Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Tony de Paolo Lives for the Harmony

This is the first in a series of stories to be published here in the coming weeks about the members of breakingthecode. Today, we start with a bio of Tony de Paolo.

Being born into a musical and arts-oriented family sparked Tony de Paolo's initial love for singing harmonies, a love that fuels his creative energy playing with BTC today more than ever.

Growing up in Studio City, Tony was one of the original “Valley Boys,” a deprecating moniker he had to live with until he left the city of Los Angeles. It was fine to be from the San Fernando Valley as long as he was among other Valley Boys, but out in the “lineup” of surfers waiting to ride the next wave in Malibu? Not so much.

Today, Tony works as an engineer and oceanographer for the Scripps Institute of Oceanography, where he has followed another of his passions—studying waves—since 2003. 

When he talks about how his love for music, surfing, and his professional life tie together and merge harmoniously, Tony gets philosophical.

“Waves tie everything together and that’s one of the reasons I love music,” he says. “Because music is a beautiful combination of sound waves. It makes me happy. I can feel it. And when you tap into the resonance of the universe, you benefit, you resonate with it. My family has always reaped these benefits—love, success, family, work. All of these go up and down, high and low, at their natural frequency. Realizing this and flowing with it is the key to a happy life.”

Tony’s father, Tom, who grew up in the Los Feliz community of LA, loomed large as an inspirational role model for Tony growing up, teaching him a certain joie de vivre that he has tried to carry on in his own life and in his music. Tom was the son of Peter de Paolo, who won the Indianapolis 500 in 1925, 10 years after Tony’s great-uncle Ralph won the race in 1915. Tom worked his way up from the mailroom to become a vice president for J. Walter Thompson, one of the world’s largest advertising agencies, overseeing major client accounts including Ford, 7-Up and Kraft. After he retired, Tom consulted for Disneyland’s advertising department, showed his fine art in Laguna Hills galleries and also wrote a series of cookbooks and children’s books.

“He tapped into luck of his Italian and British ancestors to continue an amazingly beautiful life for everyone in the family,” Tony recalls of his father, who died recently.

Tony’s parents met at the University of Southern California. His mother, Derelys, was an authentic Angelino, born and raised in Los Angeles, with Spanish heritage. An elementary school teacher, she and her husband led a life of celebrity in the Los Feliz Hills. 

Tony’s sister, Dana, who played guitar and sang, was the first in the family to perform live in public, both solo and in a duo with a girlfriend. She was also the first to record an album. A sign of the times, she and her partner sung popular tunes by folk singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez. Tony’s brother, Peter, also played classical guitar, but only for himself.

Tony, the youngest of the three de Paolo siblings, started singing around the age of ten, and learned to play guitar shortly thereafter. “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor was the first song he learned, and influenced by his sister, he too played Joni Mitchell, along with Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

“They taught me everything I know,” he said of his sister and brother.

The de Paolo kids sung year-round in the Boys and Girls Glee Club, starting in junior high school. (Tony remembers coming down to Coronado to compete in a singing competition and winning the first place award.) The de Paolos also performed with the school Madrigals, putting on Broadway shows from the 1940s and ‘50s, including “Old Town” and “Pajama Game.” Tony, started as an alto and, as his voice deepened, grew into a baritone.

“That’s where I got my love for harmony and mixing voices that I attempt to perpetuate throughout our band,” Tony says.

Back then, Tony was more comfortable singing (and playing guitar) as part of a group, jamming on Beatles and Who songs with his dorm-mates at the University of California, San Diego, where he studied math. That said, he did enjoy putting on a private show for a young lady now and then.

“Being the troubadour with a guitar was magic,” he says. “I could always get a date.”

After graduating from UCSD and working for a while, Tony earned a master’s in computer and systems engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic in Troy, New York. He returned to San Diego in 1990 to work for Qualcomm, where he was vice president of engineering and also of technology until 2001. He managed 200 people and a $50 million budget, designing satellite transceivers and communication software for global commercial use.

Tony continued to play guitar and sing solo for friends until he met Geza Keller through Tony’s sons, Nico and Mikey, who were friends with Geza’s son Cole. After jamming together at Tony’s house a few times, Geza encouraged Tony to come to a rehearsal with FakeBook and give it a shot. 

