Q&A: Clint Eastwood

The filmmaker on creating his own jazz label

Clint Eastwood in Las Vegas, Nevada, September 7th, 1993. Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty

Sure, Clint Eastwood's taken on some scary punks over the years, but now he may finally have met his match — the recording industry. Eastwood is bravely facing down music-business heavies by setting up shop with his own jazz label, Malpaso Records, at Warner Bros. Malpaso's successful first release is the soundtrack to The Bridges of Madison County, which includes "Doe Eyes," a love theme that Eastwood composed. A lifelong jazz lover, Eastwood directed Bird, the 1988 biopic of Charlie Parker, and the same year served as the executive producer for the acclaimed documentary Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser. Recently, the star of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Play Misty for Me, Dirty Harry and Unforgiven — among many others — spoke with Rolling Stone about the music that makes his day. And while we were firing away at the former mayor of Carmel, Calif., we confronted our favorite tough guy about his opinion regarding a relevant political issue.

You've been a pop-culture icon for most of the rock era, but you're more of a jazz guy. Doesn't any rock & roll move you?
I've loved a lot of rhythm & blues and some rock & roll. When you go back and listen to the music of the '60s, some of it is quite good. But I must say I never got drawn into the rock & roll generation. I just kind of missed it, growing up in the '40s. For me it was big band and bebop. In the '60s I sort of skipped by rock. It didn't musically inspire me a lot. But I love rhythm & blues, which is sort of the inspiration for rock & roll. To me, rock & roll seemed like sort of a white version of rhythm & blues.

Still, you must have run into some rock & rollers who were fans of yours.
Oh, yeah. Over the years I've met a lot of rock people who seemed to like my work.

Any stand out? Did you ever run into Elvis Presley?
I knew Elvis. Back during the days of doing Rawhide, we worked on the next stage over from one another. He used to come over and do fast draws and stuff like that. And later on, I've run into people like Bon Jovi who tell me they've followed my stuff.

For The Bridges of Madison County, you chose jazzy material for the soundtrack. But instead of the usual Frank Sinatra or Nat King Cole tracks, you've gone off the beaten track for recordings by Johnny Hartman and Irene Kral. 
Yeah, that was intentional. I love Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole as much as anyone — they were fabulous pop singers. But I also enjoy a lot of more fringe people. I just didn't want to get too mainstream. I also didn't want to use the same tracks as a lot of other movies.

A number of your films were associated with country music Are you a big fan?
I never was a mainstream-country-music listener growing up, but I did see Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and a few others. But I really like country music when it's done well.

Didn't you sing a few country duets? 
I did one with Merle Haggard, which actually got to No. 1 on the country charts — a thing called "Bar Room Buddies." I've done a few. I even got to do a duet with Ray Charles.

And you tinkled the ivories onscreen in In the Line of Fire.
Yeah, and in Honkytonk. Man I played, too. I guess I just love movies with music.

I recall a Guns n' Roses track in The Dead Pool, but few of your films have featured current pop material on the soundtracks.
Yeah, I've tried to stay away from that stuff. There was a period when everyone was doing that. If the movie is so bad you need to spruce it up, sometimes they throw in a hundred pop songs and hope the record will push the whole thing over the top. To me it's better if the movie and the music work together in tandem.

When you were filming that romantic dance sequence with Meryl Streep in Bridges, did you use mood music on the set?
When we were doing that scene, we actually played that version of "I See Your Face Before Me" by Johnny Hartman.

Did that help establish your motivation?
Yeah, I think so.... It's a terribly romantic song.

So what did you make of Bob Dole's criticism of violence in film and music?
Unfortunately, my paper got wet the day the story was in the paper, so I couldn't read it. But it seems like every time somebody wants to get publicity, they attack the entertainment industry for all the ills of the country. Bob Dole's certainly entitled to his opinion. I guess everybody is looking for a fall guy for the ills of society. I'm not going to be overly defensive because certainly there's stuff put out that maybe I wouldn't like or want my kids to see. But there's also a lot of stuff in the world that I do want to see. It sounds to me like Dole seems to put his foot in it once in a while. Though he's a smart guy, I think he's a little off base on this issue.

One of the films Dole singled out for praise was True Lies, which had a pretty high body count.
Yeah, that was a shoot-'em-up film. A lot of people do that — on the left, too. I remember years ago when The Deer Hunter was being criticized by people who hadn't seen it. Criticize anything you want — that's your prerogative. But at least look at it, and then form an opinion.