Remembering Tommy Tedesco

Los Angeles session guitar god Tommy Tedesco (1930-97) was possibly the most recorded guitarist in history, and he was a regular contributor to GP in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Tedesco’s credits range from the swing-a-ding-ding of Sinatra to sessions with psychedelic rock bands—often in the same day. As if that wasn’t enough, he also played on movie and TV soundtracks for everything from Green Acres to The Godfather, and was even a member of the on-camera house band for the television classic Fernwood 2Nite, where he played Tommy Marinucci of Happy Kyne and the Mirthmakers in the late ’70s.

Tedesco’s son Denny, an L.A.-based television director and filmmaker (and amateur musician), is now in the process of filming a documentary on his father and his colleagues in the legendary Wrecking Crew—which also included other session greats such as drummer Hal Blaine and bass players Carol Kaye and Joe Osborne.

“I grew up not really knowing what my father actually did for a living,” says the younger Tedesco. “I knew he was a guitar player, and I would see him leave for work in the morning like any other kid, but, until recently, I didn’t realize what an impact he and his peers made on the American music scene. He was part of a group of L.A. session cats who could have three or four dates in one day, often working with the biggest artists out there: Sinatra, Elvis, Jan & Dean, the Beach Boys, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Cher, and countless others. My father and those other musicians were Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. Reportedly, the old guys in the jazz scene labeled them the ‘Wrecking Crew’ because they were playing ‘that rock crap.’

“As much work as they did, the session guys were basically unknown to the listening public. Credits were not often given on the early rock albums, and some groups didn’t want it known that they weren’t actually playing on their own records. My father’s notoriety with guitar players outside of the business came when GP offered him a chance to share his knowledge in a monthly column in the late ’70s. At that point, my father started traveling to give seminars, and he was instrumental in the success of the Musician’s Institute.

“Helping his fellow musicians was always a priority with my dad. Many times, he had to fight battles for others, because he was the only one in a position where he could. When he couldn’t play anymore due to illness, he still enjoyed hanging out with the guys, because to him music was about friendship.

“Just before my father passed, I was producing a project for Comedy Central that was shot in a seedy porno shop. The owner saw my name, and asked the usual question: ‘Are you any relation to Tommy Tedesco?’ But this was the first time in my life that I prayed the gentleman asking the question was a guitar player!”