The WRECKING CREW – Documentary

Posted: June 12, 2015 in MUSIC
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The Beach Boys, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Nate King Cole and many more. Behind their success was a group of studio musicians called The Wrecking Crew.

What the Funk Brothers did for Motown… The Wrecking Crew did, only bigger, for the West Coast Sound. Six years in a row in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Grammy for “Record of the Year” went to Wrecking Crew recordings. And now, THE WRECKING CREW tells the story in pictures and that oh, so glorious sound. THE WRECKING CREW is a documentary film produced and directed by Denny Tedesco, son of legendary late Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco. The film tells the story of the unsung musicians that provided the backbeat, the bottom and the swinging melody that drove many of the number one hits of the 1960’s.

Members of the Wrecking Crew in a recording session with producer Phil Spector

If you think — and want to continue to think — that Brian Wilson played that signature roller-rink organ on “California Girls,” read no further. If you’ve labored under the illusion that Karen Carpenter tapped out that delicate drum part on “Close to You,” or that Papa John Phillips strummed the sweeping intro to “California Dreamin’,” prepare for a rude awakening. On hundreds of hits from the late 1950s through the mid-’70s by acts such as The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, Elvis Presley, Harry Nilsson, The Beach Boys, Sam Cooke, The Carpenters, The Ronettes, Simon and Garfunkel, Frank and Nancy Sinatra and many, many more, the backing band was a group of faceless studio musicians.

The jazz-trained instrumentalists were L.A.’s first-call players for pop, TV and movie work. They were the consummate pros, the fixers, the one-takers, the guys (and gal) behind the guys. They were the Wrecking Crew.

Back when L.A.’s recording scene was a hit-minting machine that ruled the airwaves, they worked up to four three-hour sessions a day. Some say they slept in the studio. Huge money was made. Family lives suffered. Marriages crumbled.

Yet they clocked in and out, somehow always sounding inspired for the big names and pretty faces on the record covers, creating what has become the soundtrack to two decades of American life.

But who were these deft, anonymous masters?

Director Denny Tedesco tackles that question with The Wrecking Crew, a heartfelt, engrossing documentary 19 years in the making, which finally sees theatrical release in New York and Los Angeles on March 13. It joins the formidable ranks of behind-the-scenes music docs including Muscle Shoals, Standing in the Shadows of Motown and 20 Feet From Stardom, and it’s a story Tedesco is singularly qualified to helm.

His late father, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, was one of the core members of that integral session group, and a man whose sense of humor was as big as his six-string talent. The guitar intros to TV’s The Twilight Zone, Green Acres, Bonanza, M*A*S*H and Batman? That’s Tommy.

Tommy Tedesco, originally from Niagara Falls, N.Y., succumbed to cancer in 1997 after a decades-long, three-pack-a-day smoking habit. His illness was the catalyst for the documentary.

“When they said he had a year to live, my concern was, if I don’t do it, it’s going to be the biggest regret of my life,” says Denny, who had worked in Hollywood as a grip and set decorator but, in terms of directing, “had no idea” what he was doing. “It wasn’t going to be just about my dad; it was going to be about the group of them.”

“Them” is a bit tough to define. It was not “a set group of musicians,” Tedesco explains. Depending on who you talk to, it’s “15, 20, 35 players,” but the core group included the bassist extraordinaire Carol Kaye, drummers Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer, guitarists Al Casey, Tommy Tedesco and Glen Campbell (later of “Rhinestone Cowboy” fame), keyboardists Don Randi and Leon Russell and sax player Plas Johnson. 

The Wrecking Crew were cooler, hipper, downright casual.

“They looked down on us and this filthy new rock & roll. We were in Levis and T-shirts. These older guys in their ties and blue blazers, carrying around their little ashtrays, said, ‘These kids are going to wreck the business,'” recalls Blaine, who takes credit for coining the moniker Wrecking Crew.

Carol Kaye reportedly disputes the name, insisting that, back in the day, they were called the Clique.

Don Randi has a slightly different take as well. “We were [called] the Wall of Sound. We started with Spector,” says the affable keyboard titan. You may recall the holy keyboard pulse on a little Beach Boys number called “God Only Knows.” That’s Don Randi.

“The Wrecking Crew came later on. It’s an iconic phrase and people love it. But people would call us the Wrecking Crew because we could wreck a [session]. If you were a stupid producer, we could take you on a ride that you’ll never forget,” Randi says.

Whatever you want to call them, the group’s musical contributions are indelible, and Tedesco’s film is a long-overdue homage that puts these familiar strangers into perspective.

“It’s important,” Randi says. “It’s almost a piece of history. It’s a time that won’t be repeated again because the technology has taken all of that away, that liveness that we had. Although now some of the bands are starting to come back to it again. You know, let’s all get in a room and kill one another.”

“You’re only as good as your last hit,” Blaine says, “and no one had more hits than we did.”

In 2002 there was movie called “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” about the Motown backing musicians. And now, there’s this movie. I think it’s great that movies are being made to tell the in-house musicians’ story because they are very important to the music we enjoy. I hope there will be a movie about MFSB, the musicians behind the “Sound of Philadelphia.” Also, the Staxx musicians need their story told too. Heck, I think all the in-house musicians from the ’60s and ’70s across America should have their stories told.

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