Tom Salvatori – Guitar Composer A Lifetime in Autobiography


I was born on December 29, 1958, and I grew up in Famiglia Salvatori, a family of seven siblings from a western Chicago, Illinois suburb named Elmhurst. I ranked right in the middle among our seven brothers and sisters. 

Ours was a busy household, and we also enjoyed the run of the neighborhood. After school, our home was the place to congregate thanks to mom’s enthusiasm to host our friends and her generosity of always having a fully stocked candy drawer in the kitchen, which was one of the true folklore legends of Elmhurst. It was an era of building lifelong friendships, a simpler time when there were no video games, social media, or cellphones. It seemed that we were always outside with our friends, bike riding, playing baseball, street hockey and after-dinner games in the back yards. And, when it snowed a lot, we would look forward to creating elaborate paths and tunnels with our snow shovels that led to cool hideouts and forts for all the kids. It was a time when you knew everyone in the neighborhood as a friend and every parent was your parent-by-proxy. As children, we all thought we had great freedom, although later in life we all realized that we were under the watchful eyes of the parents in our neighborhood, which expanded out to several blocks in all directions once we added our friends from school.


We had creative freedom too. Nearly everyone we knew was learning a musical instrument. Our favorite albums in the 1960’s were soundtracks from the Wizard of Oz, West Side Story, Hello Dolly, Psycho, and Batman. We listened to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the Beatles, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Herman’s Hermits, and the Cowsills. In the late 1960’s, we loved Cat Stevens, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, the Doors, Alice Cooper, etc. And in the early 1970’s, we became captivated by the impressive rise of progressive rock bands Genesis, Yes, ELP, Gentle Giant, PFM, Renaissance, Spirit, and Jethro Tull. This era of music, without a doubt, started the engines on our creative efforts.

Older brother Mike became interested in the guitar after seeing the Beatles perform on their Ed Sullivan debut in 1964. He played guitar in bands throughout High School. When I turned thirteen (in 1972), I became interested in learning how to play the guitar as well. Mike was my first teacher, patiently teaching me some chords. 

My parents bought me a three-quarter scale Savona classical guitar, which helped me develop my interest in fingerpicking. I learned to play quickly, and, within a year, my neighborhood friends and I started our own rock band called “Phase IV (1974-75),” playing Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin cover songs. We played shows and sock hops throughout our first two years in High School. Mike always shared his guitars with me; he had an Acoustic Black Widow 24-fret electric, a walnut-body Gibson SG and a Hernandis Grade 1 classical guitar.

Towards the end of my Sophomore year, I left Phase IV to focus more on classical guitar. Steve Howe (Yes) and Steve Hackett (Genesis) were my favorite guitarists back then. They led the charge in weaving bits of nylon string guitar into their epic prog-rock songs at the time. It seemed to be so much more interesting than the ‘Smoke on the Water’ chunky block rock chords I had been playing in the band. 

My parents were enthusiastic about my interest and helped me with lessons. My music teacher, Duane Tutaj, started me with traditional classical guitar practice exercises by Carcassi, and then introduced some performance pieces by Villa Lobos. In March 1976, my parents took me to Orchestra Hall in Chicago to see Andres Segovia in a solo classical guitar performance. Seeing him perform affected me more than anyone could have ever imagined. I was spellbound by the maestro, but I was also struck by the sense of dominance he commanded from the stage. His concert was awesome, but to me, somewhat intimidating. I spent a large portion of that performance holding my breath, and I remember leaving that concert with a feeling of being overwhelmed. I also developed a sinking feeling that formal classical guitar studies might not be the right path for me.

Over the next year, I fell away from the study of the classical guitar as I started to focus on playing bass in Mike’s growing progressive rock band (it was called Amaziah in 1974-75, Apocalypse in 1976-77). I joined the band during my Junior year in High School (1976) and played bass and second guitar on my Ibanez 4/6 double neck electric. There were also quiet passages in the Apocalypse songs that I would play the Hernandis guitar. We were booking concerts at colleges and universities in Illinois based on a 5-song demo tape we recorded in an Elmhurst basement studio in Fall 1976, and we enjoyed a wonderful, creative run performing our live concerts. After my Senior year in High School, in August 1977, Apocalypse broke up as I prepared to go away to college. The timing perfectly coincided with Mike and his wife Gail (Apocalypse keyboardist/violinist), starting their family. 

When I left for college in Fall 1977, I sold off most of my band equipment, but traded my Fender Bassman amp to Mike for his Hernandis guitar. We both have realized over the years that I got the better end of that deal, because it changed my life to bring that guitar with me to college. And it has been the only guitar I have ever used to compose, play, and record my music! 

