MANY a creative type has contributed to the "Star Trek" franchise and then moved on, but Emil Richards is one constant who's seen and heard 'em all.
Anointed the "Timekeeper of Tinseltown," this master of percussion instruments has played on all 12 "Star Trek" film scores (including "Star Trek: Into Darkness"), creating sonic cues of eerie exotica, emotional depth and action-adventure heft with some of the hammered, gonged, dunked and rattled treasures from his personal sound museum of 750 globally collected instruments. (Not a single one from the Orion Nebulae star cluster, though!)
Might Paramount Pictures consider Richards an essential lucky charm for the "Star Trek" brand?
We posed the question in a recent chat prompted by the new movie and the master musician's memoir Wonderful World of Percussion - My Life Behind Bars (BearManor Media, $19.95), a new, fascinating read, with finessing by his longtime friend and veteran Daily News music critic Tom DiNardo. (The book should be out "within a month.")
"If I was their 'lucky charm,' I would have played on more than just one of the TV series, too," the now-81, still-active talent said with a laugh. "My 'in' is that I've been aligned with all the composers who've worked on the 'Star Trek' films - first Jerry Goldsmith, then James Horner, now Michael Giacchino, whom I also worked with on the 'Lost' TV show."
From Richards' perspective behind the vibraphone, orchestral bells and giant Daiko Japanese drums, "Darkness" is one of the most pricey, technically complex and carefully tweaked "Treks" yet.
"Usually they bring in a big orchestra" - think 120 pieces - "for two, three or four days. Then you don't hear about it for eight months, until the movie comes out. This time, we started more than a year ago with a longer-than-normal run of sessions, then came back and did several more days of recording just four weeks ago - redoing the ending and closing credits. For this film, Michael actually had us record our parts twice - the first time playing as a full ensemble, the second time isolating each section. That's an engineering joy and a musician's nightmare."
With more than 2,000 films and TV shows under his belt, plus thousands of music gigs, Richards' touch is always ringing in our ears. He worked those "Good Vibrations" on many a Beach Boys track as part of the famous "Wrecking Crew," created the xylophone run in the "Simpsons" TV theme. He's also lent many a creepy effect to films - from "Jaws" and "The Exorcist" to everything composer Danny Elfman ("Spider-Man," "Men in Black") puts his hands on.
"Oftentimes, the composers come to my house or warehouse for inspiration. They listen to specific instruments and then write with those sounds in mind," Richards said. "And I counsel them: Don't think about placing them geographically, based on the country of origin - Bali or Mexico or wherever. Think instead about putting instruments together in unique ways to create a sound the world's never heard before." (One growing trend - mixing earthy, artisan instruments, which he learned to play "in the bush," with artifice-laden synthesizers. "Works better than you'd expect," he said.)
Richards credits Frank Sinatra with giving him a big leg up in the soundtrack-scoring business.
"He did an around-the-world concert tour in 1962, fundraising for children's hospitals, at the behest of President Kennedy. There were just six of us musicians in the band" - an intimate dynamic heard to great advantage on the "Sinatra and Sextet: Live in Paris" album - "and we were traveling on Frank's private plane, with U.S. ambassadors greeting and waving us through customs at every landing and exit. So I filled the belly of his plane with instruments I picked up at every stop. Saved me a fortune in customs duties and shipping."