My one and only interview with guitar legend Tommy Tedesco

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, MAY 9, 1986

By Steve Newton

When word gets around in the recording industry that so-and-so is a hot session player, the demand for his talent grows considerably. For Tommy Tedesco, who hosts a guitar clinic at the Hotel Georgia May 17, it’s been growing for 30 years. Today he’s the most wanted studio guitarist in Los Angeles. He is also billed as “the most recorded guitarist in the history of the music business,” and feels that’s a pretty fair assessment.

“Well, let me put it this way,” says the burly 55-year-old, “it’s as accurate as possible. We always kid about it, you know, and if there’s somebody that decides that I’m only number two, that’s okay.

“But the reason they figured that is because I was [around] before most of the young guys nowadays, I’ve been recording for 30 years now and I’m still heavily involved in it.”

During his studio career, Tommy Tedesco has played on thousands of records. When the ’60s recording boom was on, he played on all the early sessions by the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, the Mamas & the Papas, and Phil Spector.

“A lot of people don’t realize that it was essentially the same band on all those records. What would happen is that road bands would form out of necessity after the records we cut became hits.”

As well as records for everyone from Doris Day to Frank Zappa, Tedesco has recorded innumerable movie soundtracks. He did Airport. He did Zoot Suit. Remember those poignant Godfather licks? He was even playing cool on Mary Poppins. And he has his own favourites.

“Just last year there was a movie called The River, and John Williams wrote the score. He wrote many solos for me–very warm, kinda nylon string classical-type solos. And there was a movie a few years ago called Gloria, which Bill Conti wrote the score for. It was the same situation–a lot of solos. I enjoy it when I have a lot of work to play.”

If you have never heard Tommy Tedesco on record or in the movies, chances are you’ve heard him played on TV. He’s on the theme songs of Happy Days, My Three Sons, Gilligan’s Island, The Munsters, Charlie’s Angels, The Gong Show and The Brady Bunch, to name but a few.

And those aren’t even his faves.

M*A*S*H, Bonanza, Three’s Company, The Odd Couple–those are the ones I was pretty heavy with. And if I have to pick one, I always like to pick Three’s Company, because there’s a little guitar wah wah thing that’s very distinctive. Whenever anyone hears that on the TV it’s very obvious. Another distinct one is Green Acres. Anyone who’s seen Green Acres hears this god-awful sound at the beginning, with this real rough fuzztone designating a pig.

“Well that was me.”

And who could forget Batman?

“Well Batman‘s pretty famous, but that’s an old rock lick–dana dana dana dana. We’ve used that for years, whereas for these others there was actually a part written.”

More recently, Tedesco has done the Cocoon soundtrack, worked with Henry Mancini on the upcoming Disney movie The Mouse That Roared, and played on the TV shows Dynasty and Hotel. He also did the recent Grammy Awards show. Live. With no second takes. Mind you he got paid very well for it–as he usually does. When he started doing sessions back in 1953, things weren’t quite as lucrative as they are today.

“It was a slow grind,” admits Tommy. “And there wasn’t much work. I was doing shows like Ozzie and Harriet. That’s when Ricky [Nelson] was just a little boy of nine or ten. There was just a few of those shows, and the recording work was primarily jazz-type dates. Rock was just coming into being.

“Then near the late part of the ’50s people started showin’ up like Paul Anka, and then pretty soon the Bobby Darins were around, and Elvis. When a bunch of those things started happening, I became part of a musical history that I wasn’t even aware of at the time. I mean I was just goin’ to work.”

When Tommy Tedesco was first learning his way around a fretboard, there weren’t a lot of guitar stars to emulate.

“Nowadays you’ve got thousands of people that can influence you, but when I was growing up there was Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. If you didn’t like either of them, then you just didn’t like guitar!

“And fortunately I liked them both.”

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As well as a session pro and music columnist for Guitar Player magazine, Tommy Tedesco is director of the studio guitar program at Hollywood’s Guitar Institute of Technology. His two-hour seminar takes place May 17, 12 noon, at the Hotel Georgia ballroom. Advance tickets are ten dollars at authorized Fender dealers. There is limited seating, so get them while you can.

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