Where to begin…
The obituaries are in, longtime Chiefs bandleader Tony DiPardo’s legendary contributions to the team and Kansas City extolled. The standard issue good stuff having been said, it’s time for some Tony D flashbacks from my years of partying with him (journalistically) in the pages of the Kansas City Star.
And then some…
Starting in 1993 when I called on TD to enhance a column by bringing his horn to 18th and Grand and blowing "Charge!" in a tiny studio off the main newsroom. Off key as it was even then, it brought shit-eaters to the faces of editors and reporters alike who had little choice but to endure the many takes it took to get it more-or-less right for readers to call and hear the little man wail.
Chiefs owner Clark Hunt has a special reason for paying tribute to DiPardo’s passing. Tony’s band kicked out the jams at Hunt’s wedding reception bash in 1993 when he married local grrrl Tavia Shackles a former Miss Kansas-USA. Among the invitees to the posh wedding ceremony were Hilton Hotels honcho Barron Hilton, NFL commish Paul Tagliabue, Teddy Roosevelt‘s grandson, Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landy and owner Jerry Jones and George Brett.
Then there was the time DiPardo cut a cassette with Channel 9 anchor Larry Moore’s daughter.
In 1995 DiPardo was hospitalized after "an unexpected feat of automotive aerial ballet" driving through a wall and down an embankment at US 40 and Noland Road and rolling his car six times. The toll; four broken ribs and a punctured lung.
"He said when he saw what was taking place he just covered up his face and went with it," his wife Doddie told me. "I think he was holding his rosary all the way.".
In 1997 DiPardo’s thought-to-be original Chiefs theme song "The War Dance" lost out to George Thorogood’s "Bad to the Bone" in a poll by rock radio station KY102 asking fans what they most wanted to hear during kickoffs at Arrowhead.
Uh, guess what song the Chiefs opted to go with instead?
In 1997 after breaking his arm in a nasty spill on the ice, DiPardo was back at work at Arrowhead. While reflecting on his age and durability, the 84 year-old remarked, "My mom lived to be 101." Added daughter Patti, even at age 97 "they had to cut down the fruit trees outside her house to keep her from climbing them."
In Y2K, Velvet Dog / Martini Corner point man Chris Seferyn held a tribute bash at the newly-named Tony DiPardo Plaza to honor 50 years of Mr. T tooting his horn.
"It’s based on the fact that he’s the most well-known musician of Kansas City," Seferyn said. "He’s kind of the Harry Connick Jr. of Kansas City, if you will."
Despite an axaggeration in the Star’s story about DiPardo’s passing – that "he often donned a war bonnet and rode Warpaint, the Chiefs’ mascot, around the stadium" he did do it at least once.
"I was scared to death. (Warpaint handler Bob Johnson) just said, ‘DiPardo, they’re going to make a touchdown and when they do let’s ride.’ " Tony told me. "It was bareback and he rode fast, man I’m telling you."
Johnson’s take on the shot of DiPardo holing up in the backseat of Warpaint during the frenzied ride:
"I think it’s great," Johnson joked. "But you should have showed the whole picture of the horse. That kind of looks obscene, what Tony’s doing to me."
In 2003, DiPardo declared himself "the happiest man in the world. My birthday was Aug. 15, and I’m still celebrating. I’m 91."
"I got a Super Bowl ring from (former Chiefs coach) Hank Stram on my 90th birthday," DiPardo continued. "It’s got my name on it. It says Tony DiPardo, Music Man. But I had to pay for it. It cost $12,500, but I’ve got it insured for $30,000."
At which point he shared a few of Tony D’s greatest hits:
Favorite song: "The song I play," DiPardo says. " ‘The Chiefs are on the Warpath.’ Marilyn Maye sang it, but it’s my song. I wrote it and hired Marilyn to sing it."
Favorite all-time Chief: "My favorite Chief is naturally Hank Stram, the coach. We’ve been real close."
Favorite local barbecue: "Jack Stack. Everything they’ve got is just great. The best."
His best-kept secret: "The TD Pack Band. I told Lamar Hunt the TD is for ‘touch down.’ But it’s really for Tony DiPardo."
By the way, the Star tribute says DiPardo was practically a member of the team, proudly wearing a Super Bowl ring from the team’s 1970 championship. That’s a bit misleading. Not only did the Chiefs cut Tony loose for six years in 1983, they never did give him a Super Bowl ring let alone when the team got them in 1970.
Stram helped make the arrangements with ring maker Jostens but Tony had to cough up the cash to pay for it.
I contacted Jostens to confirm the ring’s authenticity and learned inadvertantly, that while Tony thought he had the real deal, Stram had cheaped out and purchased the version with the faux gems at a far lesser price.
In one of Tony’s odder marketing pairings, the Martini Corner dudes named a liquor store after him in 2003.
Despite that DiPardo was a serial tea totaler.
"I don’t drink," DiPardo told me. "Never did. Never did drink, never did smoke."
"He used to drink milk out of a baby bottle," wife Doddie added. "His band used to rib him about not drinking, so they’d serve it to him in a champagne bucket."
In 2005 a 93 year-old DiPardo – recuperated from his wild car ride and wreck years earlier – went for a 170 mph romp around the new Kansas Speedway.
Begging the question, what feats of dare wouldn’t he yet attempt?
A paracute jump? "I’d have to talk to my wife about that," DiPardo quipped.
Water skiing? "Oh, no. Because I can’t swim. Someone threw me in the Meramec River in 1929, and if it wasn’t for my piano player, I wouldn’t be here today."
Shot from a cannon? "Do people still do that?" DiPardo asked. "I don’t think I’d do that anyway. I think I’m just going to stick with my race car driving, that’s about it."
In 2006 DiPardo grand marshaled George Gustello’s America Royal Parade. Which he was actually older than at the time – 13 years older – the parade having launched in 1925.
In 2007 jolting Joe Zwillenberg – owner of the Westport Flea Market – hosted a booksigning for Tony’s memoir. DiPardo was no spring puppy but was still going strong, Zwillenberg testified.
"He gave me a pretty good hug, squeezed the life out of me," Zwillenberg said. "We’re opening our new deck Friday, and weíre going to call it the Tony DiPardo Plaza in honor of his 95th birthday,"
That’s all folks!