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One of the great chameleons of space-age pop, Montenegro could be wild, innovative, swinging, sedate, tame, or mundane, depending on what the contract called for. After serving in the U.S. Navy, where he arranged for bands, he attended Manhattan College, studying composition. While in college. he began leading his own band for school dances, which led into professional gigs on a full-time basis. This was quickly interrupted, however, by a two-year stint in the U.S. Navy, most of which he spent as the arranger for the Newport Naval Base band in Rhode Island.
Andre Kostelanetz heard this band and met Montenegro during this time. When Montenegro left the Navy, Kostelanetz hired him as a staff manager and occasional arranger. He moved on to work for Harry Belafonte as the arranger and conductor for his live act. While in New York City, Montenegro was hired by Time Records as a musical director, and produced a whole slew of albums for the label. Some, such as Bongos and Brass and Boogie Woogie and Bongos are frenzied examples of stereo/percussion showcase music. His arrangement of Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King is one of my favorite cuts.
Montenegro moved to Los Angeles in the early 1960s and began working in the studio system. Belafonte helped get him the job of scoring Otto Preminger's Hurry Sundown. He also worked for RCA, producing a series of albums that included both his soundtracks and covers of others'. His 1968 recording of Ennio Morricone's theme from the classical Sergio Leone spaghetti Western, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, featuring whistling by Muzzy Marcellino's, sold over a million copies and hit #2 on the Top Ten chart as a single. Montenegro's version also features an electric violin (played by Elliott Fisher), a piccolo trumpet (played by Manny Klein), an electronic harmonica, an ocarina, a vocal group, and Montenegro himself grunting nonsense Italian-sounding syllables.
Montenegro scored such classics of 60s Hollywood machismo as Dean Martin's two Matt Helm adventures, The Ambushers and The Wrecking Crew, Frank Sinatra's two films as the Miami private eye, Tony Rome and The Lady in Cement, and the Elvis Presley Western, Charro. He also ventured into some odd mixes of space-age pop, electronics, and rock with such albums as Moog Power, Mammy Blue, and The Dawn of Dylan. Montenegro contracted severe ephysema and was forced to retire from recording in the late 1970s.
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