Snuffy Walden on writing tunes for TV

Composer who wrote themes to ‘The West Wing,’ ‘Friday Night Lights’ performs at Jammin Java Oct. 24.

snuffy walden
Photo by Megan Schirmer

You may not know W.G. “Snuffy” Walden by name, but you’d know him by ear. The Emmy-winning composer’s credits include 30-Something, The Wonder Years, The West Wing, Friday Night Lights and Nashville. The self-taught guitarist, who has toured with Stevie Wonder, Chaka Khan and others, accompanies vocalist Sara Niemietz at Jammin Java on Oct. 24.

Walk us through the process of writing a main title theme.

Usually the best ones come from organic material when I’m working on the score. You’re building a fabric, and usually you try to have all those threads in the main title. What I like to do is let the characters and the story bring something out of me, so I like to do it kind of in the process of writing the score for a show.

How would you describe the role the main title plays in setting the tone for a show?

It’s so important. When I was a kid, I used to hear the Andy Griffith theme [whistles theme], and I would run to the television. Back in the old days, the main title was so instrumental; we didn’t have cold openings. It signaled that it was time to get in this world and time to sit down with these people. And I think it’s very important to have a sonic signature, a sound that is unique to the show so it invites people in. I think on The West Wing, that particular piece people responded to so much. I’ve had people get married to it; I’ve had people get buried to it.

Did you have a special connection with Friday Night Lights, given that you grew up in Texas?

That show spoke to me so much, and the movie did, too. Peter Berg’s original movie I really loved. I grew up in East Texas, and everybody was a football freak there, even though the show was really not about football. It was a much deeper show than that. I had a real connection with it. Scoring that show came real easy, although the odd thing is that I never even went to the offices. The shows that I actually became friends with the actors really were 30-Something, The Wonder Years, The West Wing because most of the time what’s happening is I’m sitting here looking at a film, and I feel like I live with these people because I’m watching them so much, but they don’t know me from Adam.

(October 2017)