My appreciation for all things Gunn could not have developed in a more backwards way. Like many children of the 80’s, my first exposure to the theme song was via Spy Hunter in the arcades. I just thought that the music was cool, and had no idea that it was a real song – let alone the theme from an old TV show.
I later heard cover versions of the Peter Gunn Theme by groups like Art of Noise, Duane Eddy, and others. I wasn’t sure exactly who or what Peter Gunn was, but my dad told me that it was a really great TV show that had been on when he was around my age.

Years later, after I got into collecting vinyl, I really developed a taste for what could be described as ‘detective jazz’. Not to be confused with that other pseudo-genre of ‘spy jazz’, detective jazz was the smooth, laidback sound of the private eye… walking bass, steady ride cymbal, lurking horns, and usually a dope echoey flute solo if you were lucky. It conjured up images of a black-and-white 1950’s world of mobsters, private dicks, stool pigeons, and sultry women.
I had picked up a couple of records that had this kind of stuff on it, which piqued my interest – but the quality wasn’t very good. I wanted to hear more, and most of what I had found seemed derivative and uninspired. I knew that there had to be some better stuff out there, but what was it?
I decided to look into this more. After class one day, I stopped in at one of the computer labs at school and poked around on Usenet a bit.
After a little bit of searching in newsgroups and on the web, I found more than a few references to Henry Mancini’s The Music From Peter Gunn as being something like the “ultimate private eye jazz record”, and “essential” for anybody who dug that kind of stuff.
I had my answer. I began hunting for it locally, but had no luck. I think I even looked online, but nobody was willing to sell it for a decent price. It wasn’t available on CD, either, which only added to my desire to find this supposed gem.

My birthday was a few weeks after I had begun my search, and I spent that afternoon over at my girlfriend Juanita’s house. She said she had a gift for me, and went into the other room. She returned with a heavy, square box-shaped package and said “I hope you like it”.
I opened it up, and to my surprise found a hand-picked stack of wonderful records, precisely the kind that I would have bought if I’d found them on my own. There were some cool ‘percussion’ titles in there, some Xavier Cugat, latin jazz, all stuff she knew I loved. Juanita had delivered the perfect gift, and I was thrilled. As I excitedly went through the stack, one record in particular stood out.
There it was, at long last: Henry Mancini’s The Music From Peter Gunn.

I think it may have been at that exact moment when Juanita became my favorite person in the world.

The record was in fact every bit as cool as I had anticipated, and then some. The theme song that I’d become so familiar with was neat, but the rest of the album was even more fresh. It perfectly captured that world of mob goons and suave detectives, but managed to do it in a laid back, usually upbeat kind of way. It was indeed the ultimate “private eye jazz” record I had hoped it would be, and became permanently fixed in my car’s tape deck. Some of my best memories of my days in Sacramento are of the early summer afternoons when Juanita and I would drive around in the Ghia, listening to that album.

I still hadn’t seen the TV show, though. I wanted to see what the heck this music had been made to score, because it had to have been pretty darn cool. The back jacket of the LP sure seemed to substantiate that, but I had no way to find out what Peter Gunn had been like. Unfortunately, they never aired it on Nick at Nite or anything else – and I didn’t really feel like shelling out a bunch of dough for the episodes on VHS, so I assumed I was out of luck.
The album was finally reissued on CD, which was great, but my prospects for seeing the actual show looked slim.
It wasn’t until only a year or so ago that I learned that A&E had released a bunch of episodes on DVD. I picked those up, wondering if the show would turn out to be as good as the music I’d been enjoying for nearly ten years.
Surprisingly, the show was every bit as cool as the music. Pete Gunn was easily the hippest detective ever, with his snazzy suits, dry humor, and nightclub singer girlfriend. Better yet, the music was woven perfectly into the show in all the right ways. The camerawork was superb, and reminded me that television shows were once short segments of finely crafted cinema… a far cry from the utter crap we see nowadays.
Henry Mancini was the first guy to mix jazz and TV together, and RCA had the smarts to put out this record. It was wildly popular and influential for a while after it was released, for reasons I understand all too well. If you have any appreciation at all for stuff like this, I’d highly recommend picking it up yourself.