TOMMY TEDESCO AND FRIENDS ON THE GOLDEN AGE OF STUDIO GUITAR BY JAS OBRECHT

One song comes to mind that takes me back to a time when I was fortunate enough to play guitar in a very cool, very authentic ’60’s cover band called Route 66 – (This band was hatched from The Tangents and Eddie & The Trays. Great memories.)  The song I’m referring to that was really fun to play now feels like it has really become the anthem of my life. It was by Booker T. and The MG’s and is called “Time Is Tight”.  Boy is it and that’s all I’ve got…

I was hoping to do so much with the site this year and I can’t believe that’s it’s already summertime.  I’m hoping “the living is easy” for you but I’m beginning to have my doubts even about that for myself as work has been plentiful and when one freelances, one must go for it while the gettin’ is good.

In the mean time I’m going to move a GREAT guitarist story to the top again that was run mid February as we now have some cool add ons that are put after the story (so as to not interfere directly with the pictures and flow of the story as it was originally presented by Jas Obrecht.)

The story, “Tommy Tedesco and Friends On The Age of Studio Guitar by Jas Obrecht” caught the eye of one of Tommy Tedesco’s sons, Wrecking Crew Filmmaker, Denny Tedesco.  After Denny saw the article, he shot me an email saying that he remembered the party and that he could get me some pictures to add to the story if I could use them.  I thought to myself that this was way cool.  (Thanks so much Denny and my sincerest apologies for it taking so long to get the photos up.)

I’m going to call this my disclaimer just in case there were any mistakes made in identifying some of the greats in the pictures.  Even though I had help in trying to figure out just who everyone was in the photos, it wasn’t an easy task by any means.  So here goes: My apologies to any persons, living or no longer with us, who might have a wrong name attached to the photo that was thought to be you.  It was purely accidental if it happened and if there were any mistakes, please contact me through the site and we’ll get things all sorted out.

Special thanks to Denny Tedesco and his mother Carmie Tedesco for use of the photographs, and the help of Denny, Mitch Holder, and Bobby Fury (aka Bob Mytkowicz) for their help in confirming the identities of those in the photos.  The b&w digital images used were taken from scans of 34 year old color snapshots which had faded and lost out to time, standard color processing, etc., etc., etc.,. As mentioned in the story, “The occasion was a sendoff for longtime session guitarists Al Hendrickson and Michael Anthony.”  Enjoy!      Jack

One really way cool thing about having this “fun little guitar site” has to do with the people that I have had the privilege to have contact with.  Jas Obrecht is one of these people.

Jas was an editor at Guitar Player Magazine for some twenty years and has interviewed so many great guitarists it would make your head spin.  Not only is he a noteworthy author and a fine guitarist in his own right, but he is also a founding editor of Pure Guitar Magazine.  Jas has an immense amount of  music knowledge.

Be sure to check out his way cool blog at Jas Obrecht.com.  It’s truly a GREAT site!  Please enjoy this really cool article that Jas has so graciously shared with all of us through Jackaboutguitars.      –   Jack

TOMMY TEDESCO AND FRIENDS ON THE GOLDEN AGE OF STUDIO GUITAR BY JAS OBRECHT

Tommy Tedesco, the most recorded guitarist in history, was also one of the most beloved characters to ever work the Los Angeles music scene. And work it he did: After arriving from Niagara Falls in 1953, Tommy spent four decades playing sessions for countless films, TV shows, record albums, commercial jingles – you name it. A ferociously good sight-reader, this wonderful, big-hearted Italian maestro of the strings became the town’s “first call” guitarist, meaning he was the first person to call for sessions.

Beyond being a brilliant player, Tommy was renowned for his mischievous sense of humor and willingness to help talented newcomers navigate the studio system. He was a much-loved character, and everyone who as part of that scene has choice Tedesco stories to share. I too have many fond memories him, and one stands above the rest. First, some background.

 

Before arriving at Guitar Player magazine in May ’78, I’d never heard of Tommy Tedesco. That all changed my first day on the job, when I was handed my regular monthly assignments. Among them were editing columns by Jeff Baxter, Barney Kessel, and Tommy Tedesco. Baxter, I learned, liked to dictate his over the phone. Kessel carefully hand-wrote his on a yellow legal pad. Tommy’s “Studio Log” column showed up in the mail, neatly typed and with an attached page of music from a recent session. These columns provided unsurpassed insight into studio life at the time, as Tommy detailed who each session was for, what gear he played, how he modified the music, and what he was paid. He’d always call to ask if the column was okay. I found him to be a wonderful guy through and through, and I ended up editing his column for fourteen years. I always enjoyed being around him at seminars, trade shows, studio dates, and when he’d visit our office.

