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Interview: Thom Pace, Singer/Writer of the “Grizzly Adams” Theme Song
On the show's popularity, writing music for television and film, and more!
One of my favorite trips to down nostalgia lane is whenever someone brings up the topic of classic television-show theme songs. As one can probably guess from reading my Sean Coleman novels, I was childhood couch potato in the 70s and 80s, at a time when television-producers still placed a lot of value on quality, catchy, and endearing intro music. Theme songs were a big part of TV-shows back then, often only second in brand-recognition to the actors and actresses (and in some cases, their vehicles).
I have lots of favorite theme songs, from infectious sitcom jingles like “Diff'rent Strokes” and The Jeffersons’ “Moving on Up”, to the slick instrumentals leading off popular detective shows like The Rockford Files and Magnum P.I.
But a standout among them is a song that, perhaps better than any other, captured the theme and naturalistic tone of its series. I’m talking about “Maybe” from The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams, which ran for two seasons in the late 1970s.
The show (and the feature-film that launched it) starred first-time lead-actor, Dan Haggerty, a former bodybuilder and stuntman, whose unique look and background as an animal-handler won him the title role of Grizzly Adams, a man who fled to the mountain wilderness in the mid 1800s after being accused a murder he didn’t commit. The show was very family-friendly, with heavy emphasis on themes like compassion, kindness, and gratitude. Plus, it was chock-full of cool animals, and amusing exchanges between mountain-man trader “Mad Jack" (Denver Pyle, aka “Uncle Jesse” from The Dukes of Hazzard) and his notoriously stubborn mule, “Number Seven".
Each week, the chorus of “Maybe” followed Adams’ origin-story. But a much better sampling of the song came at the end of the episodes, as the camera panned across the gorgeous mountain landscapes that served as the show’s backdrop.
Someone on YouTube conveniently edited the two parts together:
Deep inside the forest
Is a door into another land
Here is our life and home
We are staying, here forever
In the beauty of this place all alone
We keep on hoping
It’s a beautiful song with beautiful lyrics, and it seemed almost tailor-made for a show about a recluse’s profound relationship with nature, including his kinship with a gentle grizzly bear named Ben.
The man behind the tune is Thom Pace, a singer-songwriter from Pocatello, Idaho. Under the Capitol Records label in 1980, he released “Maybe” on a full-length album along with more of his work. As a radio single, the song found international, award-winning success.
I became acquainted with Thom on Twitter a while back, and reached out to him the other day to see if he might be generous enough to do an interview with me for the “Daly Grind” newsletter. I wanted to ask him about the success and pop-culture importance of “Maybe”, as well as about some of his other work in music, television, and film. I was very excited when he said yes, and I hope you all enjoy our conversation below as much as I did.
John: Thom, thank you so much for doing this. I really appreciate it. My brother and I grew up watching Grizzly Adams, so I’ve found myself singing and humming your song on occasion for a few decades now. But before we get to that part of your career, I wanted to go back further, and ask about your music background. Around what age did you begin to form an interest in music, and when did you start performing and writing your own?
Thom: Well first of all John, thank you for the interview. I am always surprised how many people still tell me that they liked the movie and the TV series. I’m glad the series had a part of your life.
I have always seemed to love music. My family noticed when I was very young, I would sit on the floor with this portable record player and move back and forth to the beat of whatever I was listening to. When I was seven years old, my mother asked if I wanted a piano to take music lessons. I tentatively said I did, so I got the piano. I didn’t particularly like practicing, but she made sure I did. I took 18 years of classical piano, getting a firm foundation in music.
When I was in junior high school, I also found out I could listen to a record and pick out the chords and learn to play the song. When I was in the ninth grade, I wrote my first song about a car, of all things. It was called “Pontiac 2+2”. It was supposed to be about a Pontiac GTO but a group called the Rip Chords already had the gall to beat me to the title so I just used another Pontiac.
Anyway, I was in my first band as a sophomore in high school and started writing all the time. We of course played school dances and anywhere they would have us. I wrote the theme song for the group called The Strangers, and also wrote my first love song about a girl named “Marsha.” Typical high school stuff, but it was the start of a long career in something I loved.
I was in quite a few bands through the years, and spent many days and miles on the road with 3 piece and 5 piece bands, and eventually as a duo with a drummer. The duo was the last of the road gigs, but playing in Salt Lake City was what started my career, as they wanted someone to write a song about a guy and a bear. That’s how I wrote the theme for the original movie, but it wasn’t “Maybe”. It was a song called “Wear The Sun In Your Heart.” “Maybe” came later.
