Updated: Sep 17, 2022
I have a confession to make. All those blaxploitation movies—and all those kung fu movies—and, especially, all those blaxploitation + kung fu movies—I always found them really boring. Even the so-called classics.
I never encountered them at the right impressionable age, I guess. Or I just wasn’t into exploitation movies where the fun seems to be about killing a million bad guys.
I still don’t like those movies. I honestly find it disturbing when John Wick shoots a hundred people.
But the classic funky kung fu scores—like Lalo Schifrin’s Enter the Dragon—I love them!
I met director Brett Ratner at the scoring stage to Rush Hour in 1997. He had hired Lalo Schifrin to do a throwback action-suspense score, and percussionist Emil Richards invited me. I met Lalo and his family and colleagues and it was a great time.
I subsequently went to a lot of sessions to Brett’s films, and I don’t remember which photos came from which films:
Brett is a character. He was super enthusiastic about press coverage, even though I tried to explain Film Score Monthly was just a tiny pebble at the bottom of the media ocean.
Brett loved the old kung fu movies. I think he had a Cuban grandfather who barely spoke English, but would take young Brett to kung fu movies, and that was their bonding time.
So Brett made the Rush Hour movies and made a fortune. In time, he put his foot in his mouth, and had some “me too” problems...and I’m not going to comment on that.
In the late 1990s, Brett was enthusiastic about film music, and would call me from time to time to ask about composers.
I remember he called me when he was doing The Family Man with Nicolas Cage, to ask which composer he should hire, Danny Elfman or Thomas Newman. I explained that both were at the top of the field and would do an amazing score—but Thomas could be a bit “cool,” musically, while Danny was warmer. (He hired Danny.)
And there was one title he suggested to me, multiple times: Black Belt Jones.
This is a 1974 kung fu/blaxploitation indie, distributed by Warner Bros., reuniting Jim Kelly with Enter the Dragon director Robert Clouse.
The soundtrack is fantastic! There are two tracks by Dennis Coffey, the theme—
And the “Love Theme”—
Dennis Coffey is a Motown-based guitarist, composer, arranger and producer who completely aced this 1970s funky sound. His career is full of killer tracks:
He would be in the pantheon of African-American composers, except for one thing... surprise!
I emailed with him at one time and he was very gracious and helpful.
A live performance, circa 2014:
The underscore for Black Belt Jones is by Luchi DeJesus, who scored a lot of television in the 1970s (McMillan & Wife, The Bionic Woman) and some smaller features.
So of course I was interested in releasing this. But because it was only distributed by Warner Bros., the studio didn’t have any music scoring masters.
I tried to find Luchi DeJesus, but he died in 1984.
I think the studio did have a music stem, but the film’s music editing was so choppy, it just didn’t seem like a good idea. Warner Bros. had tons of other scores in great quality that I was dying to release first—and did!
So that’s Black Belt Jones. I still have not seen the film. If there was ever a soundtrack released—I’d buy it!