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Clovis native dies chasing his dream

David Irvin

It was the second great wave of rock ’n’ roll, the days of the Allman Brothers, Deep Purple and the Led Zeppelin. It was the early 1970s, and there was little doubt around the country, California was the place to be.

Like many, Clovis native Tony Sena knew location was important for musicians. So after high school in the 1970s the teen took his dream — and his guitar — to California.

But his dream ended on Aug. 17 when he unexplainably died at a friend’s home in Marina Del Ray, Calif. He was 53.

Family and friends described Sena as a music lover, one who spent much of his life chasing his dream to entertain others with instruments and song.

At 8 years old, the youngster picked up his father’s guitar and never put it down.

A friend helped him learn the basics of picking and strumming, and then relentless practice did the rest.

Over the next three decades he chased that dream in places like Australia, Germany, Yugoslavia, Canada, Tahiti and the United Kingdom. In 1979, he even found his way to the lawn of the White House where his band, The Archers, performed for President Jimmy Carter.

It was a career that was more spiritually fulfilling than financially rewarding, family members said. To fill the financial gap, he worked as a courier in the Los Angeles area, passing packages from client to client, just waiting for the next big gig.

His death cut short a music career that was as strong as ever, according to friend Cheryl Sandy.

Unlike many in his generation, who lost themselves in the depths of the “me decade,” Sena never forgot where he came from and who raised him, friends and family said.

He called his mother once a week while he was in California, his sister, Shirley Mitchell, said. And at least once a year he would make it back to Clovis to visit his family.

In the early 1980s, Sena met a young and inexperienced pianist named Starr Parodi. When a spot in his band opened, he decided to hire her.

“He was always very encouraging of young talent, and new talent,” Parodi said. “He always played straight from his heart. I learned that from playing with him.”

Parodi went on to become a musician on the short-lived Arsenio Hall Show, providing the show’s music and keeping Arsenio’s dog pound, well, barking.

Sena appears in the liner notes of Parodi’s 1991 release, “Change,” alongside respected guitarist, Phil Keaggy.

His passion to play music was demonstrated one night at the famous Hermosa Beach jazz club, Lighthouse Cafe.

After playing the early set at the club, Sena went for a bike ride and flipped over the handlebars, Parodi said.

When he returned to the club he complained his arms felt “funny.” Parodi said he played three more sets and an encore that night, with what he learned later were two broken arms.

“He was playing the guitar well, actually, with two broken arms,” Parodi recalls.

Sena’s love for the guitar was only matched with his love for people and animals, his sister said.

He was known to go out to the country to ride horses, and he owned a dog named Sammy and two cats, Ozzie and Kita.

The day of his death he delivered a package from the Los Angeles airport to a talk show, and went to a friend’s home, where he asked for a glass of water.

Moments later he passed away.

His sister said they still do not know exactly what happened, but it looks like it may have been heart failure.

On Thursday, family, friends, and fellow musicians gathered in California to remember Sena, a man who touched many with his kindness, and many more with his music.

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