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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

Write It On A Twenty And Send It On Up

Ode To The Working Man: Tommy Tedesco

Yesterday’s blast of Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman corollary goodness elicited a few comments about the relative obscurity or importance, and the entertainment value, of Happy Kyne and The Mirth-Makers.

It was a joke that wasn’t funny for some, or one you didn’t get for others. It was mordantly funny, and a bit subversive for a devotee. I was one of those.

A commenter pointed out that Happy was Frank De Vol. Frank is one of those guys. Guys that work in Hollywood. It’s almost not possible to list Frank’s accomplishments. There are too many, and they’re all sort of notable, and even if no longer household words, they’re at least recognizable to almost any human in the United States, and plenty elsewhere, too.

Hollywood’s a weird place. It’s full of people that work. They’re not like the stars; they’re generally pleasant, hardworking, and more or less salubrious, and have real, cultivated talents. They make the whole place go, no matter how dissipated and ephemeral the people in front of the camera or the microphone might be. Frank was no doubt considered flighty in his social circle, as he was married twice; of course his first marriage lasted 54 years until his wife passed away — but still.

Martin Mull’s show was about breaking down the wall of phony between the audience and the host, and the host and the guests, and the talent and the heavy lifting, so it’s natural that he’d hire the fellows that usually sat anonymously in a studio and made the likes of Nancy Sinatra listenable for a few minutes on the radio, and use them right out front. Or misuse them, amusingly. That’s a very heavy bunch of musicians acting like they’re the worst wedding band you ever heard. Look in the back row. He’s not wearing his glasses, but I do believe that’s Tommy Tedesco playing the guitar. Tommy Tedesco is way more famous than Frank De Vol, who you never heard of. Tommy Tedesco might be twice as unheard of as Frank. If it was sorta square, but immensely popular, and it came out of the radio, Tommy played on it. Tommy Tedesco was well known for being anonymous.

Dude could play:

Hollywood is filled with lots and lots of waiters and personal trainers and dog walkers and assistants that pick up dry cleaning that are sure they’re gong to be big stars tomorrow. But they are all trying to compete in the sweepstakes of the talentless. They wish to be made into demi-gods for no apparent reason, the same reason the people they work for (while grumbling and smiling) were made famous. The only skill they cultivate is acting strange and rude, which will be useful if you eventually get a three-picture deal from Sony, but just makes you a garden variety jerk in real life.

Then there are guys like Tommy Tedesco. They are truly useful, and make themselves useful to the people that have enough to worry about, dealing with the neurotic people with no real talent that get nailed like wooden figureheads on the front of hit records and TV shows and movies. The producers have to sober up the talent, so they like guys and girls that show up and get real things done when money is on the line. Guys like Tommy.

How many hit records and TV shows and movies did Tommy Tedesco have a hand in? I bet Tommy couldn’t have told you. I bet he couldn’t remember half of them. Hell, just look at the list at IMDB of his movie and TV work. It’s insanely long. To someone my age, you could just say he’s the guitar you hear twanging away in the Bonanza theme. Someone has to play that. Guys like Tommy said it might as well be them, and never did anything else but work. They weren’t waiting for their big break. Every day is a big break. You’ll notice that almost everything he does says “uncredited” after it. Tommy got the best credit you can earn in Hollyweird — they write it on the lower right corner of a check.

Tommy was part of a loose agglomeration of musicians that made the Los Angeles music scene go for decades, often referred to as The Wrecking Crew. They played on every damn thing.

It’s telling that Tommy Tedesco’s son Denny’s tribute to his father and his colleagues will likely never be widely released, because the people that had the least to do with how all the entertainment sounded –the people with their names and faces on the covers of the albums, and a bunch of guys in suits — will never agree to the licensing of their songs for the project. It’s a pound of flesh, first, last and always in the entertainment business.

Guys like Tommy Tedesco were smart, though, if anonymous. They had the distilled wisdom of everyone that’s ever performed music for money:

 “If you have a request, write it on a twenty and send it on up.”

Everyone did, from Barbra Streisand to Frank Zappa.

6 Responses

  1. The wife and I were watching some utterly forgettable mid-40's screwball comedy, nobody famous (today) in it, but it was good Sunday afternoon fodder. As we do, we kept saying: that person looks familiar, what were they in.

    Bless The IMDB, we looked them up, as we do. I think the average movies in that group of 1st and 2nd lead players was over a hundred.

    I bet the did the whole movie in a week, no more than two takes on anything.


    PS – Loved "America Tonite" and "Fernwood Tonite" back in the day when you had to hold the UHF antenna while watching the show on a 6" B&W tv.

    PPS – Remember "Love American Style?"

  2. You say Frank de Vol, I say I remember that name. Not the guy who had it, though. The name was big enough to be said many times when I could hear it.

  3. Tom is a member of the WNY diaspora and the documentary previewed in Buffalo a few years ago.
    It is a shame that, save for a few, most folks won't know of his work.

    The Wrecking Crew and the Funk Brothers documentaries should be required viewing.

  4. Marc Myers of the "Jazzwax" website has been writing about musicians' musicians like Tedesco for several years now, to the point of seeking out the still-living and interviewing them. He's obviously oriented more towards jazz, but he's written about several members of the Wrecking Crew in jazz and pop contexts.

    All that Big Band music in the Swing era and thereafter added up to a ton of musicians, and where you may have known the leader's name, most of the band members were an ever-changing nameless roster, so far as most fans were concerned.

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