John: I mentioned that “Maybe” felt like it was tailor-made for the Grizzly Adams, but from what I’ve read, that wasn’t the case. It was originally intended for a screen production, but not that one. Can you talk about what inspired you to write the song, and how it ended up as the iconic theme of Grizzly Adams?
Thom: After writing the theme song for the original Grizzly Adams movie, I was approached by another producer who was doing a movie originally called “The Snow Tigers” about two Siberian Tigers who had lost their home due to dwindling forests. I decided to write a song from their point of view about a place where they would be safe and free again. I wrote “Maybe” for them.
The producer liked the song, but they decided to go full classical instrumental music, so he did not use the song. However, Chuck Sellier, the producer of Grizzly Adams, heard it a little later and thought that it would be a good song for the ending of the movie.
Later when I was playing in a club in Alaska, my manager called and said that Sun Classic Pictures wanted to use “Maybe” for the new Grizzly Adams television series. After much discussion, they used it and it worked well for the opening each week.
What is not generally known is that it has three verses instead of two, and the only recording with all three verses is a live Reggae version on iTunes that I recorded in 2010. I owe a lot to the two tigers, Terek and Lyka, for inspiring me.
John: Because “Maybe” became such a big part of the Grizzly Adams brand, I’m curious if you ever had occasion to hang out with some of the show’s stars, like Dan Haggerty, Denver Pyle, or heck maybe even Ben (“Bozo”) the bear. And if you did, what were they like, and can you share a fun story or two?
Thom: I met Dan while I was living in Los Angeles, and actually Dan contacted me. He heard I was now doing a Capitol Records album called “Maybe.” RSO would not commit to an album, since they just wanted to capitalize with the single and the series. Capitol gave the go ahead for an album, so we went into the studio again. Anyway, I told Dan that I would let him know when the album came out, and I delivered it to him when he was living in Malibu. He told me to come to a party he was having, so I arrived at the street gate to his house to be confronted by two huge bodyguards. He forgot to put my name on the list, but he came to the gate when he saw me and everything was fine then.
I never met him when he was filming the original movie in Park City Utah, but Chuck Sellier did get me up on the mountain while they were filming, and I did meet Bozo. Her trainer was there working on a few scenes, so it was a great experience.
I had kept in touch with Dan ever since Malibu, and he came to Coeur d’Alene to be in a celebrity softball tournament and called me to let me know when he would be here. We didn’t have much time to spend together, but it was great seeing him then.
The last time I saw him, he was in Coeur d’Alene again, getting some business done with the Grizzly Adams Organization who handled a lot of the publicity at the time. We got to spend many more hours together that time over dinner and drinks. He was still the wonderful man I remembered. He was exactly like his character in the series. He was one of a kind, and that was the last time I saw him. He passed away a few years after that.
John: I’ve noticed that some of the more unique American pop-culture brands tend to find an even larger audience overseas. Grizzly Adams and your song seem to have been particularly popular in Germany. “Maybe” spent nine weeks at number one on the German charts, and even won “best song” at 1980’s Goldene Europa awards (Germany’s version of the Grammys). It also landed quite well in the UK and Australia. Did you have any idea, when you wrote that song, the kind of global success and recognition it had the potential to one day find?
Thom: Well, it seems that sometimes things just come together. It came together for me when RSO Records released the single in Europe. NBC was getting letters daily about the theme song, so Don Perry, who was the music coordinator for the series, suggested we record a more radio friendly version of the song and try to get a singles deal. RSO Records picked it up immediately since they figured they could make some quick money while the series was on.
RSO flew me to London to do a couple of TV programs like “Top Of The Pops” and the “Val Doonican Show.” It was number 14 in England at that time.
After I got back from England, my manager called and said that RSO was going to give me a gold record for the sales in Germany. Yes, I was number one on the German charts for nine weeks. I also did appearances in Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy.
The experience of all this was one I’ll never forget. I got into music because I liked it. I never once got into music to make money or be famous. I just liked playing music and it is so nice to be able to make a living doing what you love. When I heard that it was number one in Germany, I had a hard time believing it. I am so thankful that there were enough people that liked what I did.
John: You went on to write music for other television and film projects. Can you list a few of them, and talk about which ones you’re most proud of?
Thom: During and after Grizzly Adams, I would hear from Don Perry occasionally when he or someone he knew was looking for songs that would be played in movies or a TV special. I remember he called me about one called “Night of the Comet”. It was a science fiction story that eventually became an actual cult classic. Don got three of my songs in it for me: “I’ll Take the Blame”, “Virgin In Love”, and “King County Woman”. I recorded vocals on the first two, and then Doug Kershaw, the “Ragin’ Cajun”, sang “King County Woman” and did a great job. We had a good time recording with Doug and his fiddle. I still love his autobiographical song he wrote in the early sixties called “Louisiana Man” that became a hit and was recorded by lots and lots of people.