During my Freshman year at college, I tried to re-engage with lessons after hearing Ray Mueller, head of the Milwaukee Classical Guitar Society, perform on campus. After his show, I approached him and we set up lessons, but the study book we worked from was focused on practicing scales (and more scales), so my enthusiasm for formal classical guitar lessons eventually waned for a second time. My real interest at the time was to learn the nylon string interludes from my guitar heroes in the progressive rock world. I practiced, and played the guitar parts of Yes, Genesis, King Crimson, Focus, etc. These guitarists were my inspiration, and they ultimately became my teachers by proxy as I poured over every note of their nylon string passages. I dropped the needle on their vinyl albums countless times during my college years. 

I also continued to collaborate with Mike every time I came home for a weekend visit. We worked on his progressive rock music in the basement studio that he had constructed in his home in Wheaton, IL. I helped produce his “Waiting For Autumn” album release (1982), which was a more studio-mature extension of our work in Apocalypse. 


It was in the late-1980’s that I started to compose for the nylon string guitar. I was working at an Ad Agency in Chicago at the time, was married, and my wife Ellen and I were busy raising three sons. Every lullaby album that I bought for my young boys back then seemed full of the same children’s songs: i.e., ‘Rock-a-Bye Baby’…’Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’…’Brahms Lullaby’ and ‘All the Pretty Horses’ among others, which made me stop and wonder if anyone was composing anything new in lullaby-land. This was the spark of motivation for me to start composing my own pieces for the guitar. It was during this period that guitar pieces came pouring out of me. Within a matter of a couple years, I had accumulated over three-dozen original compositions - never written down anywhere – which I had committed to memory. 

It was after a scary airplane ‘touch-and-go’ landing while on a business trip that the thought occurred to me…if I ever got hit by the proverbial bus…that my guitar pieces would be lost forever if I didn’t do something to document them. So, I asked Mike to help me to start to record them. He was producing commercial music at his recording studio in the River North area of Chicago at the time and I was working on Michigan Avenue just a few blocks away, so we would meet for lunch often and work on recording. We also had a friend in Glen Ellyn, IL, Perry Mascetti, who had a well-equipped recording studio in the basement of his home called Audio Access, and I also recorded there.

My favorite performances were playing my gentler compositions for the boys when it was time for bed. My playing helped them fall asleep and calm our home at night. Instead of reading a book like most Dads, I sat on the edge of the bed and played a handful of my guitar pieces until they fell asleep. It was like owning a magic wand.   


Mike and I started Salvatori Productions in 1995 as a record label and publishing company, primarily as a place for me to curate, record, and release my guitar pieces. It has slowly grown over the years to now producing and managing seven recording artists. To date, Salvatori Productions has released 32 Albums/EPs (19 of which are my nylon string guitar releases). 



In the blink of an eye, now in 2023 I am just months away from retirement age. At this time of reflection, I realize that I have invested the fullness of my adult life attempting to capture moments of beauty and ease with the guitar compositions I have created. Through it all, I can say that my focus has not only been on trying to find beauty in the notes I compose, but also finding the calm in the spaces between the notes. 

I compose in a ‘chord and melody’ styling in simple key signatures that I think best align with the art of playing the guitar. My pieces are in standard tuning, and I build my compositions and melodies on easy chords structures that fall comfortably under the fingers; usually within the first five frets of the fingerboard. I tend to use minor chords; they seem emotive to me in a way that draws the ear. I try to feature at least one open string in my chords, which helps to add a little bit more sustain overall to the chord. I employ the free stroke in my fingerpicking styling to help create a sense of openness as well. 


Simple keys, easy chords and melodies, comfortable positions, open strings, free stroke fingerpicking, and sounds that the guitar can produce and sustain are the all-important mileposts on the road map to the guitar world that I built for myself. I found my peace with the guitar in its natural habitat…in an intimate, parlor-styled setting. Truth be told, it was a case of less being more. Ultimately, I think it was my decision not to pursue the study of traditional classical guitar pedagogy back in my college years that enabled me to find, create and build my own nylon string guitar world, which was the pathway to my peace and happiness with the guitar. 

I believe that beauty is found in simplicity. Perhaps my pieces will catch your ear and spark an interest. If so, I hope that you will enjoy sharing them with your loved ones during your quiet time. I have always felt that if I was pleased with something that I composed, maybe others will be pleased with it too. So, I record it…and it really has been that simple over the years. 

It is my hope that the lifetime I have invested in composing my music will help bring nylon string guitar music to the ears of a wider audience; that my works will thrive and connect with folks who are looking for a little breathing room and open space in their music and enjoy taking their time to smell the flowers in the gardens along the journey. 

Lastly, and simply stated, I believe there is more room for peace in open spaces than in a room full of clutter. 

Quietly Enjoy. 

– Tom Salvatori, February 2023

Leave a comment