Guido Deiro |
and Dick Contino
Guido Deiro, Jr (son) and Guido Deiro (father) with teenage accordion student/star Dick Contino at the Paris Inn restaurant (1947). Click Here to see full-size image.
As explained on a previous page, in 1940 Guido Deiro left San Francisco and relocated to the North Broadway area of Los Angeles, an Italian American enclave. There he opened at two locations the "Guido Deiro Conservatory of Music," where he taught accordion and violin students, and sold accordions, harmonicas, and ocarinas.
In 1947, a new accordion student--on the order of his father--approached Guido at his studio: an unknown yet extremely talented seventeen-year-old from Fresno, California: Dick Contino.
Dick's Italian-American father (who learned to play the accordion as a boy in his homeland of Sicily) had always encouranged and supported his son's musical development. According to Dick Contino's biographer: "Contino's father . . . embraced his son's passion for the accordion. . . it was he who had prompted his son's interest in the instrument. As the boy progressed, his father recognized the need for professional instruction and Dick began traveling to San Franciso for lessons. For six years, Contino would spend every Friday in the studio of his teacher, Angelo Cognazzo, honing the skills that would make Dick Contino a legend." --Bob Bove with Lou Angellotti: Accordion Man: The Legendary Dick Contino (Father & Son Publishing, Tallahassee: 1994), p. 3.
But finally, Cognazzo, recognizing his own limitations as an accordion instructor and Contino's awesome talent, terminated his lessons with Dick: "I hated to see Dick leave, but there was nothing more that I could teach him."
Guido Deiro and son at the Guido Deiro Accordion Conservatory at 2720 North Broadway in Los Angeles, ca. 1947.
Notice photographs of Guido and Dick Contino in window display at left. Contino studied with Guido here.
Click Here to see full-size image.
Dick graduated from Fresno High School in 1947 and got a job as a delivery boy for his father's grocery market. Yet Mr. Contino was not happy with this turn of events; he wanted his son to find work as a professional accordionist, not as a delivery boy.
It was during the summer of 1947 that Mr. Contino remembered one of his first accordion idols: the great Guido Deiro. He had heard that Guido was now living and teaching in Los Angeles. Mr. Contino had undoubtedly heard Guido's records, and probably even saw him on the Vaudeville Stage decades earlier. Perhaps, he thought, his son could continue advanced accordion studies with the first star of the piano accordion.
Mr. Contino drove his son 440 miles (round trip) to meet Guido at his studio, and Guido agreed to share his knowledge with Dick. Mr. Contino brought his son many times to study with Guido. Sometimes they would meet at Guido's studio, and other times at a nearby restaurant, where the young man listened to Guido speak about the accordion, musicianship and showmanship.
This is the photograph Dick Contino inscribed and gave to his teacher and mentor Guido Deiro.
Guido's son was often present at these meetings. Guido Jr. said, "I was present many times when Peter Contino--Dick's father--brought his son to my father for advanced coaching. My father heard Dick play in his studio, he recognized his great talent, and spoke to him especially about showmanship: how to project a pleasing personality on stage. Although Dick was an extremely headstrong and independent young man who was (and still is) loath to give credit for his success to anyone besides himself, at the request of his father Peter Contino my father kindly shared his knowldedge and gave Dick advice, if not lessons, to help get him started in his fledgling career as a professional accordionist and entertainer."
Several months later, during December of that year, Dick performed for the Horace Heidt-Philip Morris Youth Opportunity Contest held in Fresno. His biographer described how Dick won the competition, not simply with his musicianship and virtuosity, but also with his stage presence and sex appeal:
"As he [Dick] adjusted his accordion, the young man worked the crowd, flashing his brightest smile and winking to the bobby soxers who had crammed into the front rows of the theater. After a slight pause, Dick launched into a volcanic rendition of Lady of Spain. From the very first notes, the audience began to clap in time to the rhythm of the song. Sensing that he held the audience in the palm of his hand, Contino increased the tempo, his fingers dashing across the keys. Bobbing his head in time to the music, he again beamed that dazzling smile and the audience burst into frenzied applause. . . The young girls screamed his name over and over again. As Contino poured everything he had into the closing notes of the song, the audience responded in kind. Finishing with a flourish, the beads of sweat stood against his forehead, while the wave of applause that cascaded across the stage began to send the needle on the applause meter higher and higher."
Dick won first place in the Fresno competition, and went on to win subsequent competitions in Los Angeles, Omaha, Des Moines, Youngstown, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and New York City. Dick won the final competition in Washington D.C. on December 12, 1948, playing for a radio audience estimated at twenty million, and effectively launched a successful career as a professional accordion entertainer and recording artist, which has continued for more than a half century.
Guido's son concluded, "My father, some three decades before Dick's debut, had also developed and perfected his stage presence into a fine art. Newspaper articles in the 1910s and 1920s often described how he worked the crowd, and attracted the favor of the young women in the audience. Sometimes contemporary reviewers describe how the audience kept calling my father back to the stage for encore after encore. There seems to me to be more than a few similarities between my father in his prime and Dick Contino regarding stage presence. I like to think that my father shared with Dick some of his own secrets from his younger days performing on the Vaudeville Stage, which might have had some small part in Dick Contino's spectacular success as an accordion entertainer."