“I was nervous as hell,” Tony recalls, acknowledging that he’d always been a closet performer. “And all these guys brought me out of the closet.”

The band motto, which Paul trumpeted, helped Tony to get over his stage fright. “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Paul asked Tony rhetorically.

“If you make a mistake, just keep playing,” his bandmates told him.

“That was the thing that got me over the hump, that was a very inspirational thing that Paul said,” Tony recalls. “He had a great attitude and we miss him dearly.”

Story by Caitlin Rother, photo by Richard Malcolm.
To contact BTC or join their mailing list, please email Caitlin at crother@flash.net

Friday, May 20, 2016

Breakingthecode: An Eclectic Acoustic Group Turns 21

Breakingthecode is an eclectic acoustic group with blended harmonies that sings catchy singer-songwriter tunes, including Geza Keller originals, from the 1920s to the modern day. The current members, featured above (left to right), are Tom Borg, Tony de Paolo, Geza Keller and Caitlin Rother.

Geza formed the original breakingthecode (BTC) in 1997 with his former college 
roommate Randy Hanson, his coworker and close friend Paul Trygar and another friend, Joe Rosignolo. This motley lineup rose from the ashes of several other bands that had played Geza’s original songs and blues covers, but went dormant for various obscure reasons that only musicians can appreciate.

The band’s name was inspired by the Broadway play, “Breaking The Code,” the story of how Alan Turing, the inventor of the original computer, broke the secret code, or cryptography, produced by the German machine known as “the Enigma,” which laid out the positions and strategies of battleships and bombings during World War Two. (The movie “The Imitation Game,” starring Benjamin Cumberbatch, tells this same story.) Geza saw the play with his mother in New York City, when he lived there in 1987.

Geza was a precocious troubadour, picking up the guitar when he was 10. Drawing from jazz, folk and jam rock influences, Geza started writing songs while he was earning a mathematics degree at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech), which he entered when he was only 16. At the time, his songs were inspired by the hallucinogenic Peace Movement of the ‘70s, the desolate high- desert beauty of the chollas and striated rock, and the refuge they offered from the pressures of family and the modern urban world.

In the first iteration of BTC, Geza sung lead vocals and rhythm guitar, Randy strummed a custom-made electric Flying Vee mandolin, Paul banged on the drums, and Joe played the bass guitar. With the passion and energy of youth, they performed at showcases of original singer-songwriters throughout Southern California.

Eighteen months later, Joe left the band, and after a three-month search, bass player Tom Borg took his place. (In what would become a trend in BTC, Tom found the band through one of his daughters, who went to school with Randy’s daughter.)

After opening for national acts such as NRBQ and John Mayall, BTC caught the eye of two management companies and soon became a headliner in its own right. But offered the opportunity to record an album and go on a national tour, Geza had to decline. He had a nine-year-old son and a newborn to raise, as well as a new optics company in Santa Ana to run, so he did not have the time or freedom necessary to go on tour. This decision did not fit with Randy’s goals, so he too left the band in April 2003.

The next year was a period of refocusing and rethinking. Original music was a tough sell in San Diego County, so Geza decided to redirect the energy of the remaining band members—Geza, Paul and Tom—toward developing a strong list of crowd-pleasing covers that would draw a bigger audience, but closer to home.

That led to the new “Summer of Love” retro dance band known as FakeBook, named after the generic book of skeletal songs—chords and lyrics—musicians use to pick up and play together at a moment’s notice. Once Facebook came along, most fans thought the band name was a play on the social media site, which provided an unexpected and convenient double entendre.

In 2004, Tony de Paolo, who played guitar and added a new layer of harmony to the vocals, joined the band. (Geza met Tony through their sons, who were close friends, and also played music together. Tony’s wife, Daria, brought her longtime friend Caitlin Rother to support Tony at his first band gig at a public venue—ever—at The Ocean House in Carlsbad, and Caitlin subsequently came to more FakeBook gigs than anyone else over the years.) But just three gigs into the band’s new chapter, Paul died of a massive heart attack at 53.

