Gravitation Generator: Gary Calamar On Dexter, Wilfred, Record Store Days & West Side Story’s Continued Significance

Gary Calamar, President of Go Music, is a five time Grammy-nominated producer and music supervisor who currently oversees the music on HBO’s True Blood, Showtime’s Dexter, and a personal favorite, FX’s Wilfred. Past credits include HBO’s Six Feet Under and Entourage, amongst too many others to mention. An longtime DJ and show host for keenly influential radio station KCRW, Calamar also co-wrote Record Store Days (with Phil Gallo), a historical document of record store culture past and present.

As Calamar has been a staple in the music community, I first ran across his name years ago in order to make sure he was getting music by the artists I was handling (i.e. Clem Snide, The Klezmatics, The Apples in stereo and most recently Lost In The Trees). After a meeting with him and his Go Music partner, Alyson Vidoli, Calamar was the first KCRW DJ to play Lost In The Trees, which from my point of view was one of many actions clumped together that led directly to the band’s record deal with Anti- Records.

Dan Efram: You grew up so close to The City in Yonkers. Is there one specific, unique and lasting NYC memory from your childhood that comes to mind? What was your impetus for moving West?
Gary Calamar: It’s more of a record store story vs. a concert story. Here is an Excerpt from Record Store Days:

“I’ve always loved record stores. My first visit was a turning point for me. Flash back to 1964…

My brother was three years older than me, and clearly ahead of his time. By age 12, Ronny had a firm handle on the hippest, most happening sounds exploding from the ’60s pop music scene. Sitting around the breakfast table, he would regale me with tales of The Spinning Disc, a record store he would visit in the Bronx. I pictured a gilded palace of song…Ronny would regularly return home from The Spinning Disc with a single (or LP!) by an exciting new artist such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Marianne Faithfull, The Beach Boys, or The Zombies. He’d slap it on the family stereo and BANG!

See, in those days, our mother allowed Ronny to travel, via bus and subway, from our Yonkers apartment to the Bronx. Unfortunately, I was deemed too young to adventure in such a fashion. But one Saturday morning Ronny decided my day had come. It was time to make a man out of this eight-year-old! Sneaking down the fire escape, Ronny led me to the subway station and into a brave new world! It was my first subway ride and my first visit to The Spinning Disc! I was thrilled and a little scared…

Walking through the door of The Spinning Disc, I could not believe my eyes or my ears.  The store’s walls were plastered with countless colorful album and single sleeves. Promo posters showed longhaired boys in outrageous outfits gripping electric guitars!!! The store’s record player blasted “Glad All Over” by The Dave Clark Five. Some cool-looking teenager with Beatle-bangs was ignoring me from behind the counter. My whole world fell away.


After flipping through the singles racks, and agonizing between so many choices, I made my very first record purchase: “All Day and All of the Night” b/w ”I Gotta Move” by The Kinks on Reprise records. Absolutely amazing !

IN 1978 a bunch of my Yonkers friends were planning to move out to Los Angels to try and get in to television production work. I was between jobs and girlfriends at the time so I thought I would go with them to check it out but I assumed it would be a short trip for me. Long story short, I ended getting a job at Licorice Pizza Record Store as a manager trainee fell in love with Los Angeles and while all my buddies moved back to New York.”  – Record Store Days

DE: I read that musicals had a big influence. Were you a fan of West Side Story? My favorite song is “Officer Krupke”? 

GC: I LOVED West Side Story and happy to say I’ve passed that on to my 11 year old daughter. I was captivated by the music from the very beginning of the movie. Leornard Bernstein’s score over the prologue brought me right in to that school yard and when I was emulating The Jets and The Sharks at PS 25 in Yonkers and I had no idea that I was “dancing.” I also loved the Jet Song and The Quintet was absolutely amazing to me.


DE: Legend has it that the aforementioned Licorice Pizza was named after an Abbott and Costello line. What are some of your favorite comedies?

I did love Abbott and Costello although I’m not sure if they came up with that Licorice Pizza bit. I also loved all the the sitcoms growing up….Get Smart, Beverly Hillbillies, F-Troop, Addams Family, Green Acres, etc. I was very excited when they would have rock related episodes. Chad and Jeremy on Dick Van Dyke, The Standells on The Munsters. They would all have their rock related episodes at some point. I also remember seeing the early Richard Pryor on Ed Sullivan and thought he was super cool.


DE: Did it ever occur that you would someday co-author something like Record Store Days? Which are your favorite local music retailers these days?

No, I never really thought about it when I was younger. I have always just put one foot in front of the other and luckily I’ve ended up in some great places.

For better or worse, technology leads the way. It’s sad that the record stores are slowly fading away but there are still some great ones that are holding on and doing very well. Just this weekend two of my favorite local stores are having some fun promotions… Freakbeat in Sherman Oaks and Fingerprints in Long Beach. It provides a great sense of musical community… but I must say I also love the convenience of ITunes and other digital music sources.

DE: We were both born on Friday the 13th! Have you ever met anyone with Paraskevidekatriaphobia (an irrational fear of this date)? Does your birthday give you unique insights into working with quirky scripts like “Wilfred,” “True Blood,” and “Dexter”? Would you share some of your favorite placements?

HA! I don’t know that being born on Friday the 13th has given me any special connection to these bloody and quirky shows. I am very blessed to work on these high quality shows with very talented people and of course that is what I prefer….but as a working music supervisor I’m open to anything, high brow or low. Whatever pays the bills. My baby goes through lot’s of shoes.

Some of my favorite placements that I am very proud of are:

I’d Love To Change The World” by Ten Years After and “Papa Loves Mambo” by Perry Como from my very first project Slums of Beverly Hills. These gave me a lot of confidence and I started thinking to myself…“hey, I can do this.”

Sia “Breathe Me” from Six Feet Under. I think I will have this playing from my tombstone when people walk by. I’ll have to get the rights of course.

Peter Gabriel doing Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage from House. A beautiful scene that Mr. Gabriel loved as well.

In television I am mostly working with the producer and the writer of the show vs. the director. It’s all a collaboration. I am the filter and present songs to them and decisions are made. Everybody is a music lover and expert so everybody has an opinion. It’s especially gratifying when when a personal favorite is picked and it often works out that way….but not always.

Yes, the actors and the crew, …and my next door neighbor for that matter, are always suggesting songs for the shows and I do my best to listen and consider them. I am always reminding people that just because the word “blood” is in the title doesn’t man that it’s perfect for True Blood.

Watch his Amoeba Music “What’s In My Bag?” video. 

[youtube] [/youtube]

+ + +