In Season 2 of Dark Winds, Lt. Joe Leaphorn (Zahn McClarnon) and Sgt. Bernadette Manuelito (Jessica Matten) reunite with Jim Chee (Kiowa Gordon), their former deputy turned private eye, when their separate cases bring them together in pursuit of the same suspect (played by Nicholas Logan). Now that the season has ended, you can binge it in its entirety on AMC+ and eagerly anticipate its return for Season 3 in 2025. In this Q&A with amc.com, we spoke with music supervisor Rick Clark about his favorite tracks from this season, what it was like joining forces with John Wirth again, and how his deep love of music gives the show its unique flavor.
Q: You’re no stranger to AMC having worked as music supervisor for beloved shows like Hell on Wheels and Hap & Leonard. You worked with John Wirth on Hell on Wheels, so I'm assuming your experience on that show was part of the appeal of getting involved with Dark Winds. Can you tell us a little bit about how you became involved with the show?
A: John called me and asked if I would be a part of the Dark Winds team as his Music Supervisor. Of course, I was thrilled to join. Beginning with Hell on Wheels, John and I really developed a very special language and rhythm. We truly listen to each other. Along the way we became good friends. John knows that I’m a research fanatic and a fighter who tries to get the best music I possibly can that honors the story. His faith in me is something I can't even quantify. He gives me plenty of room to hang myself. [Laughs]
When we work on something together, I may get a phone call from him and he’ll be like, "Rick, I have this image in my mind. I don't know if it's what it will end up being, but it's in my mind and I just see this happening maybe in the last episode or something." He did that with me with Hell on Wheels a couple of times, and as a result I was able to really get some great music in there that was created specifically for the show. In the case of Dark Winds, John called me up one day — I think we were still working on the first episode, I think it was still being shot — and he said, "I see this image of Bernadette and Chee saying their goodbyes [in Episode 6]. Getting in separate cars and getting to a T in the road and going in separate directions." He said, "As you know, this season and the one before, there's always been this will-they or won't-they get together dynamic, so the music for this scene had to illuminate a very emotional moment." That night, after he and I talked, I woke up like at 2:30 in the morning with tears in my eyes. I kid you not. I saw the image in my mind of the scene as John had described it and Neil Young's song “Birds” was playing. I just knew it was right. The next day I started doing the legwork to reach out to Neil Young's people through the publishers and the label and explained to them what I wanted to do. I’m so grateful that came together.
Q: There’s so much going on this season, both within the smaller world of our characters but also within the larger world that the narrative is placed within. From important historical moments like the moon landing and the Vietnam draft that we see on screen, to the things we don’t see on screen like Woodstock, this is a very specific moment in American history. What were the thematic elements and/or emotions that you were hoping to bring to life through your music choices this season?
A: Well, I would say that Neil Young track is a perfect example of that. In the moon episode [Episode 2], the David Crosby song “Laughing” is behind that, and I love, love, love the way that that song hypnotically moves along behind the scene, and then right at the moment when Benny Charley asks Leaphorn, "Will I see my dad?" You hear Joni Mitchell, David Crosby and Graham Nash’s vocals ascending — it's a subtle, but emotionally powerful moment.
Q: Did you have other favorites?
A: In the first episode, we opened up with Gregg Allman's “Midnight Rider” playing as Leaphorn rides his horse and surveys the land. It creates a nice laid back vibey feel as we see him going about his morning routine and he’s not stressed. It also sets the tone that this is happening in the early 70s.
Another moment I love is the use of Bob Dylan’s meditative “Tomorrow Is a Long Time” in Episode 6. I love the way that it lyrically and emotionally weaves a thread through Leaphorn melting his son's belt and turning it into a molded metal feather. And when he gets in bed with Emma, the lyrics support exactly what’s happening almost beat for beat. It's a beautiful series of moments!
I think it's really important here to shine love and light on the editors. As you well know, these things are a team effort and it's not about me or any one person. It happens because a lot of people pull together and make something special happen. The editors who worked with me on every one of these episodes were excellent.
One thing that's important — and I got a lot of feedback on — was that I was really trying hard to find authentic Navajo, or if not Navajo then Native music, from that period. It took a little digging around, but I found the widow of Floyd "Red Crow" Westerman, who was a very important figure to the Navajo community back in that time. There is a song of his called “B.I.A.,” the Bureau of Indian Affairs. We included that and I got a lot of people reaching out saying, "Oh man, you included B.I.A.!"
We also had music by Navajo artists Radmilla Cody and The Martin Sisters. They aren't artists from that period, but the songs that we used feel like they could be of that time. One of the things that I can't stress enough is there was so little Navajo recorded music and especially recorded music of Navajo singer-songwriters from that era. I mean, it's almost non-existent! The only things that I could find in any abundance were traditional ritual recordings with drums, flutes, and chanting and we wanted to stay away from that. At this moment, I would love to give credit to Robert Doyle with Canyon Records, an important Native American record label resource that specializes in Native music from the Southwest. He went to great lengths to help me with my research and find what I needed.
Some of the non-Native period music used included Charley Pride’s “Kiss an Angel Good Mornin'” which we used when Bern drives up and sees the three-horned sheep in Episode One. I also loved the use of Hot Tuna’s version of the Reverend Gary Davis’ song, “Death Don't Have No Mercy,” at the end of Episode 1.
