The Wrecking Crew
Denny Tedesco, son of legendary studio guitarist Tommy Tedesco, has made the best film ever about the LA studio scene, The Wrecking Crew. Unless you’ve attended one of a handful of screenings, chances are you haven’t scene this slightly sentimental valentine from a son to his father. If you are at all interested in the music of the 60’s and 70’s, this is a must have for your DVD collection (assuming one comes out).
A self-funded affair, Tedesco has gone direct on his website soliciting funds in exchange for end-credits in order to bring the film to a wider audience. I hope he succeeds – I have mailed my check. I would love to own the DVD. I hope it includes lots of outtakes and extras! For anyone who loves music and musicians, this movie really gets it.
The Wrecking Crew was loose affiliation of studio musicians who flourished in the LA music scene in the mid to late 1960’s. Initially made up by the players from Phil Spector’s Gold Star Studios sessions, these casually clad players were “wrecking the business” the suit-wearing pros of the past had established – hence the name the Wrecking Crew.
Many top artists of the day – The Byrds, Mama’s and Papa’s, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and most infamously The Monkees – benefited from the the Crew’s input during the sessions. The Crew musicians would show up adding a riff or lick on the spot that often became the hook everyone remembered from the song. The complete list of artists these studio musicians worked with is simply staggering.
While many of the notable talking heads in the film (including the musicians themselves) do a great job describing the time and what it was like to work with the artists, they don’t provide adequate context for their contribution or achievement.
The Wrecking Crew could have benefited from a more detailed history of the record business, the growth of pop music, and the emergence of the LA studio scene (as compared with what was happening in the east). Without this time line and history, the film can’t provide the payoff it it entitled to make: these musicians were inseparablewith the growth of popular music as we knew it when it took the world by storm. The accomplishment of the wrecking crew is on par with what the Beatles did.
A number of great personalities emerge from that era viewers may not be familiar with, notably Drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye, and the filmmaker’s father, “the world’s most recorded guitarist” Tommy Tedesco. They all wax nostalgic for that great time that will never happen again. That was a time when great songs were being written, the songs were getting played, the records were selling, and money was everywhere. These folks regularly had to turn down work. There is a charming interplay between these legends sitting at the round-table. Respect is everywhere. The film succeeds in making a viewer nostalgic for a time they might not even know existed.
The talking heads assembled are impressive. Record company founders like Herb Alpert and Lou Adler bring some gravitas to business side of things while providing a sense of how much luck and improvisation were involved in the nascent days of the emerging business. Brian Wilson, who clearly loved those people – they helped him make those brilliant records – is mutually respected by the musicians with the same reverence.
In the end it is as it should be, the musicians themselves having the most to say. They convey the “what it was like” better than anyone. As a pastiche, The Wrecking Crew succeeds wonderfully in capturing the tone of the place and time. It also succeeds as a nice appreciation for Tedesco who clearly was a giant in the business. Were the film featuring anyone else, it wouldn’t have worked. Todesco played on everything from Bonanza to Batman, Beach Boys to Zappa. His discography is a wonder of popular music.
A film like this is certain to have omissions. We didn’t hear from from all the key living players from the scene. You never know why. Some may not be very articulate, others may not want to participate. More historical context might have helped referencing the Funk Brothers, Stax, or Muscle Shoales who had concurrent and similar musical communities. This is a minor quarrel however – as The Wrecking Crew stands along side Standing in the Shadows of Motown and Respect Yourself as must haves for any serious music fans’ collection.