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Niagara Falls’ Tommy Tedesco: The Unsung Hero Behind Untold Songs

By Ryan Wolf

You've seen his face painted on Pine Avenue across from the Como Restaurant, but have heard his music long before then. He added a startling richness to chart-topping hits. He brought the perfect emotional touch to beloved film scores. His guitar brightened catchy television themes. Yet, somehow, Niagara Falls native Tommy Tedesco never earned the household name status he deserved despite being, according to music critic Michael Leonard, “the most famous guitarist you've never heard of.”

Tommy's son, filmmaker Denny Tedesco, is seeking to amend this injustice. In 2008, on an early stop in the festival circuit, Denny aired The Wrecking Crew, a documentary on his father and other fellow session musicians, at the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival. The showing was sold out and received rave reviews.

Currently, Denny is raising funds to pay for music rights that would allow for a wider release of the picture. Once this is accomplished, Tommy Tedesco may finally be introduced by name to a public that has long recognized the many songs he played on.

Working with some of the largest acts in popular music history, at his peak Tommy was the most sought after session guitarist in the industry. His incredible, ego-less work is spun on radio stations daily. The exhilarating drive of the Ronette's “Be My Baby” and the bounce of the Beach Boy's “Fun, Fun, Fun” and “God Only Knows” feature Tedesco's prowess. The gorgeous melodies of “You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'” by the Righteous Brothers and Frank Sinatra's “Strangers in the Night” are indebted to his haunting skill. Sam Cooke's “Twistin' the Night Away,” Gary Lewis & the Playboys' “Sure Gonna Miss Her,” and the Mamas and the Papas' “Dedicated to the One I Love” include but a small sampling of songs that benefited from the distinct magic of his contributions.

Occasionally backing Elvis Presley, Frank Zappa, Cher, the Monkees, Barbara Streisand, and Ella Fitzgerald, among others, as part of the “Wrecking Crew” of session musicians, Tedesco boosted the stars' shimmering sounds.

Tedesco's work in film and television remains as endearing. Whether playing the electric sitar on the score for Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom or enhancing the dread of the movie Jaws, Tedesco's talents were constantly employed by Hollywood. He was a favorite of composers John Williams and James Horner who at times wrote music specifically with Tedesco in mind. With film credits ranging from The Godfather to The French Connection to Rocky III to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Tedesco found his guitar chops desired by studios year after year.

Television's most memorable themes often contained prominent riffs by Tedesco. Bonanza, Twilight Zone Green Acres, Batman, Roots, M*A*S*H and Three's Company all highlight Tedesco's soaring guitar. His unparalleled ability to adapt to a diversity of musical styles led to his involvement with a plethora of television-related projects including TV movies, miniseries, commercials, and animated shorts.

Though the nature of his career called Tedesco away from Niagara Falls to Los Angeles, the city he grew up in defined the guitarist's outlook and provided a lifelong haven for him. Born on 12th Street in Niagara Falls on July 30, 1930, Tedesco writes in his autobiography, Confessions of a Guitar Player (1993), that he received his “Bachelor's Degree in street smarts... from Pine Avenue University.” He viewed this education as indispensable and later in 1988 bought a home in Grand Island to be closer to the area he adored.
As The Wrecking Crew producers come closer to raising royalty funds for partial use of 132 popular songs in the picture, originally estimated worth 2.5 million dollars, Tommy Tedesco may soon find appreciation well beyond Niagara Falls. Outtakes from the film, screening information, and donation opportunities can be explored at wreckingcrew.tv.

Denny Tedesco, who predicts future showings of The Wrecking Crew in Western New York by March
of 2013, continues to devote himself to the preservation of his father's legacy. “He was always one to give,” says Denny, “He was a protector who would take the hit for younger guys.”

Tedesco's son recalls that once the guitarist purposefully made mistakes during a recording to cover for a young bassist who lost his place in a song. Tommy Tedesco claimed that his “pick slipped” in order to deflect attention away from the bassist. This bassist, Chuck Rainey, would later go on to work with Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, and Marvin Gaye.