 

My fondest memory of the man dates to May 18, 1980. That night Tommy and his wife Carmie threw a party at their spacious home in Northridge, California. The occasion was a sendoff for longtime session guitarists Al Hendrickson and Michael Anthony. By early evening, cars of all shapes and sizes had pulled up in front of the house. The signatures in the guest book included Bob Bain, Dennis Budimir, Larry Carlton, Steve Carnelli, David Cohen, Joe DiBlasi, Herb Ellis, Ron Eschete, Robben Ford, Grant Geissman, Jay Graydon, Al Hendrickson, Mitch Holder, Carol Kaye, Pat Martino, Tim May, Greg Poree, Lee Ritenour, Alan Reuss, Tony Rizzi, Thom Rotella, George M. Smith, and Barry Zweiss. In retrospect, this party proved to be a once-in-a-lifetime gathering of Los Angeles’ top studio guitarists.

 

As I reported in the April 1981 issue of Guitar Player, “The tenor of the evening was laid-back and polite, with no sign of inflated egos. Over clinking glasses and infectious laughter, most conversations centered on families, girlfriends, memories of old pals and times gone, humorous events in the studio, scams at the golf course, and friendly wagers. Although several instruments were inconspicuously stacked in a corner of the living room, none of these sharpshooters opened a case all night.” Several times that evening, I heard the quip, “If someone dropped a bomb on this party, L.A. would be a wide-open town for guitarists!”

Tommy had excellent journalistic instincts, and he’d encouraged me to bring along my tape recorder. A couple of hours into the party he corralled several of his pals into his study to talk about L.A.’s studio guitar scene. Representing the old guard were the revered players George M. Smith and Al Hendrickson. Smith, who had been active from 1929 through 1962, had played banjo and acoustic guitar on classic films for many famous Hollywood directors. Mastering the material in his seminal 1942 book Modern Guitar Method for Rhythm and Chord Improvising had been a rite of passage for virtually every guitarist at the party. A fine jazz player, Al Hendrickson had recorded with Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and the Andrews Sisters before World War II. During his subsequent 35 years on the L.A. scene, he had played on over 5,000 films and many albums. Another long-time veteran was dapper, debonair Bob Bain, the guitarist for the Tonight Show. Representing the younger generation were Mitch Holder and Tim May, close friends who’d been doing film, TV, record, and jingle dates since the mid 1970s.

 

It was obvious that everyone had vast respect for George M. Smith, so I started the conversation by asking George what the studio scene was like when he’d arrived a half-century earlier. “There were three teachers, and they knew nine chords – three each!” he replied. “That’s about the way it was. I had to do all the research myself. See, those days, no one could read – it was all by ear – so they hired the guitarists and mandolin players a week in advance to teach them their parts. I used a little of Eddie Lang’s and Dick McDonough’s style, and a little bit of my own.” The electric guitar, of course, was virtually unheard of during this era.

 

Back then, Bob Bain added, “The average orchestra would maybe not have a guitar. They’d score a picture and there would be no guitar. If they used one, it would be almost as a solo instrument for a certain scene. Most of the composers in those days were not used to writing for guitar. The only time they did it was for a sequence that would require, say, banjo, or for a Western sequence.” Smith concurred: “I made the major part of my living before World War II with the banjo. I did all those John Ford movies – Grapes of Wrath, Tobacco Road. Electric guitar was out completely. If you were a jazz player before the war, you really didn’t work except when they wanted jazz guitar. That was a bad reputation to have!”                                                                                                     

 

Tommy pointed out that being a jazz guitarist in Hollywood didn’t become hip until after he’d come on the scene: “Okay, in the’50s I found it was kind of hip playing jazz, like when Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts, and a few of the guys came in. They were featured, like when Bob [Bain] started playing on the Peter Gunn show with Henry Mancini. That was a big turnaround for jazz-type guitarists in this town. All of a sudden there was jazz work and jazz sounds. At that time, having a jazz score was as far removed as it would be to have somebody come up and tell you that all the music next year is going to be Hawaiian. When the tune ‘Peter Gunn’ took off, people said, ‘Oh, my God – I don’t believe that.’ That’s how far out it was to score that music.”

 

The popularity of jazz guitar held until the early 1970s, observed Al Hendrickson, and then “the jazz reputation got real bad again. There came to be a real distinction between rock and roll – or, for lack of a better term, contemporary – guitarists and jazz guitarists. Jazz guitarists would assume, and many times it’s true, that they just couldn’t talk to the rock and roll kids. So then the connotation of jazz got to be real negative again. In the early days, though, there were very few guitarists who could read at all. If they wanted somebody to come and play a jazz solo, that’s one thing. But it took a long time before they had enough confidence in guitar players to really write them into the score.”