I had, I think, three or four songs on an NBC Movie of the Week called “Vestige of Honor” with Gerald McRaney, which was an excellent story.
One of my favorite songs was included in another NBC Movie of the Week called “Can You Feel Me Dancing” with Justine and Jason Bateman. It is called “Part of You”, and it is still very popular on Spotify and iTunes. It is one of my favorite songs I wrote, and I’m glad it continues to be liked. It was on my album “Not In Compliance”.
John: I was excited when I found your 1980 album at a record store a while back, and Spotify has helped me catch up with your newer work, including 2002’s “Not in Compliance” and 2018’s “Come Down Hard (Youth Rising).” I’ve certainly enjoyed it, and I’m curious how you would describe your music to someone who’s never heard it. For me, its light one is a little hard to pin down genre-rise. I’d almost compare some of it to John Denver’s work. Denver, of course, experimented with number of genres.
Thom: You know that since I was writing music, I would write whatever came to mind, and sometimes they were really hard to classify. Of course, I wrote country, rock, and in between, but there were some songs that I just couldn’t put in a category, and neither could the record companies. If you didn’t fit a certain genre that was popular at the time, then they really passed on you in the business. I think one of the worst things that happened in the industry was when they started to put all songs in a category like country, rock, reggae, adult alternative. Who exactly came up with adult alternative? Anyway, when I was growing up I remember always checking the top 10 on the charts. In one chart I remember there was The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Elvis, The Beach Boys, and other totally different artists, but they were all on the same chart. If they were good, they were in the top 10, and it didn’t matter what kind of music they were playing.
It’s funny you should mention John Denver. I have been compared to him quite a bit, and I appreciate the comparison.
There could have been a lot worse comparisons, for sure.
When I submitted demos to other artists at one point, I remember I wrote what I thought was a pretty good country song. The critique came back and actually said that they had no idea what “category” it belonged to. Sometimes there is no imagination in record executives. It has been that way forever, I think.
So, in a roundabout way to your question John, I would really not know how to describe my music, other than soft hard country rock reggae progressive Thom Pace. So, are you as confused as I have been all my life? Great! I’m not the only one then.
John: You hinted in an email exchange we had that you kind of keep a low profile these days. Are you retired from music at this point, or is music something that a lifelong songwriter and performer like yourself never really “retires” from?
Thom: I can probably speak for many musicians in that one never actually retires from music. I definitely don’t do a lot of performances any more other than a few benefit appearances, but I still write and always work on new recordings. I have always loved to perform for my fans and I so appreciate their loyalty and enjoyment, but I have gotten so I just like to be creating in the studio. Of course sometimes I miss the interaction with the audience and also the electricity of a great performance, but I think those days are mostly behind me.
I now enjoy the recording part of music, and I always enjoy seeing how a new song is received in the real world when it is released.
John: Thom, thanks again for taking the time to do this interview. It was a real treat for me, and I wish you a great 2023. Is there anything else you’d like to say, in closing, to Daly Grind readers?
Thom: I appreciate you asking me for an interview, John. It has been quite a while since I have had a chance for one. I have very much enjoyed it. I’m glad that you have taken time out from your book writing to do these interviews. It has been fun!
I want to thank all your readers who enjoyed this interview. I hope some of you will enjoy my music whenever you can, and I will continue to write new ideas and record them for you. After all, I am only semi-retired in this business. Thanks again.
The Tooth is Loose!
Last week, Sugartooth (the ridiculously awesome rock band I’ve written about in this newsletter before) released the first video off their upcoming album, “Volume 3.” The song is called “I've Been What You Become”, and it is… fantastic.
This is the first new music the band has put out in over 25 years, and I’m pretty sure we’re not worthy. That said, do yourself a favor and give it a listen anyway, and please share the video on your social media accounts.
(Contrary to what the screen-cap below may suggest, Marc was not injured during the filming of the video).
Obligatory Dog Story
Have you picked up your copy of RESTITUTION?
Interested in a signed copy? You can order one (or five) here.
Already read and enjoyed it? I’d love if you could leave a review for the book on Amazon.
Regular Features Will Return Next Week
Due to the length of this week’s newsletter, I skipped “Random Thought”, “Obligatory Dog Shot”, and “Featured Vinyl.” They’ll return next week.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!