Tommy Tedesco also took drummer Thom Rotella of Niagara Falls under his wing. Rotella currently plays drums for the television shows Family Guy and American Dad. Denny Tedesco says that such behavior was characteristic of Tommy who “was a real person looking out for the underdog.”

A devoted family man, Tommy Tedesco was able to differentiate work from life at home. Denny recalls, “My father never brought his guitar home. He worked twelve to thirteen hours a day but when he came home he was with his family.”

Though Tommy never became famous as a solo artist (he once joked with a student about receiving $2,000 for playing three simple chords for a few hours and only receiving $35 for much more complex personal work at a jazz club), he nonetheless made an impression as a humble hero who fueled decades of wonderful music. When he sadly passed on November 10, 1997, a commemorative obituary ran in the New York Times.

The man behind the Pine Avenue painting, the man behind a thousand songs, the man whose artistry so frequently was left uncredited, must be remembered for the tremendous depth of both his talent and his character. The Wrecking Crew, once fully financially prepared for a wide release, should dramatically increase public awareness of Tommy Tedesco's work.
A resilient and self-sacrificing son of Niagara Falls, Tommy will still be heard speaking to us through his guitar a hundred years from now.

How is this for a hit parade?

Tedesco’s distinctive guitar is heard on these hit songs:

Ventures “Hawaii Five O”; The Monkees: “Mary Mary;” The Association; "Along Comes Mary"; David Cassidy “Cherish” ; The Beach Boys, "Fun, Fun, Fun”, "Good Vibrations," "I Get Around"; The Fifth Dimension; "The Age of Aquarius," "Up, Up and Away"; Gary Lewis & the Playboys; "This Diamond Ring" and “Sure Gonna Miss Her” The Mamas & Papas; "California Dreamin'", "Monday, Monday"; The Righteous Brothers, "You've Lost That Lovin'Feeling"; Frank Sinatra, "Strangers in the Night"; Nancy Sinatra, "These Boots Were Made For Walkin'" Frank and Nancy, “Something Stupid”; Roger Miller, “Dang Me”; Nilsson, “Everybody’s Talkin”; Barry McGuire, “Eve of Destruction”; New Christy Minstrels, “Green, Green”; Elvis Presley Viva Las Vegas”; Richard Harris “MacArthur Park”; The Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”; Herb Alpert, “A Taste of Honey”; Alvin and the Chimpmunks, “The Christmas Song,”; Partridge Family, “I think I Love You”; Johnny Rivers, “Poor Side of Town”; Jan and Dean “409” “Little Old Lady From Pasadena”; Bobby Darin, “18 Yellow Roses”

Now isten for that wondrous sound of his guitar and get an appreciation of Tedesco’s virtuosity. Or listen to TV  theme songs: Bonanza, Twilight Zone, Green Acres, Batman, M*A*S*H, Starsky & Hutch, Kojak, The Brady Bunch, Dallas, Get Smart, Gilligan's Island, Gunsmoke, Happy Days, The Love Boat, The Munsters, Three's Company,and The Waltons.
There was a reason they sought him out among all the guitarists in America.

Tedesco’s movie credits include The Godfather, Jaws, Mission: Impossible, The French Connection and The Deer Hunter, Blade Runner, Bonnie & Clyde, The Buddy Holly Story, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, California Suite, Cocoon, Cool Hand Luke, The Deer Hunter, The Exorcist, Field of Dreams, The French Connection, Girl Crazy, The Godfather, Grease, Guess Who s Coming to Dinner, Jaws, The Odd Couple, Rio Lobo, The River, Viva Las Vegas, and Young Frankenstein.
Guitar Player Magazine and others have written that Tommy Tedesco was the most recorded guitarist in music history.
That is most probably the truth.



Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Oct 30, 2012