“The Wrecking Crew,” a Documentary by Denny Tedesco
You probably have never heard of them, but if you’re my age or if you have ever listened to any music from the 1960’s or 70s, I guarantee you’ve heard them play. As Los Angeles became the center of the recording scene for everything except Country, The Wrecking Crew were the consummate studio musicians who helped create hit record after hit record, from Elvis to the Beach Boys to the Mamas and the Papas to Herb Alpert to Sonny and Cher to Frank and Nancy Sinatra.
It was an era in which stars and their bands were not always good enough to make a record special, and studio musicians were called upon to turn a good song into a sonic treasure. Cost was also a factor: the actual band might take days or weeks to get a song just right for album release, while the studio musicians routinely did it in hours. It was a special window of time perfectly suited for this one steady core mix of talent.
An eclectic group of brilliant musicians who could sight-read anybody’s composition, master it, improve it where necessary, and turn in a finished track within three hours, these guys and gals might play for Sinatra in the morning, do the sound track for Hawaii Five-0 after lunch, then move in to tackle one of Brian Wilson’s increasingly sophisticated and complicated musical ideas – too demanding for the touring Beach Boys themselves – before dinner, then play to exhaustion to create Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” before calling it a night.
It is said that drummer Hal Blaine is the most recorded drummer in music history, and that Tommy Tedesco holds the same honor among guitarists. No matter what genre, if you wanted a specific sound, Tommy Tedesco would find it. Bass guitarist Carol Kaye could take a simple riff and turn it into something unforgettable – for example, she tweaked the very simple base line for Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On,” and gave a flat, lifeless underscoring genuine snap. Add a wealth of musicians numbering twenty or more at any given time, including drummer Earl Palmer, guitarists Billy Strange and Glen Campbell, and bassists Larry Knetchel and Joe Osborne, and you have The Wrecking Crew.
They got their name when they first showed up for work. The studio musicians there all wore ties and jackets and “looked” professional. These new guys came in with scraggly hair, wearing T-shirts, and dangling cigarettes from their lips. One of the other guys said, “You’re gonna wreck the music business.” Hal Blaine then said, “That’s us. The wrecking crew.”
Tommy Tedesco’s son Denny has spent the last fourteen years building a loving, honest tribute to his dad and fellow musicians of The Wrecking Crew. It has taken all that time to get releases from the various music studios for whom they recorded, so Denny could include the 130 examples of their work in the film. When asked why he didn’t just cut down the number of songs, Denny replied, “Because that’s the point. They played everything.”
By 1980 a new breed of singer-songwriter emerged on the music scene. New bands appeared who not only wanted to play their own stuff, they had the skill needed to do so effectively. Studio musicians became redundant. But, as several of them comment, it was a great ride.
You won’t find “The Wrecking Crew” at your local art house theater or even on DVD yet. Tedesco is still raising money to pay off the last of the studios for permission to play those songs, and money to finance the DVD release. He’s about $250,000 shy as I write this – pocket change in today’s music industry. This means he is unable to show this film in commercial outlets, so he has been airing it at film festivals, where it has won numerous awards, and in private non-profit venues. I got to see it, along with about 200 others, at the Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California, where it was presented as one of the Center’s “Night at the Museum” series of events.
For me it was a wonderful evening filled with nostalgia, fun, and great humor. The members of The Wrecking Crew loved what they did, yet has a great sense of humor about themselves, and it shows in every frame of the 95 minute film.
Carefully edited and honestly told, this is the story of the musicians who created the soundtrack of my generation. They were paid handsomely for it and got to do what they loved. And even if they weren’t credited on those albums, this film shouts their names with joy.
For more information on The Wrecking Crew, visit the website: