Dante Diteodoro left his home in Pescara, Italy, on the shores of the Adriatic Sea some 50 years ago.
He didn’t want to go but his young family needed the support that a move to Canada would bring so he picked up stakes.
Dante worked hard to provide for his wife and kids when he got here. He was an accountant/bookkeeper, a waiter and the manager of a private club on the corner of Cartier and Gilmour in Centretown.
Perhaps inspired by his famous namesake the poet Dante Aligheri, this father was also a lover of culture and he encouraged his sons in any pursuit.
One of those sons picked up a guitar at a young age and began a career in music. These days Tony Diteodoro, better known as Tony D, is a member of the spectacularly successful JUNO-winning blues band MonkeyJunk, the front man of his own band and an important figure for many young musicians in the city.
He is a mentor today, he said, because of his father.
Tony D was born in Italy and was six when the family moved to Ottawa.
He does go back occasionally to play and visit.
One time, in a concert in the Piedmont, “there was this old guy on stage talking to me in Italian saying ‘It warms our heart that someone born in Italy comes back to Italy to play for his people. We are one with you and you will always be one of us.’
“I got all choked up. He was the mayor of the town. This was such a great moment.”
He has even played a concert in his hometown. This November, MonkeyJunk is playing a few dates in Switzerland and then Tony D and Steve Marriner will be headed to the Liguria section of Italy to play a few shows with an old friend, Paul Reddick.
Turns out the Blues travels everywhere.
Tony D says he has always been “a mentoring kind of person. There have been so many people who have helped me when I started and you learn very quickly that you do need the help of other people.
“I was lucky when I started playing in music I had a very supportive father, which is kind of unusual. Most old school, old world European immigrants are conservative people. But not my father. He was very open and he loved the arts of any kind.
“He wasn’t really happy about moving to Canada but he needed to because we were poor. It’s the typical immigrant story, we came over by boat, the whole nine yards.
Dante didn’t like the cold but “he appreciated what we had and he appreciated Canada.”
Dante used to tell Tony: “‘Do this until you drop. Play. This is a beautiful thing. Keep doing it until you can’t do it any longer. No matter what. You’ll have hard days and you’ll have great days’.”
Tony D remembers one time at a family dinner when “I had a girlfriend there. Someone mentioned Tosca and my father stood up and started reciting parts of Tosca. I remember my girlfriend just staring at him and falling in love with him. He was that kind of guy.”
If music be the food of love, Dante would say, play on.
That was part of the inspiration, Tony said. “If he saw something in you that you loved doing he would try to help in any way. There were musicians in town that also did that for me.”
Tony D and his brother both went to Lisgar because the family lived in the private club. And his son has gone to the Centretown school.
“We are real downtown people.”
His first guitar teacher was a guy named Ian Smith.
“I was about 13. He was about 24. He gave me lessons that I would pay for at the Ken Davidson Studios on Elgin Street. Then he’d call up during holes in his schedule and say ‘Come over and I’ll teach you more stuff. He wouldn’t charge me.
“That helped me and he knew that I liked to play. When you have people like that it sort of moulds you into helping others.
“There are a lot of musicians in Ottawa that help other musicians. I still ask for help and people ask me for help.
“You have to serve the music. You have to pass it along. It is not about the money it’s about playing the music. The more you can show somebody else something I think that is important.”
So pretty much every year, MonkeyJunk plays a mentoring role at the annual RBC Ottawa Bluesfest Festival. This year MonkeyJunk will host the All-Star Blues Revue from July 11 to July 14. The Ottawa band The Split hosts July 5, 6 and 7.
“It started years ago when Mark Monahan had this idea called The Power Hour. We would back up other people with the Tony D band and have guests and bring them on.
“I would play a whole week at Bluesfest. In 2006 I was there for 10 days.” The guests would come from out of town and from Ottawa.
“What we do now with MonkeyJunk is the same kind of idea but Bluesfest picks the guests.”
MonkeyJunk is glad to do it, Tony D said, because he gets to meet a lot of people and make musical connections.
Tony D started in the 1980s in the days before the internet when Ottawa had a pretty vibrant club scene.
There were places such as The Downstairs Club and there were a couple of good Punk clubs. When the Rainbow Bistro opened up in the ’90s, he said, that was a big thing.
The Blues were on main stream radio then. Today, he said, there are more festivals but the venues aren’t that present anymore.
At the start of his career bands would play several nights at a venue.
“Thursday nights could be a really good night and Fridays and Saturdays would be packed. But today you get one night at a venue.”
So you keep busy touring.
That’s what Monkey Junk will do most of the rest of this year.
They have recently finished a trip to P.E.I., Halifax and New Brunswick and are currently playing dates in and around the Ottawa area. They be headed out west in the fall. And they are all busy on side projects.
For example, Tony D is polishing up a CD he expects to release in the fall oriignal material save for one cover.
“Doing my own stuff has been great. I’ve gotten to do things been I have been wanting to do for awhile.”
The pressure of being in a band means that sometimes personal stuff gets pushed aside.
Even so, Tony D says the band has stayed together because — essentially — they get along and everybody has a say.
Plus MonkeyJunk is a success.
“We started playing on Sunday evenings at Irene’s for free and people lined up to get in.
“Before you knew it, we had a record deal and a couple of JUNOs. Because you have success, you end up more passionate about the product. To be honest we have been pretty good about coming to an agreement that’s reinforced by the result. That’s why MonkeyJunk has been able to hang out together for 10 years.”
Turns out Dante was right.
All-Star Blues Revue hosted by MonkeyJunk
RBC Ottawa Bluesfest
Where: Barney Danson Theatre, Canadian War Museum
When: July 11 to July 14 at 9 p.m.
Tickets and information: ottawabluesfest.ca