Master Sgt. Chris Carlisle displays his calliope and collection of self-playing carnival organs at his Hillsboro home. Carlisle sells music from such machines as soundtracks for movies, televisions shows and commercials. (Submitted photo)
HILLSBORO, Mo. - If you're a fan of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" or the Fox-TV hit, "House," you've probably heard the music of Master Sgt. Chris R. Carlisle without even knowing it.
Carlisle, of Hillsboro, is not a musician; he is a full time Missouri Air National Guardsman with the 121st Air Control Squadron at Jefferson Barracks in south St. Louis County. His interest in music and subsequent involvement in show business grew from his childhood in Sikeston where his grandfather operated a museum of coin-operated arcade machines, player-pianos and organs.
"My grandfather had the world's largest collection of these old, automatic types of organs," Carlisle said. "He would take these machines to fairs and carnivals; set them up in a tent and let people use them. They also sold records of the music the machines played; carnival type music you hear at fairs and so forth."
After being in Sikeston for 13 years, the "Melody Museum" moved to St. Louis in 1966 and set up shop across the street from Busch Stadium, where it remained in operation until 1972.
"By the time my grandfather retired the market for this type of music was dead," Carlisle explained. "We sold most of the machines to the Walt Disney Company but my mother wanted me to take all the music because she said there was nothing more she could do with it. So, I inherited some 600 reel-to-reel tapes."
Determined not let the nostalgic melodies die, Carlisle began bringing the old tape recordings into the 21st century.
"I acquired a reel-to-reel tape machine and started transferring all this carnival music to a hard drive and then to CDs," Carlisle said. "I also started putting them on I-Tunes and Amazon."
Those kinds of exposure lead to Carlisle's music being used for soundtracks in movies and television.
"I had music in a Southwest Airlines commercial; in "Adventure Land," a movie with Kristen Stewart; in "Hugo," and in "Extraordinary Measures," with Harrison Ford," said Carlisle. "Then I got a phone call from Search Party Music, of New York, a company that acquires music for movies and television programs. The guy who called was the music supervisor for "Boardwalk Empire" and he said they wanted to use some of my music for the show."
Carlisle was happy to oblige and sent the company 80 CDs.
"They used 37 songs the first season; 20 the second season, and they've used 17 songs so far this season," he said.
By his own admission Carlisle was initially not a fan of "Boardwalk Empire" but has had a change of heart.
"At first I'd never heard of it but I watch the show religiously now," he said with a laugh.
Carlisle is of course paid for the use of his music and said the fee varies from production to production. He also gets a perk you cannot put a price on.
"I get my name in the credits at the end of the show," Carlisle said. "It's pretty cool to see your name on the screen."
Carlisle has managed to repurchase three of his grandfather's old machines and now owns five, including a calliope and several Wurlitzer organs. He also has his own web site, bandorganmusic.com, on which he has old video footage of his grandfather and of the music machines he collected.
"The internet has really helped keep this music alive," he said. "It's funny because when people hear this music, nine out of 10 of them recognize the tune but couldn't name it."
A five-year veteran of the Air Force, Carlisle also served in the Navy Reserve and Army National Guard before joining the Air Guard nine years ago.
Master Sgt. Carlisle has college degrees in criminal justice and information management.
He and his wife, Lynn, are the proud parents of a 14-year-old daughter, Casey.
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Master Sgt. Chris Carlisle, of Hillsboro, serves the Missouri Air National Guard's 121st Air Control Squadron, and has sold carnival music as soundtracks for numerous movies and television programs. (Bill Phelan photo)