Unforgettable Performers & Legends at Bimbo’s 365 Club: Dick Contino
California bad boy and legendary accordion virtuoso, Dick Contino, wanted to play high school football, but his parents objection to the sport kept him on the path of devotion to his accordion. Contino’s father was an accordion player himself and his mother… well, just the worrying type. Contino received his first accordion at age seven and his parents recognized his talent early on. This recognition was so great that they drove him to professional accordion lessons on the weekends in San Francisco for six years during his childhood, 180 miles away from him hometown of Fresno, CA. His big break came in 1946 competing on bandleader Horace Heidt’s “Youth Opportunity Talent Show.” The handsome Dick Contino gyrated around stage while his fingers flew through “Lady of Spain” (condemning that song to accordion hell forever after) and won the night’s show. He returned to win the show’s grand prize for the season, and soon, he was a star in his own right with a string of sold-out performances and collection of groupies around the country. After graduating from high school in 1947, Contino was in full pursuit of a music career but still managed to work part-time as a delivery man for his father’s butcher shop. His good looks landed him in a few movie and acting roles without his instrument, but it was his accordion playing that kept him returning to perform on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” a record of 48 times. Check out this video of one of his television appearances where his accordion strap broke and he took to the piano to finish the song!
Dick Contino’s bad boy reputation may have started as the rebellious fullback player on his high school football team, or maybe his lothario ways with Hollywood starlets in the 1950s, but his street cred went sky high when he landed a six-month stint in jail from ignoring his war draft letter. Though he did serve honorably in Korea, the “draft dodger” label hung over him for years and knocked his ranks in the top stars of the time. Though he lost his movie and recording contracts with Paramount and RCA Victor, Mercury booked him the lead role of the cult movie, “Daddy-O” (1958) playing a badass rock ‘n’ roller and part time drug smuggler. “Daddy-O” is certainly not great cinema (“That thing was like a class Z picture,” Contino said), but it ranks up there with “The Wild One” as piece of 50s rebel iconography.
You can still find Dick Contino performing today at 84, proving to be one of the greatest entertainers of all time. Having starred in main showrooms around the world, and known to usually wear fine Italian threads, the tanned and buffed man still makes women swoon when he plays his accordion without his shirt. Mostly performing these days in Las Vegas, we can’t help but remember him rocking the house here at Bimbo’s several times throughout in 1960’s! Check out his charm on the handbill we have in our archives.