 

That situation didn’t begin to change until Hendrickson, Bain, and Tony Rizzi demonstrated their sight-reading abilities. In the 1950s, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet became the first show to prominently feature guitar parts. At the time, there were so few guitarists able to play the music that the union had to give Bob Bain permission to play into overtime. “Ozzie and Harriet was a hard show, with the only guitar book in town,” Tommy remembered. “In those days, once you ran out of the five or six guys who could read, it was all over. When I finally subbed for Bob on Ozzie and Harriet, I was like a hero in this town because I was able to do it. That’s how astounding it was at the time for a guy to be able to do something.”

 

“Once composers found a guitarist who could read,” Bain added, “they began to use him, especially with electric guitar. George Smith is responsible for the studio guitar player really being recognized as a musician. Prior to that, guitarists were only thought of as rhythm players who played ukulele-type chords. If you remember, the guitar came out of the banjo, tenor banjo, and then the 6-string guitar. George turned it all around and wrote a method showing all the chords on the guitar, which was probably the most erudite thing that was ever done on the subject. He was the guy who laid the groundwork for us all.”

 

Before World War II, Smith recalled, he had to read piano parts: “If I didn’t learn to read piano parts – I don’t mean two-line things, but four-line chords – I wouldn’t have worked. When I first started in this business, I knew as much as anybody else in six-string chords, and they sounded horrible. Believe me, after hearing all these beautiful sounds around me and hearing those six-string chords doubling in there, I decided something had to be done. I started looking at Gershwin’s and Ellington’s music, and I saw the beautiful voicings. I said, ‘There’s something wrong with what I’ve been doing on the guitar.’ I knew something had to be done. I remembered all the good jazz tunes that Jack Teagarden played and noticed these beautiful changes kept reoccurring all the time. That was the basis of the book – it was based on bass notes. But it was rough. Believe me, when I quit the business, I was happy. It was difficult to pioneer all these things and put up with conductors who didn’t know. And you might think that just because they didn’t know, they were kind to you. They weren’t. You paid a hell of a price playing in those days. Sometimes they’d call you in for a $30 session, and you’d work one hour with the orchestra and then they’d make you stay around and play solos for two hours. They’d use those solos any way they’d want to – you didn’t even know what picture they used them in.”

 

When George mentioned that listening to Eddie Lang’s duets with violinist Joe Venuti inspired his interest in music, Bon Bain pointed out that there used to be a whole different approach to playing acoustic guitar. “Go back to Dick McDonough and Carl Kress on‘Stagefright’ or ‘Dance On.’ To get the sound and do it, boy, you’re going to have to get your acoustic guitar out and spend a lot of time on it. We’re so used to playing the electric, where everything kind of comes out easily. To play an acoustic guitar solo with a good sound, you have to really concentrate. It’s an entirely different technique.”

 

This insight prompted Mitch Holder to ask how the demands on studio guitarists changed once conductors felt that electric guitars could be written into the music. “After television came in,” Bain said, “they were sometimes using three or four guitars on a date. They used guitar for chases. I don’t care if it was horses, cars, or boats – the guitar could create emotion, action, and almost an anxiety if you needed it. The composers were always under the wire. They couldn’t really take their time about something, so they would say, ‘I’ll put in the rhythm section, and the easiest thing is to let the guitars make up the rhythm section or get something going.’ The part may have shown F7 for sixteen bars, but they’d say, ‘Create something.’ The guitar suddenly became very important.”

 

Tommy agreed: “Creativity has taken over tremendously. Years ago you didn’t create at all. You weren’t even allowed to create – if they wrote a part, that’s all they expected. And now it’s the opposite: They write something and expect you to create. Now Mitch and Tim are involved with The Dukes of Hazard. There are certain effects they use that don’t have anything to do with straight reading. You not only have to read, but you also have to be able to create whatever this leader wants.” Tim May concurred, pointing out that at many sessions he brings something new to the rhythm part: “They’ll love it when you get away from it, because usually they write pretty much nothing. But there are times when you have to second-guess the cat: Do you want this exactly like this or not?”

 

Mitch speculated that back in the 1960s, when recording dates would typically have multiple guitarists, the players worked so much “they could walk in and everybody knew what to do.” Tommy disagreed: “Not really. When they had three guitarists, one was an electric player, one was a rhythm