For the next decade or so, FakeBook continued to evolve, adding a new drummer, lead guitar player and saxophone player, while BTC went into hibernation. FakeBook played mostly covers, also working a few of Geza’s original songs into the mix as it performed at venues throughout San Diego and Orange Counties, including the Belly Up in Solana Beach, the Del Mar Fair, the Kraken in Cardiff, Beaumont’s in La Jolla, The Coyote in Carlsbad, Latitude 33 in San Marcos, Club M at the Grand Del Mar, 710 Beach Club in PB, and The Tin Roof in the Gaslamp. (Tony also arranged for FakeBook to play for an audience of 150 people in La Jolla at the launch party for Caitlin’s novel, Naked Addiction, in 2007.)

As FakeBook went through its own growing pains, Tony left the band for a while, but was eventually enticed to come back. In 2015, he brought up an idea that resonated with Geza and Caitlin, who was now Geza’s girlfriend. (They’d met for the first time years earlier at Tony’s house in Carlsbad, attended a casual “sing-a-long” at Tony’s house in Bird Rock some years later, and started dating in 2012.)

“Why don’t we start playing more of your originals?” Tony said to Geza after a gig at the Del Mar fair, where FakeBook played live for many years.

Caitlin independently had been urging Geza to perform his original songs as a solo act and record them with or without other musicians. In turn, Geza had been urging Caitlin to sing with him, first in her living room, then for friends and family at parties. Caitlin, a classically trained pianist and a closet singer, knew all the FakeBook covers, and by now some of Geza’s originals as well.

Geza took all of this as a sign that he should resurrect BTC to play acoustic versions of his originals. Tony said he was in, and even though Tom was already playing with a couple of other bands, he heartily agreed as well. Geza invited Caitlin to join too.

While FakeBook continued to play, albeit on a less frequent basis, BTC began to step up and rehearse in force, with a woman sharing some of the lead vocals for the first time in the band’s history.

This latest iteration of BTC began quietly at first, performing together a couple of times in Socorro, New Mexico, at Geza’s “49ers” college reunion and also at a separate annual fundraiser for his college roommate, Victor Saracini, who was the pilot of the plane that ran into the second tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. 

Geza and Caitlin also have sung together at numerous private parties, at the Treehouse Cafe on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia, Canada, and at the Hue nightclub in San Francisco at the SPIE annual jams. 


Now retooled as an acoustic group with layered vocal harmonies, breakingthecode offers a full-bodied blend of classics and originals, with notes of jazz, folk, rock and blues.

In addition to the four-decade backlist of Geza’s original songs, BTC also plays a carefully selected variety of catchy favorite covers written by some of the best singer-songwriters in musical history, including:
(Updated February 2018)

“Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” by Louis Jordan
“Heart Full of Soul” by The Yardbirds
“Black Horse and A Cherry Tree” and “Suddenly I See” by K.T. Tunstall
“Why, Georgia” by John Mayer
“I Thought I Knew You” by Matthew Sweet
“Gone,” “Native Son,” “Thing Called Love” (Bonnie Raitt version) and “Slow Turning” by John Hiatt
"Something to Talk About" (Bonnie Raitt version) by Shirley Eikhart
“I’ll Be Back Again,” "Two of Us" and "Taxman" by The Beatles
“Sunny” by Bobby Hebb

"Hazy Shade of Winter" by Simon and Garfunkel
"The Letter" by the Boxtops
"Rock'n'Roll Woman" by Buffalo Springfield
“Angel From Montgomery” by John Prine
“Blueside” by Rooney
"You Took Advantage of Me" by Rogers and Hart
"If You Could Only See" by Tonic
“Happy” by Pharrell Williams
"Gold on the Ceiling" and "Lonely Boy" by Black Keys
"On a Plain" and "Come As You Are" by Nirvana
“Drive” by Incubus
“Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty
“Rodeo Clowns” and "Sitting, Waiting, Wishing" by Jack Johnson
“Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles
“Handle Me With Care” by the Traveling Wilburys
“Sunny Afternoon” by the Kinks
"Driver Eight" by REM
"Secret Agent Man" (Johnny Rivers version) by P. Sloan/Steve Barri
"Unchain My Heart" by Bobby Sharp 
"Moondance" by Van Morrison
"You Took Advantage of Me" by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart

Acoustic. Eclectic. Unforgettable.

To add your name to our mailing list, to contact or to book BTC for a gig, please message Caitlin Rother at crother@flash.net