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The secret life of Mr. Engelhardt

People have been surprised to discover that the Irvine Valley College instructor has performed with famous musicians and will do so again.

January 28, 2014|By Michael Miller
  • Toulouse Engelhardt, an acoustic guitarist who has played with the Byrds and others, lives in Laguna Beach.
Toulouse Engelhardt, an acoustic guitarist who has played… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

By all rights, this interview shouldn't be that interesting. The subject teaches biology and environmental sciences at Irvine Valley College, and he plans to parlay his side passion — acoustic guitar — into a concert on campus to raise money for scholarships.

But as Tom Engelhardt, adjunct community college instructor, sits by the ocean in Laguna Beach and spiels his memories, it takes only a few seconds for Toulouse Engelhardt, guitar wizard, to take his place.

"I was so close so many times," he says, clad in a sweater and slacks with gray hair dangling under a black knit cap. "I mean, I remember one night, I was performing at the Troubadour in Hollywood. I did a great set. I was really happy, and I came backstage and Jackson Browne came back. He says, 'Do you know who's in the audience tonight?' I said, 'No, who?' And he said, 'Brian Wilson, Bob Seger, me — Jackson Browne — and all these other people.'

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"And he turned to me and said, 'Do you have a dime?' I said, 'What do you mean?' He goes, 'I'm gonna call Joe Smith at Asylum Records.' He goes, 'He needs to come hear you play.' There were so many times when I was close to getting that big corporate record contract."

Maybe that corporate contract never quite arrived. Engelhardt, a Laguna resident for two decades, dropped out of the record business in the 1980s and pursued decidedly non-musical passions, holding adjunct positions around Orange County. He records now on his own small label, Lost Grove Records, and can walk down the street without fanfare.

(As for Smith? Engelhardt believes he showed up at the following night's show, but the guitarist never heard from him.)

Still, even if Engelhardt has stayed a fringe figure in the music industry, he's a figure nonetheless. And he'll demonstrate that Feb. 6 when he joins former Byrds bassist John York in the scholarship benefit show.

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'Too Loose'

Right, the Byrds. Engelhardt can rattle off a litany of stories about the seminal Los Angeles folk-rock group — first of all, the time they played at his high school in October 1966 and he grew enamored of the 12-string guitar after watching Roger McGuinn play it. Or the time in 1973 when, through a connection, he opened for the band on a nationwide tour and got his stage name from a music journalist.

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