Tony Peluso: Guitarist whose solos on The Carpenters' 'Goodbye to Love' ushered in the power-ballad era

Pierre Perrone
Sunday 23 October 2011 05:44

One of the biggest acts of the Seventies, the sibling duo of Karen and Richard Carpenter were far from a self-contained unit. Lyricist John Bettis regularly collaborated with Richard and with him co-wrote several of their most successful singles, notably "Yesterday Once More", "Top of the World", "Only Yesterday" and "Goodbye to Love". In 1972, the lead guitarist Tony Peluso played the masterful, melodic, memorable fuzz solos which transformed the soft-rock classic "Goodbye to Love" into the prototype for the power ballad. He remained a mainstay of The Carpenters' studio and touring band for the next 12 years and contributed to the studio albums A Song for You, Now & Then, Horizon, A Kind of Hush, Passage, Made in America and Voice from the Heart as well as their TV specials and their Live In Japan and Live at the Palladium recordings.

After the untimely death of Karen Carpenter in 1983, he became a talent scout for Tamla Motown and worked with Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops and Boyz II Men. In 1988, he produced the debut album by Prince associate Apollonia. Peluso subsequently moved into Latin music and assisted the Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaolalla on the Oscar-winning score for Brokeback Mountain in 2005.

A multi-instrumentalist, Peluso came from a rich musical background. His mother was the leading soprano for the Metropolitan and San Francisco Opera companies, and his father the music director for NBC Radio West Coast. The violin virtuoso Jascha Heifetz and the guitar pioneer Les Paul occasionally visited the family home. He started as musical director to US teen idol Bobby Sherman. In 1971, his group Instant Joy opened for The Carpenters. Peluso's raucous, hard-edged guitar made enough of an impression on the headliners for Karen to call him the following year when she and Richard began recording their fourth album.

Karen assured a disbelieving Peluso that he would be "perfect for this song "Goodbye to Love". In the middle, Richard says 'That's where you play'. I'm thinking: 'What would be right?' I played something that was very soft and easy, I tried to stay out of the way. Obviously, it didn't happen. Richard said: 'No, no, no, not like that. Play the melody for five bars and then burn it up! Soar off into the stratosphere. Go for it!'. He wanted an aggressive, sawtooth guitar solo in the middle of this Doris Day easy-listening-style record. I thought, 'he can't be serious'," the guitarist recalled in 2002 of the two fuzz-enhanced solos he added to the bridge and the extended coda. "Inadvertently, Richard had broken new ground. No one had ever really mixed the elements of rock'n'roll and easy listening. Totally crazy. I take a tiny bit of credit for being there and playing it, but it was Richard's great idea. From then on, it became very commonplace for a big power ballad to have a raging guitar solo."

The good-natured, versatile Peluso also provided the DJ voice linking the oldies medley on Now & Then in 1973 and introducing their version of Klaatu's "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day)" on Passage in 1977. The guitarist had drawn Richard's attention to the eerie sci-fi-flavoured composition on the Canadian progressive rock group's first album. "Next thing I know we're recording it. Karen had a great time. We all did. It's certainly not the kind of thing you expect from The Carpenters," he mused, adding: "From a creative point of view, we all had a blast. Commercially? No, but I don't think Richard cared."

A four-time Grammy winner, Peluso also worked with Seals & Crofts, Kenny Loggins and Animotion. He died of heart disease.

Tony Peluso, musician: born 28 March 1950; married (two sons); died Los Angeles 5 June 2010.

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