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Former Honk Scores Big

Music: Soundtrack work by Steve Wood of Laguna could land close to home when the IMAX theater opens in Irvine.

February 17, 1996|MIKE BOEHM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAGUNA BEACH — Over the years, Orange County club-goers have heard Steve Wood make music as a member of Honk, the county's leading band during the folk-rocking early 1970s.

In coming months, Wood's home-county exposure may leap to a scale that is positively gargantuan: IMAX is coming to Irvine, and with it the likelihood that Wood's substantial and ever-growing catalog of IMAX film scores will blast over the sound system of Edwards Cinemas' new, six-story 3-D IMAX Theatre in the Irvine Spectrum Entertainment Center.

"I'm excited, because it's a format that I work in all the time, and up until now we haven't had a very good theater around," says Wood, who regards the 1984-vintage IMAX system at the California Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles as an "early and relatively inexpensive" precursor to the state-of-the-art Orange County version expected to premiere in early March. "I'll be able to tell my friends, 'Hey, my movie's playing over the hill.' "

Actually, "The Living Sea," the film that carries Wood's latest and highest-profile score, is booked to play at the Los Angeles theater, not in Irvine, when it makes its Southern California debut on March 29 (it runs there through July 25).

But Wood and producer-director Greg MacGillivray figure that "The Living Sea" and some of the 10 or so other IMAX films Wood has worked on since 1983 will make it to Irvine. Don Barton, vice president of Edwards Theatres, said that films from the MacGillivray catalog, including "The Living Sea," are among those under consideration for showing at Edwards' IMAX.

Wood's work for MacGillivray, a fellow Laguna resident whose MacGillivray Freeman Films is a leading producer of IMAX movies, is today the most prominent facet in a varied musical career.

He started as a rock 'n' roll keyboard player in the clubs of Orange County during the early 1970s, when Honk became a local favorite and, briefly, a national recording and touring act.

For 11 years, from 1979-'90, Wood rocked in major venues as a keyboard-playing sideman to the Pointer Sisters and Kenny Loggins. Now his main focus is Benaji Studio, a small, immaculately kept layout on the top floor of a shopping center on South Coast Highway.

It is here that Wood, 46, has written and produced some of his IMAX work, carried out his own independent recording projects, made TV commercials and served as engineer, producer and accompanist for an unlikely assortment of artists. They include Eagles sidekick Jack Tempchin, a Japanese big-band jazz singer named Mitsuko and Andrej Sefrir, a folk musician Wood describes as "the biggest-selling artist in Slovenia."

And then there's Sting.

For the soundtrack of "The Living Sea," Wood was given creative license to take copies of the British star's original, 48-track master tapes and shape his music to fit the needs of the environmentally aware film.

As arranger and producer of the soundtrack, Wood had the authority to dabble with Sting's original conception of the music, erasing instrumental and vocal parts here, adding new orchestrations and instrumental solos there.

The license essentially to mess around with Sting's music was not granted lightly, says Alec Lorimore, who produced "The Living Sea" with MacGillivray, nor did Wood take it lightly.

"It was kind of intimidating," Wood said, "and I felt a certain kind of responsibility. It was really a task on my part, knowing that Sting would eventually listen to it. "At the same time, I had to do things for a director [MacGillivray] who wanted something out of it [that was not necessarily in Sting's own recordings]," he said. "It was a real balancing act."

Safeguarding Sting's interest was Nick Turner, then a member of Sting's management team. He stayed in close contact with Wood and the filmmakers, listening to pieces of the soundtrack as they were recorded and mixed and forwarding them to Sting and his manager, Miles Copeland, for final approval.

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While Wood, MacGillivray and Lorimore did not have any direct contact with Sting, either during the project or since the film's release a year ago, Turner says that Sting was pleased with the results.

A soundtrack CD released by A&M Records so far has sold more than 30,000 copies, according to the label.

Wood's movie-scoring career dates to 1972, when Honk was a band launching itself on the local circuit, and Greg MacGillivray and his partner, the late Jim Freeman, were looking for music to go with their surfing film, "Five Summer Stories."

"I was going around from nightclub to nightclub, listening to bands," MacGillivray recalled. "I basically fell in love with [Honk's] music and their writing, their quality of musicianship."

Honk's soundtrack album for "Five Summer Stories" became a local favorite and helped launch the band to a major recording deal. It released two albums before its 1975 breakup; the band members continue to stage periodic reunions and issued a 1991 live CD documenting one of them.

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