"The Deuce theme song by Curtis Mayfield/“(Don’t Worry) If There’s ..."
The Deuce, the latest gritty HBO series, which premieres this Sunday, was created by the crime-wave dream team of David Simon and George Pelecanos, the same guys who brought you The Wire. Starring James Franco (in two different roles) and Maggie Gyllenhaal not to mention Black Thought and Method Man, the series documents the rise of the prostitution, pimping and porn in New York City circa 1971.
As with most cinematic documentations of the era, The Deuce features a booming soundtrack of mostly soulful goodies. On the pilot episode, now available for streaming n HBO GO, the tunes blaring from the various radios, jukeboxes and passing cars include “Treat Her Like a Lady” (Cornelius Brothers & Sister Rose), “Sex Machine” (James Brown), “These Eyes” (The Guess Who) and “Slipping into Darkness” (War). While it’s no surprise that music supervisor Blake Leyh (also of The Wire) created a faux-blaxploitation score a la Dead Presidents and Jackie Brown, I was blissfully taken aback to discover that The Deuce’s theme song turned out to be an underrated Curtis Mayfield track “(Don’t Worry) If There’s a Hell Below We’re All Going to Go,” an mind-blowing composition of psychedelic soul that was as scary as it was wondrous.
Also featured on MASS APPEAL’s post-Charlottesville playlist, “How to Survive an AmeriKKKAn Nightmare,” the song was originally recorded for Curtis/Live! (1971), a concert disc Mayfield and his band—Master Henry Gibson (percussion), Joseph “Lucky” Scott (bass), Tyrone McCullen (drums) and Craig McMullen (rhythm guitar)—laid down at the Bitter Inn in Greenwich Village the same year as the HBO Show is set. While Curtis was a talented guitarist, he often hired a couple of other strummers including McMullen and session-man Phil Upchurch, to fill out his sound. In 2009, I spoke with both McMullen and Upchurch about working with Mayfield. “When Curtis did that live album, it was just the five of us together and it was all fun,” guitarist McMullen told me. “We were like five brothers on the road together and we were just kicking it. His only instruction to us was saying, ‘I want you to do your thing.’ We had a few ups and downs like all families, but Curtis wasn’t a harsh person and allowed us to be inventive on our own.” While the Mayfield track has been used in Dead Presidents in 1995, The Deuce’s intro marks the first time it has been used as a main theme.