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Carl Fortina
Carl Fortina

(A San Francisco native, this true musical "natural" made his performing debut at the age of five at an accordion festival in front of 17,000 people. As a boy, with his sister, he was a vaudeville headliner and then, returning home, as a teenager, he played a wide variety of S.F. club dates. By the time he was eighteen, he had already had the two best jobs in town, so in 1949, he moved to Los Angeles and was promptly drafted. After two years in the Army, he returned to LA in 1953 and soon established himself as the premier session accordionist in the music business.

Between then and now, he was, as he puts it, "the most recorded accordionist in the world." He played on 550 motion picture scores (including "The Godfather," "Camelot" and "Paint Your Wagon") and over 35,000 TV shows. From Elvis to Streisand to Sinatra...from Rod Stewart to Cher to the solo on Elton John's "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word"...he has worked with virtually all the great film and TV composers of the past forty years [including Alfred Newman, Dimitri Tiomkin, Max Steiner, Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, Henry Mancini and Nelson Riddle] but perhaps nothing in his career was as unexpected as what he encountered the first time he walked into a Brian Wilson session.)


CARL: "First date was at Western 3, that small studio. As a recording musician, you get called for dates, and half the time you don't even know who you're being called for. So I walk in and see a lot of my colleagues, the top guys. There was a seven or eight piece rhythm section sitting there. The date is supposed to start at two o'clock, and then at 2:30, a guy who I now know as Brian, walks in and says hello. There was no music on the stand. Most composers write a score and hand it to a copyist, and they hand us the parts, he drops his arms and we play. Brian had that knowledge but he would dictate it to us. He had a strange talent, because we were used to guys who appeared to be much more organized. He knew exactly what he wanted; it was just a matter of conveying it to each player.

"The way a typical date would go is he would say, 'This is the kind of feeling I want.' He would play some chord progressions to give us an idea of what he was looking for; then, he would go around to the band, knowing exactly what he wanted from each of us. It was in his head. You had to be a genius to say, 'Do this. Do that.' And about four hours later, we've got a hit record.

"If somebody did make a suggestion, it didn't matter, because he knew what it was going to be. You see, we were only hearing the basic track; he was hearing what he was going to do with strings and voices. I remember thinking as he worked on it and it came together that this guy knows what he wants. And I realized, he's not fakin' it, Brian heard it all in his head. Mozart was that way. It was really a miracle.

"Besides all the great music, another reason we loved the sessions was that we always knew we were gonna make a lot of money. We would get a call for three hours and a lot of times, it would end up being six or seven hours easy.

"The first one or two dates I did for him, he was not overly gregarious. But then, he said, 'I want you at all my sessions. Every time you play, my records go gold. You're my good luck charm.' All told, I played on eight to ten sessions for him, Tremendous talent. Wonderful person. Nice man. Nice feeling in the studio. I have great respect for him.

"I thought he was way ahead of everybody. Those Beach Boys records still stand up today. After all these years they still sound great. They are like the old masters. You hear something written two hundred years ago, it is as good as it can be, and that's how I feel about Brian's records. I feel very proud to be part of this legacy...very happy I was associated with the great talent of Brian Wilson."

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