Sunday, October 9, 2011

Songwiriter & Actor David Hess In Memoriam

David Hess, who wrote songs for Elvis Presley and later became a well known actor in grindhouse cinema, passed yesterday, 8 October 2011, at the age of 69.

David Hess was born in New York City on 19 September 1942.  In 1957 he went to work as a songwriter for Shalimar Music, where he wrote under the pen name David Hill. He wrote "Start Movin'" for Sal Mineo and "Rockin' Shoes" for The Ames Brother. He wrote several songs for Elvis Presley, including "I Got Stung (later covered by The Beatles, but never released and later covered by Sir Paul McCartney)," "Come Along," and "Sand Castles, "  In 1963 he wrote the novelty song "Speedy Gonzalez" for Pat Boone. He also wrote "Your Hand, Your Heart, Your Love" for Andy Williams. Mr. Hess also recorded two solo albums on Kapp Records in the Sixties and had a minor hit with the song "Two Brothers."

It was in 1969 that David Hess became the head of A&R at Mercury Records. There he joined forces with classical composer John Corigliano to create the electronic rock opera. The Naked Carmen. With Irish actor Malachy McCourt he wrote the album And the Children Toll the Passing of the Day.

It was in 1972 that Mr. Hess began his acting career, appearing as the head villain, Krug Stillo, in Wes Craven's cult horror classic Last House on the Left. He also composed the soundtrack for the movie. In the Seventies he would go onto appear in the films Montana Trap (1976), The Swiss Conspiracy (1976), The Naked Prey (1977), Avalanche Express (1979), and House on the Edge of the Park (1980). In 1980 he directed his first film, To All a Goodnight. From 1972 to 1976 he lived in Munich where he dubbed films into English. He adapted the scripts of directors ranging from Werner Fassbinder to Reinhard Hauff into English. He guest starred on the TV series Baretta. As a musician he scored the children's film Buck at the Edge of Heaven and worked for Polygram Records.

In the Eighties Mr. Hess appeared in such films as Swamp Thing (1982), White Star (1983), Body Count (1985), Armed and Dangerous (1986), and Let's Get Harry (1986). He appeared on such TV shows as Knight Rider, The Fall Guy, The A-Team, and Manimal, as well as the mini-series Ocean. From the Nineties into the Naughts he appeared in such films as Jonathan degli orsi (1995), Nutcraker (2001), Zombie Nation (2004), Zodiac Killer (2005), The Absence of Light (2006), Fallen Angels (2006), and Smash Cut (2009). He guest starred on the TV show Royal Pains.  He directed the film Steel Drums, Not Guns (2010).  He provided songs for the soundtrack to the film Cabin Fever (2002) and released two albums, Caught Up in the Moment and Live & Unplugged in Hollywood.

As an actor David Hess was best known for playing villains, if not outright monsters. In fact, after almost forty years his most famous role is still probably Krug from Last House on the Left. While Mr. Hess may not have played a large variety of roles, however, I have no doubt that he was quite talented as an actor. I never had the opportunity to meet David Hess or even correspond with him, but I have known many who have and yet others were actually friends with him. Each of them have the same thing to say about David Hess--he was one of the sweetest men one could ever know. He was a man who always had a kind word when one was needed and who always supported his friends in whatever they did. Quite simply, in all of those films in which Mr. Hess very convincingly played monstrous character and did so very convincingly, he was playing the polar opposite of what he was really like in real life. Any actor can play a character who is like himself in real life. It takes an actor of great talent to play a character who is his exact opposite.

For much of his later life emphasis has been placed on David Hess's career in film. This is perhaps unfortunate has it tends to overlook the fact that he was a great songwriter and even a singer in his own right. David Hess wrote one of the best Elvis Presley songs of all time, "I Got Stung," as well as "Come Along," "Speedy Gonzalez,""Sand Castles," and "Your Hand, Your Heart, Your Love." The soundtrack he wrote for Last House on the Left remains one of the best soundtracks ever written for a horror movie. David Hess was then not only a talented actor, but a talented songwriter as well. A talented actor and a talented songwriter, David Hess was proof that nice guys do not always finish last.

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