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Meet Dennis Tenney: The Monster Music Maestro

Gory Greetings my fellow horrorphiles! Welcome to another interview screamer with your Horror Host Slaughter Cin, She-Wolf Empress of Gore! My next gruesome guest is a real treat for all you music driven monsters out there. He’s the ghoul behind some of your favorite classic horror film soundtracks and scores. Now, let’s get started on this meeting of the Macabre! The full moon is approaching soon, and I wouldn’t want to eat my guest before you meet him.

1. Please introduce yourself and tell us what you do?

I am Dennis Michael Tenney, born in Dublin, California (Alameda County) May 21st, 1957 to Chief Master Sargent Christopher Joseph Tenney and Juanita Lucille Tenney. One older brother, Kevin Sullivan Tenney, 18 months my senior (Who was born in Hawaii). I picked up a guitar as a freshman in high school and learned “Who'll Stop the Rain” by Credence Clearwater Revival. Never looked back... that lead to becoming a career musician/composer.

2. How long have you worked in music?

I started out at 15 years of age playing light rock, country, folk, and pop with a friend at the Travis Air Force Base Non-Commissioned Officers Club (NCO Club). He played guitar and was a really good singer, I sang a little and played really good guitar. We played most every Friday and Saturday from 4:00 to 8:00 and got paid $500.00 a night! For years I was making $500 a week working 8 hours in 1974. That was $2,000 a month for 32 hours of work. A 15 year old kid making $62.50 an hour in 1974 dollars. You'd have to understand how the separate government agencies do their accounting. Spend it, or loose it for the next fiscal year. I asked myself, “Why would I ever do anything else”? I toured with a variety of bands for years after that. Alaska, Hawaii, Western USA, Japan, opened for Molly Hatchet, Y&T, Night Ranger, Eddie Money, Graham Nash, Greg Kihn, to name a few.

3. What inspired you to be a musician/composer?

Being a musician was a no-brainer. Make money, see the world, have fun and, the chicks dug it. My brother made home movies in high school. I mean hour long epic spy stories with exploding cars and death defying stunts, sync sound, and music scores. I, being the most available to him, as I lived in the room next door, was always a major character in his films. I also scored them with guitar, with the help of one of my guitar mentors, Jesse Barber. After Kevin graduated from USC (where he won an Emmy for his film “The Book of Joe”) he got the chance to make a feature film of his script “Ouija”. Known to y'all (due to threats from Parker Brothers Games, Inc.) as “Witchboard”. He asked me to score it, for “money” this time. And the ball kept rolling from there.

4. When did you start working in film? How did you come about landing your first gig?

My first gig in film was as a set Production Assistant (PA) on Witchboard. The Art Department head (Sarah Burdick) hired me because I needed a job. We were friends beforehand. Then after it wrapped, I scored it. Mom said Kevin had to hire me. Thanks Mom!

5. Can you name some of the films you’ve worked on?

Witchboard 1+2, Leprechaun 3+4, Night of the Demons 1+3, Brain Dead, Tick Tock, Demolition University, Pinocchio's Revenge, Peace Maker, Witchtrap, The Book of name some of the ones that I like. There's more, but I'm not tellin'.

6. Where do you draw your inspiration from?

A great producer once told me, “Dennis... good musicians borrow. Great musicians steel. His point was, “Do not reinvent the wheel”. I draw from those who went before. I did a western called “The Law at Randado”, and I just listened to a bunch of Aaron Copeland CD's before I started.

7. Can you explain the difference between “scoring vs source music"?

That's a really good question. I think a lot of people get this one mixed up. But in a nutshell, if the characters in the film can hear it (on the radio, TV, in an elevator or bar) it's considered “source” music. That is, there is a source in the film from where the music is coming. The “Score” is intended solely for the audience. However, they can change hats. It is not uncommon to have a piece of source music turn into score, or vice versa. Music may start on a car radio, and as the camera pulls back the “phutz” (an EQ setting making the music seem thinner) is removed, the stereo image is expanded and it becomes part of the score.

8. Are there any special techniques or methods in regards to sound/audio/mixing that you feel was the most unique to your style on a film?

Not really. You work with the tools you have. On Night of the Demons I had a Yamaha DX-7 rack and a Roland drum machine and a crappy first generation sequencer. On Night of the Demons 3, I had several Roland S-770 Samplers, several Roland Synths and an amazingly advanced (for the time) sequencer.