilation of his work in 1980, The Best of Hugo Montenegro, and his final LP Plays for Lovers came out in 1981. Montenegro lost the fight with his lung condition and died on February 6, 1981. Yet, his prolific compositions for film and his mark on the future of sound recording have established him as an enduring figure in the history of modern music.
Original Music from “The Man from UNCLE,” RCA Victor, 1966.
More Music from “The Man from UNCLE,” RCA Victor, 1966.
Hurry Sundown, RCA Victor, 1967.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly RCA Victor, 1968.
Music from “A Fistful of Dollars” & “For A Few Dollars More” & “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, “RCA Victor, 1968.
Hang Em High, RCA Victor, 1969.
Moog Power, RCA Victor, 1969.
Love Theme from the Godfather, RCA Records, 1972.
The Best of Hugo Montenegro, RCA Records, 1980.
Plays for Lovers, RCA Records, 1981.
The Guinness Encyclopedia of Popular Music, edited by Colin Larkin, Stockton Press, 1995.
Billboard, August 5, 1972; August 4, 1973; February 21, 1981.
International Musician, April 1981.
Newsweek, February 16, 1981.
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