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'A crazy kind of mishmash'

Veteran guitarist spins decades' worth of musical influences into his own unique style.

September 28, 2012|By Jonny Whiteside
  • Carmine Sardo, holding his Fender guitar, stands at the front of his upholstery business. Sardo and his band Carmine Sardo and the Shuffle Brothers Band perform Sundays at Glendale's Big Fish.
Carmine Sardo, holding his Fender guitar, stands at the… (Tim Berger/Staff…)

Carmine Sardo leads a double life much akin to that of a comic book superhero. By day, he's a mild-mannered merchant, tending to his La Crescenta auto and boat upholstery business. After dark, Sardo is transmogrified into a musical crusader, a player of audacious proficiency whose blend of California country music sensibility and hot, groove-oozing blues combine into a style that's as singular as it is arresting.

The 68-year-old guitarist, who has been a resident of the Tujunga-Sunland-La Crescenta delta for over five decades, serves as anchor for the equally capable local combo the Shuffle Brothers and whenever the quartet sets up, whether it's Sundays at Glendale's Big Fish or Wednesdays at North Hollywoods' Michael's Pub, it's guaranteed they'll supply a drastically satisfying earful.

But Sardo is no mere gifted amateur. While the Shuffle Brothers, comprised of Sardo, veteran guitarist Eric Garcia, well-regarded bassist Peter Freiberger and esteemed drummer Lynn Coulter, are a uniformly impressive act, Sardo's late 1950s-on Hollywood pedigree is an inevitably gaudy one, bristling with fated alliances and colorful happenstance. A primarily self-taught player from a large musical family, he first took up guitar as an elementary school student in his native Boston, before the family came to Los Angeles in 1955, where he quickly found himself in extraordinary circumstances.

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“When I was 14, I was attending the Hollywood Professional school,” Sardo said. “It was a half day school, classes only went from 9 a.m. until 1 or 2 o'clock, because the kids were all actors. And I went to class with [rockabilly prodigies] Larry and Lorrie Collins. Larry was a big influence on me, even though he was far more advanced on guitar than I was. And In 1958 with my friend Mickey Rooney Jr., we auditioned for the [live country music variety TV program] Town Hall Party and we got it — we actually played on the show, at night, with all those incredible talents, Joe Maphis, Merle Travis; these guys were my idols.”

“Mickey Rooney Jr. was like my brother, and [jazz great] Barney Kessel married Mickey's mother when I was 16, so I always got to play with Barney Kessel around the house. One time he took us down to Shelley Manne's Manne Hole club in Hollywood and I got to see him and Shelley and Ray Brown Jr. play. And later Barney would come out to our county gigs, just to listen.”

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