HIGGS: Excerpts from the life of Tommy Tedesco

Chris Tedesco

We are coming to the end of the local talent that was a great part of our Niagara Falls history. There must have been something in the water to create the talent that was born and bred in our city and dispersed all over the world at one time or another.

Our last participant is probably the most well known – at least he is certainly out in the open – right on Pine Avenue in front of the famous Como Restaurant on the building across the street, looking down on all of the action. The portrait of Tom Tedesco strumming his guitar is hard to miss and you can almost hear the theme from “Bonanza” or the one from “The Twilight Zone” all of which were made famous by this Niagara Falls musician, composer, teacher between the 1960s and the 1980s.

A lifelong friend of Tommy was Al Giambattista (both were raised on 22nd Street just a block apart, along with many others who became famous musicians. Refer to one of my earlier columns for details). Al was pretty much responsible for the placement of this portrait of Tommy and also for creating “Tommy Tedesco Boulevard” at one of the entrances to the City Market. Looking down along Pine Avenue from their perch near Tommy are two other legendary well-known, home grown heroes: Nick Antonucci of the Como Restaurant and Sal Maglie, the pro baseball player, both of whom Al said, “have done things nobody else has done.”

Tommy was “honored” at the Buffalo History Museum in Buffalo as a part of the “Giants of Buffalo." The story of his is life was featured in an informal musically enhanced discussion by his son Denny. A documentary called “The Wrecking Crew” also produced by his son detailed Tommy’s extraordinary studio musical career in Los Angeles during the '50s and '60s.

Wikipedia writes: “Born in Niagara Falls, Tedesco moved to the West Coast where he became one of the most-sought-after studio musicians during these years. Besides the guitar, he also played the mandolin, ukulele, siter and many other stringed instruments. “Guitar Player” magazine described Tommy as the most recorded guitarist in history. They listed thousands of recordings with the top musicians working in the area including the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, the Everly Brothers, the Association, Barbra Streisand, Jan and Dean, the 5th Dimensions, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Zappa, Ricky Nelson, Cher and Nancy and Frank Sinatra. More of his playing can be found on Jack Nitzsche’s “The Lonely Surfer,” on Wayne Newton’s version of “Danke Schoen”, B. Bumble and the Stinger’s “Nut Rocker”, the Rip Chords, the Tonettes’ “Be My Baby, the Sandpipers, Guantanamera”, the T-Bones’ “No Matter What Shape” and Nino Tempo & April Stevens version of “Deep Purple.”

Tommy wrote a regular column called “Studio Log” in which he would describe a day’s work recording a movie, TV show or album; the special challenges each job posed and how he solved them, what instruments he used and how much money he made on the job.”

He also performed on film soundtracks such as “The French Connection,” “The Godfather,” “Jaws,” “The Deer Hunter,” Field of Dreams," “Gloria” and several Elvis Presley films. The credits continue with the opening guitar solo for the Howard Hawks and John Wayne film “Rio Lobo” Tommy was one of the few sidemen credited for work on animated cartoons for the “The Ant and the Aardvark” cartoons during 1968 through 1971.

He had his own jazz guitar albums but his musical career ended in 1992 when he suffered a stroke that resulted in partial paralysis.

In a Niagara Gazette column by Judith Potwora, Tommy stated he had Pine Avenue Street Smarts. He referred to the bravado he learned growing up in the Pine Avenue area that helped boost his success, especially in the early days. “Nobody admits they can’t do anything" he summed up the philosophy he learned from the men in his old neighborhood. “I built a whole career on Pine Avenue street sense”.

This interview took place in a surprise ceremony on a Sunday night. His picture was added to the Como Restaurant’s Hall of Fame which consists of a collection of photographs of famous Italian-American entertainers. During this evening he was also presented with a plaque honoring him for helping local musicians get to Hollywood.

During 1992 he began writing his autobiography “Confessions of a Guitar Player.” Tommy Tedesco died of lung cancer in 1997 at the age of 67 in Northridge, California. His son Denny Tedesco directed the 2008 documentary film “The Wrecking Crew” which features interviews with Tommy and many of his fellow session musicians. It was released in 2015, after musical rights were cleared. In 2017, Tommy Tedesco was posthumously inducted into the Niagara Falls Music Hall of Fame.


Contact Norma Higgs by email at niahigg@aol.com.

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