Like many others of the baby boom generation, I grew up watching
the Little Rascals/Our Gang comedies on TV. For years they were
aired, sometimes daily, on Minnesota's locally produced kid shows.
Our own neighborhood "gang" knew every episode by heart. We imitated
a lot of the Rascals' activities with our clubhouses, soapbox
racers, boxing matches, and shows. If we were lucky, our folks
would let us go on an overnight camping trip to the woods just
down the street where we'd parrot the line "Boy, it sure did get dark quick!"
[from "The First Roundup" 1934]
When we watched the Rascals in the mid 60's, the shorts were already
30 years old and dated. But the themes were universal, funny,
and they starred our own kind kids! The acting wasn't always believable but the ever-present
background music always gave an emotional punch to the gang's
predicaments. Being a fledgling musician at the time, I was intrigued
by the unique music and remember scrutinizing the credits for
the name of the music director. I never saw a name, so the identity
of the composer would remain a mystery to me for another three
The day came in 1998. I had been searching the web for Raymond
Scott and found his music had been recorded by a group in Amsterdam
called the "Beau Hunks". I was overjoyed to see that beside Raymond
Scott's music, they had also recorded the music heard in the "Little
Rascals" films. I immediately sent for their CD, "The Beau Hunks
Play the Original Little Rascals Music." Listening to it was intoxicating.
I could actually hear every note and not have it obscured by dialogue,
sound effects or that crackling film noise. I became even more
enamored with this music.
As I listened to the Beau Hunks' note-perfect recreations of the
wonderful music that had lain dormant in my subconscious for so
many years, I finally discovered the mystery composer's name in
the liner notes Leroy Shield. But what really bowled me over was Shield's birthplace Waseca, Minnesota, a mere 30 miles from my home!
Before long, I took a trip to the Waseca Historical Society to
look for whatever details I could find about Shield while he lived
in Minnesota. At that time, information was scant but this has
since changed with his recent "discovery" in Waseca. We found that Leroy was born in 1893 to Maude (Cady) and Patrick Shields. His father worked as a railroad conductor for the Chicago and
Northwest Railroad Company. The census records of 1900 show that
the Shields family lived in Waseca on Hill Street [now Fourth
Street]. Records also indicate that they moved to Belle Plaine,
Iowa sometime before 1905. At this time, the Shields had three
children: Leroy (the oldest); Walter; and Ethel. The change of
residence was most likely due to a railroad related transfer.
Robert Crumb says he believes Shield's music is probably what
first got him interested in old music. The same is true for me.
I started searching out old music while in my twenties and concluded
that a lot of my favorite tunes had been written between 1920
and 1940, with 1930 the apex. I started performing some of this
music in coffeehouses. Sometimes someone would say, "So you're
into nostalgia..." But for me, nostalgia would be Beatles music
and other music popular during the seventies. But the music was
not nostalgic to me- it was new. Then a friend introduced me to
Fats Waller and Django Reinhardt, and I began to feel as if I
had been born in the wrong era.
Although the music Shield wrote for Hal Roach was background to
the films, it stands firmly on its own. I doubt that Roach had
any grand requirements for Shield to fulfill other than that the
music fit the mood of the scene. It was Shield who rose to the
task and turned his assignments into art. Roach asked only for
music, but what he got was a world-class film composer's creativity
in the bargain.
I marvel at the range of Shield's music. It runs the gamut of
styles and moods, but always retains its "catchiness". Two of
Shield's minute-long string quartets, "Wishing" and "Dog Song",
are achingly beautiful jewels and to my ears, reminiscent of Ravel.
The instances where they are used can easily evoke a lump in the
throat that is not attributable to any great acting or dialogue.
I would go so far as to say that I believe Shield's inventive
compositions were more than partially responsible for the Little
Rascal's success and enduring popularity. The true impact of music
used in a movie is easily overlooked until it is removed. Shield's
talent for constructing the perfect atmosphere on demand is undeniable.
It's even more admirable considering that he was a pioneer, breaking
new trails in the pristine field of film composition.
Neither Little Rascals nor Laurel and Hardy films have been aired
regularly on television for many years now. (locally anyway) The
result is that Shield's music registers a pronounced spike of
recognition for those in my age group. It's a bit surprising that
a collection of tunes can be so familiar to so many with almost
nothing known about its creator. The lack of screen credit as
well as Shield himself can be blamed for his relative anonymity.
He was a shy man and not the type to toot his own horn. However,
he WAS someone of great talent and ability who believed in putting
forth his best effort whether it was conducting a nationally broadcast
concert or writing tunes for a bunch of short films starring children.
Luckily the Beau Hunks recognized and loved Shield's music enough
to spend years of effort carefully piecing together old, noisy
sound tracks to transcribe it note by note. And thank heaven they
recorded the music. If they hadn't, Leroy Shield's name could
very well have slipped into obscurity.
Many thanks to Piet Schrueders, whose knowledge, research, materials,
and writings have made this site possible. Hopefully we have helped
provide some belated recognition to Leroy Shield and have created
a small tribute to the man and the wonderful music he left us.