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True Confessions : Guitarist Tedesco Brings Tales From the Recording Studio, and His Playing, to Santa Ana

June 11, 1993|BILL KOHLHAASE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Guitarist Tommy Tedesco has stories, lots of stories. They're the kind of yarns you'd expect from a guy whose lengthy list of recording credits includes, just for starters, such names as Presley, Sinatra, Streisand and Mancini.

There's the one about the first recording of Michel Legrand's "What Are You Doing the Rest Of Your Life?," the ballad Legrand wrote for the 1969 movie "The Happy Ending," with Jean Simmons, John Forsythe and Lloyd Bridges.

"It's a story of how you have to please the leader on a recording session," Tedesco, 62, explained on the phone from his home in Northridge. "We played the tune for the first time and Michel says to me, 'Tommy, you playing with a pick or your fingers?' Now I have to think about what he wants. So I tell him I playing with a pick because I know he's going to say, 'Play it with your fingers and it will sound much better.' Of course, I tell him 'Sure, OK.'

"So then we go back into the studio, and everybody knows I'm going to play it with a pick. That's just the way I play and all the guys in the band knew it. So I played the same solo with the pick, and we went back and listened to it and Michel looks at me and says, 'See, Tom? It sounds so much better without the pick.' "

Tedesco will bring his stories, and his guitar, to Saturday's opening of Club Crazie, a new coffeehouse-like performance space in the basement of the Pacific Symphony Center in Santa Ana.

In a show entitled "Confessions of a Studio Musician," Tedesco will recall tales from his session days, while providing musical backing with his guitar.

"I think of the show in terms of three types of music," he explains, "jazz, Latin and classical. I talk about how you please a producer, how you please a singer, tricks of the trade, how you play Latin melodies, things like that. It's all a put-on about the music business."

And, as when he's playing the guitar, he'll be doing more than a bit of improvisation.

"I have a set pattern, but then I can go different directions. I have no idea how it's going to happen. I'm liable to make believe I'm Oprah Winfrey and start asking myself questions. It's my show, and I do whatever I want."

Tedesco is well known as an educator-lecturer. His long-running "Studio Log" column in "Guitar Player" magazine has made him a cult hero among his peers. The idea for this show, he said, developed from his days as an instructor at the Musicians Institute of Technology in Hollywood (formerly the Guitar Institute of Technology) and from his experiences giving clinics on behalf of different guitar-makers.

"Every time somebody plays for an audience, even someone who is really hot, the audience is bored after 10 minutes. They won't say they're bored. But after 15 minutes, they've heard enough. But they bought the ticket so they might as well stay," he said.

"By doing these stories, the guy who brought his wife to hear me, she starts to enjoy it. 'Oh,' she says, 'That was a great story about Herbie Alpert.' So I began to throw more stories in and pretty soon it became: play for a while, talk for a while, play for a while more."

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Born in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Tedesco came to Los Angeles in 1953 and began playing the local club scene.

A job in the house band of the now-defunct Crescendo club had him backing Peggy Lee, Mel Torme, Johnny Mathis, the Mills Brothers and others. By 1955, he was doing a little studio work.

"I began subbing on Ozzie Nelson's show when Ricky was just a kid, and pretty soon I gradually began to meet people. My first movie (soundtrack session) was 'Around the World in 80 Days,' then the 'Peter Gunn' television show. It just went on year after year."

As one of the elite handful of studio guitarists in Hollywood for more than 30 years, Tedesco amassed an astonishing list of credits.

Among the movie soundtracks he's played on, he counts 45 alone whose titles begin with the letter "B," from "Baby It's You" to "Bye Bye Birdie."

For television, he played lead guitar for the themes from "Bonanza," "Batman," "MASH" and "Green Acres."

He also can be heard on such pop hits as Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas," Johnny Rivers' "Poor Side of Town," 5th Dimension's "Up-Up and Away," Jan and Dean's "The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena)," Frank Sinatra's "Strangers in the Night" and the Mamas & the Papas' "Monday, Monday." He's even backed Alvin & the Chipmunks.

"It was the heyday of records," he says. "We worked from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. seven days a week. We'd start with some movie score, then go work for Phil Spector late into the night. A lot of times, we didn't even know what it was we were doing. They put a piece of music in front of you, I play, it's over, they send me the money. That's it.

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