By Walter Carter

It takes a special talent, and sometimes even a special instrument, to create the sounds that enhance the action on a TV screen - such as Paris Hilton falling off a horse and landing on her rear end. For that particular scene in the opening episode of the second season of "The Simple Life" (June 16), score composer Roger Neill found just the right sound in his Epiphone Airscreamer guitar.

Neill had an Airscreamer handy because an Airstream trailer is featured on the show this season, and Epi sent the show's producers a guitar, which looks like the famous recreational trailer. Neill snagged the guitar after seeing it in the show's production office.

"It functions perfectly well as a guitar," he said. "It took me a while to figure out that you have to pull on the wheel of the Airstream to get it to change pickups. The pickups sound great. It's a really good, high-powered sound. The neck is nice. It has a nice look to it."

To get the right sound for Paris hitting the ground was not as easy as it might seem, Neill explained. "It's tricky. You want it to be sort of funny, but Paris Hilton did fall off a horse and get hurt." He came up with a guitar chord that goes out of tune all of a sudden, and he also did a second part in open tuning using a slide.

The guitar is Neill's main instrument in creating the score. "Unlike most of my work," he explains, "we do nothing that uses samplers. I do it in my own studio with Jeff Edwards, (Pictured left with Roger.) who's credited on the show for 'additional music,' and between the two of us we play everything. It's usually conventional country-rock and bluegrass instruments - guitars, Dobro, banjo. Sometimes we'll grab off-the-wall things like spoons, fiddle - which can only play one note - odd percussion instruments." (For the gear-heads, Neill plugs his guitar into a Langevin mic preamp, to a Line 6 Pod Pro and then straight into his computer.)

Neill is probably the only professional guitarist, spoonist and one-note fiddle player with a Ph.D. His formal training began at age 10 in San Diego, when he started playing the flute. "The moment I picked up the instrument I showed I could play music," he said. "I started writing pretty quickly, and my folks got me into piano." The universal motivation for playing guitar kicked in a few years later. "Around seventh grade, I realized that playing flute and piano was not going to cut it with the girls, so I started playing guitar seriously in bands. I was always the guy playing keyboards and guitar."

He continued to play classical music, too, and he auditioned for the music school at the University of Southern California on the flute, later changing his major to composition. He also picked up some experience in film scoring from working with students at USC's film school. After graduation he took temporary jobs for six months at Fox and Paramount movie studios, where he hung around composers and scoring sessions, but when the opportunity came to study music at Harvard, it was an offer he couldn't pass up.

On the way to a doctorate, he won a Pete Carpenter Fellowship, named after the late Hollywood composer best known for co-writing the themes to "The Rockford Files" and "The A-Team." The fellowship brought young composers to Los Angeles, and by the time Neill returned to Harvard to finish his degree, he was sure he'd rather write music than talk about it. He wrote a few letters and got an invitation to work for Carpenter's writing partner Mike Post. Two weeks after arriving in L.A. in 1992, he was working on the score of the "Silk Stockings" series.

The producers of "The Simple Life" knew of Neill's guitar-based work on "King of the Hill" and thought he would be the right composer for their show. As Neill recalled, "They just said, 'We're in Arkansas. Can you write banjo music?" I said, 'Sure.' I made a number of demo pieces that were more like signature pieces for the show."

For the second season, Neill created most of the music ahead of time and filled in the ”cues” for unforeseen events after filming. That has left him time to work on a variety of other projects, including the score for the film Friday Night Lights (starring Billy Bob Thornton), a new commercial for Lifesavers and The Beastly Bombing of the Brooklyn Bridge, a “politically scandalous” piece of musical theater written in the 1890s comic operetta style of Gilbert & Sullivan (Pirates of Penzance).

As for the Epi Airscreamer, "Presently it's just on display in a prominent place in my studio," Neill said, just waiting for Paris' next fall.

Be sure to watch the first episode of the new season of "The Simple Life-2" on June 16th on FOX TV. Not only will you get to follow celebutantes and best friends Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie as they pack up their Louis Vuitton bags for the ultimate cross country road trip but you also might get to see them with the new Epiphone Airscreamer electric guitar.

 


The lovely Paris with Airscreamer.

 


Nicole autographs a few Airscreamers.

 


The girls pose with Aiscreamers. For your chance to win one...CLICK HERE!