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

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