By Michele DeLuca
Niagara Gazette — If Niagara Falls was a person instead of a city, it would likely be a guy just like Tommy Tedesco.
The city personified would be a wildly irreverent, deeply loving of family, forever loyal to friends, with a penchant for gambling that might make a man late to his own wedding and an international reputation that doesn’t begin to touch upon the real character and richness within.
Pretty much like friends and family describe Tedesco.
Tommy Tedesco was raised on 22nd Street near Ferry Avenue. Thanks to the efforts led by Al Giambattista, a life-long neighbor and friend, his picture adorns a building on Pine Avenue, at the corner of his street, along with two other legendary home-grown heroes, Nick Antonucci, of the Como Restaurant, and Sal Maglie, the pro baseball player. And there’s a sign leading to the City Market that declares one entrance Tommy Tedesco Boulevard.
“I’m proud of Tom,” says Giambattista, an 84-year-old retired sax player who wears a leather jacket and drives a black Pontiac with racing stipes. “He’s done things nobody else has done.”
Those “things,” will surely be examined on Friday at the “Giants of Buffalo” series, where Tedesco will be honored at the Buffalo History Museum.
The details of his extraordinary life will be shared in a musically enhanced discussion in a series called “Buffalo Greats.” On Saturday, a documentary called “The Wrecking Crew,” produced by Tedesco’s son, Denny, will detail the rise of Tommy and a small band of esteemed colleagues who worked as studio musicians in Los Angeles.
The documentary is more than a son’s tribute to his father. It’s more like a 16-year obsession-driven odyssey, which Denny has been working on since shortly before his father died of lung cancer at the age of 67.
The film, to be shown at the Market Arcade at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday, has not yet hit theaters but has already won awards in film festivals, including the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival.
“The Wrecking Crew,” takes viewers inside the lives of some of the estimated 20 or so musicians who played on soundtracks behind the most beloved movies, television shows and rock and roll songs of the 60s and 70s.
The list of stars and famous musicians Tedesco rubbed elbows with as a member of the “crew” are a who’s who in Hollywood from that time, from Frank Sinatra to Cher to Elvis. Tedesco’s guitar enlivened television shows from “Bonanza” to “Three’s Company.” And the list of movies infused by his talent takes up three pages in his book “Tommy Tedesco: Confessions of a Guitar Player.”
In fact, Tommy’s hand touched so much music that it has presented the last obstacle his son must conquer before releasing the film, in which copyright fees had to be determined and paid for 125 songs. After much effort, Denny was able to chip away at user fees to only about a quarter of the original $2 million copyright fee estimate.
“I needed to show the quantity of music,” said Denny, who has been previewing the documentary to audiences around the world, from Germany to Israel, where he has been delighted to watch foreign viewers sing along to the hits. “Yes, it’s an American story but this music touches everybody,” he said.
Tedesco is looking for sponsors to help him continue showing the film, along with organizations who might like to use it as a fundraising tool; and to help bring it to market. He would love to bring it to Niagara Falls, the place his father called home and where Denny and his three siblings spent every summer of their life.
Niagara Falls is truly a special place to the Tedesco family.
Despite the fact that Tommy was denied membership to the local musicians’ union when he retired and moved to Grand Island (a letter he kept framed in his bathroom next to his studio musician of the year award), the city of Niagara Falls remains a special place for the Tedesco’s, according to his wife, Carmie.
She had moved to Los Angeles with her husband when she was 21 and he was 23. Times were hard but when her in-laws encouraged them to return to the Falls, she resisted, battling against the words of naysayers who predicted their failure. That Tommy made a considerable career for himself as a studio musician of note was a testimony to great stubbornness and enduring good luck as much as his esteemed talent.
The same stubbornness showed in his son’s determination to make this film more than what his wife once wondered jokingly might end up as a “really expensive home video.”
Despite the acclaim and attention it has been gathering, the documentary does one thing for sure - it keeps Tommy alive for his family and friends.
“I’ve seen the film a dozen times,” Carmie said. “I never have the feeling that Tommy’s gone. I always have the feeling that he’s here.”
Contact Features Editor Michele Deluca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.
IF YOU GO WHAT: "Giants of Buffalo" discussion on Tommy Tedesco, featuring Denny Tedesco. WHEN: Friday. Cocktail reception is at 6 p.m. Program is from 7 to 8:30 p.m. WHAT: A discussion series held every third Friday will feature Niagara Falls native and legendary guitarist, the late Tommy Tedesco. His son, Denny, will discuss his documentary "The Wrecking Crew," about his father and friends. Screening of documentary will take place at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.Saturday at the Market Arcade Theater in Buffalo. WHERE: Buffalo History Museum, Elmwood Avenue and Nottingham Terrace FOR MORE INFORMATION: Call 873-9644.