In Episode Two, Loretta Lynn sings “Dear Uncle Sam,” which was a big hit of hers from back then and it was about the Vietnam War. The Rolling Stones “You Got the Silver,” off the “Let It Bleed” album, is in Episode 2 when Leaphorn is working on his motorcycle and Bern shows up. I can't thank the Stones people enough for being so gracious and letting us get that song. It was exactly the one I wanted!
In Episode 3, when Emma breaks down after she delivers the child, that piece of music is a modern Native American electronica Pow Wow music artist named Joe Rainey. That piece of music is “ch. 1222.” It has an extraordinarily haunting effect as Emma is walking to the truck and breaks down crying. I think it's a beautiful moment. Zahn, John Wirth, and I really loved how that worked.
Q: I’ve had the chance to speak to both music supervisors and composers who’ve worked on our shows and it’s so interesting to hear how that symbiotic relationship works. Can you talk a bit about working with Kevin Kiner to create the soundtrack for Season 2? How did that process work?
A: Kevin also worked on Hell on Wheels, and I love working with him! We have an utterly seamless experience. It's like we just sort of know where our real estate is in each episode. I let Kevin be Kevin, and Kevin lets me be Rick. We naturally complement each other; I think in part because we come from a lot of the same musical influences. He's worked on the Star Wars, Clone Wars, all the prequel stuff. He worked on CSI: Miami and on Narcos: Mexico. He's worked on a number of really impressive projects. I thought his work that he did on Hell on Wheels was really, really good and I love his theme music that he composed for Dark Winds. I should mention that Kevin’s very talented kids, Deana and Sean, were also part of the composing work.
Q: I recognized certain musical elements that appear in multiple episodes. Obviously aside from the theme music for the opening credits, there's also musical cues that will appear every so often, whether it's because a certain character is on screen, or a certain emotion is being expressed through music.
A: I enjoy seeing Kevin’s themes weave throughout each episode. Like with John Wirth and Peter Chomsky, Kevin and I have a groove! It's probably a bad example, but when you're driving down the street and you're halfway down the next block and you don't remember the light turning red or green. You just went with it. [Laughs] It’s acquired instinct.
Yeah, we just do it. We have a spotting session. John might say, "Kevin, can we make this cue a little more tense or a little more something else?" Or I might put a song in, and John might go, "You know, I love the track, but I'm just not feeling it." And that's all I need to hear.
We had a big discussion about “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” [by Creedence Clearwater Revival]. For the longest time the closing track was going to be The Doobie Brothers’ “Rockin' Down the Highway.” We got a note back from the network that basically said, "It's a great song, but it's too tidy. It's just a little bit too clean and upbeat of an ending for the season." John and I both understood the validity of that note, so I went into full-on serious music digging mode. I can't tell you how many different tracks I tried. Concord Music really came through for us on that.
I can’t speak to how other music supervisors work, but I’ll ask editors to send me clips of specific scenes so I can edit in the music myself and ride the levels. It allows me to provide everyone an idea of what I'm exactly thinking. I've worked as a songwriter, as a creator of music, and a producer for over 40 years, so thankfully there is a level of confidence in letting me wear different music-related hats.
Before production begins, I read the drama’s source material, in this case, one of Tony Hillerman’s great books. I get the series bible, which is a synopsis of the entire season, and John Wirth and Peter Chomsky make sure I receive every iteration of each episodic screenplay. I have access to every one of the dailies, meaning I can see every minute that’s been shot, every day that shooting happened. Watching the dailies gives me a sense of what each scene is probably going to look like. By the time the editors have done their first pass at forming an episode out of all that footage, I've got a good idea what goes into the folder of music that I think belongs in the episode.
Q: I wanted going to ask you, besides your Neil Young “ah ha” moment, how do you pick the specific tracks for these scenes? Is it a gut reaction you have to a scene or is it something you ruminate on and mull over? It seems to be a little combination of both.
A: Yeah, it's a little combination of both. I've been doing this, like I said, for decades. Everything is a gut reaction at this point in my life! [Laughs] I can think of a song, an artist, and go, "Bam! That’s it!!” And then when I've laid it in, I'm usually on the money or very close to it. Of course, I can explain why I chose this hypothetical song after the fact.
I'm not the kind of music supervisor for someone who’s looking for flavor of the month stuff. I'm not interested in that. I'm interested in dramas that have meat on the bone, and have something to do with periods of time, cultures, or a hardcore sense of place. That’s where I reside, and I know music catalog really well. I mean, back in the '70s I was working record retail just like the movie High Fidelity, and the record shop that I worked in was the record shop that Elvis used to shop in. Al Green or Isaac Hayes and other Stax and Hi artists would come into our record shop, as well as David Bowie's band and people like that when they did their first tours in America. They would hang out in the record shop, and I would take the band around and show them records. It was a very heightened time.
In the '70s, I had a college radio show at WLYX and I was known around town as a music guy, like a tastemaker. I programmed practically every club, restaurant, and hotel that was anything in Memphis and the Delta South for a number of years. Everything from punk rock clubs, discotheques, and urban cowboy stuff to German and Japanese restaurants. Even back then I think I had about 15,000 vinyl albums. I was really deep into this shit and I still am. [Laughs]
I have great relationships with people I've worked with over the years, because they know I care, they know I'll fight for something, they know I'll get deeply inside the characters. Whatever I do can’t be simply a thoughtless use of music. It has to matter. A show like Dark Winds is such a pleasure because everyone involved shares that approach and you can feel it when you watch the show. It's a blessing to be on a team with such fine professionals fleshing out great material like Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn novels.
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