The mysterious composer: Larry Manteca and why you absolutely have to rediscover him

Was he in New York in the 1970s? In Florida in the 1980s? Where are the films that he scored?

Was he in New York in the 1970s? In Florida in the 1980s? Where are the films that he scored? Someone claims to have met him in Harlem in the 1960s. Somebody else says he was at Martin Scorsese’s side during the filming of Taxi Driver. Others say he was in Paris in 1977 with Miles Davis and that he’s responsible for the sound of Blaxploitation to the extent that the character of Shaft was created around some of his stories. Truth or fiction? A real or invented character? Who
is Larry Manteca and why does nobody talk about him? How old is he? Where does he live? And why have the films he scored all been unavailable for years?

Sifting through his discography, the mystery deepens: where have all the films like the action Bangkok Fury, the sci-fi Mutant Virgins from Pluto, the soft porn Emanuelle goes to Hollywood orDangerous Ways (the latter an excellent and solid thriller directed by John Hitman) gone? Legend has it that a fire in a Williamsburg warehouse in the 1980s destroyed all the tapes and that a furious Manteca decided to retire, ending up in a trailer in Florida and never touching an instrument again for the rest of his life. But this is just one of the many stories circulating because others claim to have come across him playing in a bar in Milan without so much as a poster advertising the event.

It’s now possible to find some of Manteca’s work online, but not everything: there are pieces from trailers and Tidal has a soundtrack of Mutant Virgins from Pluto (check out Surrender), but what remains is pretty amazing and indicative of the man’s talent. Take Dangerous Ways, which many believe is the music that inspired Lalo Schifrin to write the Bullitt score in 1969: listen to just two and a half minutes of Alvin’s Run here below, a powerful groove that will take you back to the San Francisco of 1972, somewhere between Starsky and Hutch and the aforementioned Shaft.

And that’s not all: have another listen to the grainy exotica horror of Zombie Mandingo, anotherfilm that has completely disappeared, about a group of tourists who end up on an island after a plane crash. It’s a weird combination of Jacopetti’s Mondo Cane and Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, splatter movies that have earned cult status, honoured by a generation of directors from Eli Roth to Quentin Tarantino.

Today, so many years later, there are still plenty of people looking for Manteca, comparing his trajectory to that of another outstanding musician, Janko Nilović, the pianist from Montenegro. He was born in Istanbul and lived in Paris in the 1970s, was championed even by Jay Z and today lives a quiet life in the French countryside. Manteca and Nilović are thus two sides of the same coin, two geniuses who were never completely recognised. But while Nilović has received some recognition, Manteca remains misunderstood and year after year his scores become increasingly cult objects, old vinyls to be handed down to posterity.

  • Watch Zombie Mandingo’s trailer:

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