Talks & Interviews — November 20, 2009 at 4:46 am

David Hess: Elvis Presley sang my songs, I got paid off, and the rest is history

Today, the NY born David Hess is considered a cult actor. He’s got more than 30 film works behind his back, however people still remember him only for one movie – a horror flick “The Last House on the Left”, where a story centers around a murderous group of young psychopaths, led by Hess.

The film was shot back in the early 70’s, and was directed by then unknown Wes Craven (who went on to make such classic horror films as “The Hills Have Eyes”, “Swamp Thing” and “Nightmare on Elm Street”, as well as the “Scream” trilogy).

Not many people know, however, that David Hess started off as a musician. Professionally, Hess started writing his own music since 1957, and all this led to the fact that the King himself, Elvis Presley got interested in Hess’ music, and sung 3 songs written by the future actor. The songs became hits afterwards.

Later, in 1970, Hess (along with another composer) wrote a rock-opera “The Naked Carmen”, which not only received Grammy award but also was a hit at the “Week of Berlin Ballet” the same year. Hess then almost completely switched to film, sometimes performing as a composer. Check out my interview with Mr. Hess below.


Mr Hess, you are considered as a music artist as much as an actor. You actually started out as a music performer, and your first hit was later credited to Elvis Presley. How did that happen?

Started out writing at an early age and was discovered by Perry Como, who sent me to his lawyer, who, in turn, sent me to Al Nevins of ‘The Three Sons’.  After that it was just a matter of being in the right place at the right time.  I carried my guitar with me, so I was always ready to play at a moments notice.

As far as ‘All Shook Up’, the title came from a real set of circumstances and when I decided not to write it, Otis Blackwell did and I had the first recording for Alladin Records.  It was my title, but Otis wrote the song and Presley took a writing credit in order to get him to record it.  That’s the way things happened in those days.  I got paid off and the rest is history.

To this day, people remember you as an onscreen villain, and «Last House on the Left» is the most vivid example. How were you involved with the film?

My sisters boyfriend at the time…Martin Kove, got me involved.  I was doing an Off-Broadway show, writing songs, playing Rugby and finishing school, so I wasn’t much thinking about any new projects.  Again, it was strictly a matter of circumstance and being right for the role.

Were you asked to write the soundtrack to the movie as well? Or it was simply because there was no need for a composer since you were around?

I think it was a combination of both.  Wes knew my music, so I was a logical choice to do the soundtrack, since I was on set pretty much throughout the whole shoot.  I wrote most of the main themes on set and then worked on them as the film was being edited.  We did our recording at Electric Lady Land in Greenwich Village.  Funny thing is that the studio belonged to Jimmy Hendrix at the time and the back up musicians were Harry Chapin’s Band.  His brother, Steve, did most of the orchestrations although we jammed a lot.  I’ve had many recordings and film use on the score over the years, especially ‘Wait For The Rain’.

Harry Chaipin was a very famous singer back in the late 60’s. His brother Steve did all his arrangements. He also did most of the orchestrations for the ‘Last House’ score. ‘jammed a lot’ means that we improvised music off of the ‘main themes’ which had already been written. Most of the ‘jamming’ was built into the sound track when the film was being readied for the final mix. Hope this explains!!!

In the late 80s you made a few movies in Italy, and worked with a worldwide known Italian director Ruggero Deodato twice. What was the difference making movies in America, and in Italy? Was the approach different?

Very different. The Italians are much more laid back and don’t take themselves as seriously. You had fun while filming and that was the whole point. Ruggero and I are still good friends.

Mr Hess, you have only a single credit as a director which is «To All a Good Night», which was made back in the 80s. Why no directorial work since then?

No real reason, I just haven’t pursued it.  I expect to direct a film in Canada sometime next spring.  It’s about time, isn’t it?

What are the future plans for David Hess, the actor? Since you have established yourself in a horror genre, maybe you would try yourself in another genre?

Well that’s going to happen whether I like it or not since my newest film ‘Smash Cut’ is so fusion that I’m getting all sorts of offers for different kinds of roles.  I’ll never forget my beginnings, but it’s good to make a change.  It breaks the mold, the perception and that’s what we’re all about, essentially.  So look for me next year to be in something entirely different and there’s always the new film I’ll be directing.

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