After 19 Years In The Making, ‘The Wrecking Crew’ Gets A Release
Do you know you have been lied to? Do you know that your favorite idols of the 60’s did not record the albums you have always cherished? I am talking about a period way before the digital age, where information was not available as it is now,… I got the chance to see the Los Angeles premiere of ‘The Wrecking Crew’ at Sonos Studios last Wednesday night, and I got the revelation: Hundreds of hit records of the 60s were recorded using the same collective of Los Angeles musicians! Think about it, the Beach Boys didn’t really record ‘Pet Sounds’, except for Brian Wilson who was always present… rather it was the work of this wonderful ensemble, whose members weren’t even aware of their nickname, ‘The Wrecking Crew’.
These unsung heroes are responsible for your best memories of the 60s’ and early 70’s, they were behind the Beach Boys, Mamas and the Papas, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny and Cher, Jan & Dean, The Monkees, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, 5th Dimension, Tijuana Brass, Ricky Nelson, Elvis Presley, Johnny Rivers and Phil Spector’s famous Wall of Sound… and they are the subject of Denny Tedesco’s new documentary, the result of 19 years of labor and love, dedicated to his father Tommy Tedesco, one of the core Wrecking Crew’s guitarists. Tommy passed away in 1997, and the movie is not exclusively about Tedesco’s dad but a moving homage to each member of the group, who were jazz-trained and didn’t want to play rock & roll, but learnt the music on the spot, and record well known songs such as ‘Be My Baby’, ‘California Girls’, ‘Strangers in the Night’, ‘Mrs. Robinson’, ‘Viva Las Vegas’, ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ among so many others.
Around that time, New York City was the center of music business, but suddenly, LA became the place to be in the 60’s, as ‘everybody wanted to be a surfer’, and the beach culture took over. Even George Martin said that the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ was an attempt to top ‘Pet Sounds’, which shows how much the west coast’s sound had become influential and predominant.
In the documentary you get to see numerous and wonderful interviews with Brian Wilson, Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Herb Alpert, Roger McGuinn, Gary Lewis, Dick Clark, Al Jardine, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz,… and also with Glen Campbell and Leon Russell who were part of the crew and later launched solo careers. You get to hear everybody, from Brian Wilson himself to Nancy Sinatra and Cher, praising the professionalism and talent of the tight unit, ‘We will never see a team of this caliber again’ says someone at one point. Not only they recorded most of your favorite songs of the 60’s but they also ended up recording the theme songs of many TV series and movies such as ‘Batman’, ‘Bonanza’, ‘Mission Impossible’, ‘The Pink Panther’ or ‘Green Acres’. These people are so deeply connected to our collective memory that it is a shame they stayed for so long in the public anonymity, and the film does a fantastic job to introduce us to the crew with a real behind the scenes look. But why weren’t they mentioned on the records? It seems to be something quite unconceivable these days. ‘We didn’t want kids to know we didn’t play on our records’, said Brian Wilson, which makes total sense, …. was Dennis Wilson mad? You bet he was! Nevertheless, it wasn’t the case for everyone, the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz said he was pretending to be this actor drummer going into imaginary adventures, so he didn’t care that much! Furthermore, if the Wrecking Crew recorded hundreds of albums, it would have been an embarrassment to see the names of these same guys on every single record, so they got excluded from the spotlight. At this time, neither the oblivious public nor the studios really cared about this, they only cared for the product, and this team of hit men and women studio did their brilliant job in the shadow of music giants.
Tommy Tedesco is obviously one of the stars of the film, especially because of his great sense of humor and immense talent, but Carol Kaye was my favorite gal, probably because she was a woman in this men’s world, but also because of her coolness at the bass. She played bass on many Phil Spector and Brian Wilson’s productions among many others, and she can still excel at this famous Sonny and Cher’s ‘The Beat Goes On’ line. She was the star of ‘Pet Sounds’ and other Beach Boys’ gems and she participated to Spector’s famous Wall of Sound, revealing his secret: he used a lot of musicians, something like 15 percussionists and 4 piano players at the same time, as well as a huge echo chamber… and since Phil was very superstitious, he was always using the same guys as he would have been afraid the song wouldn’t have been a hit if he had used other musicians. ‘He was very demanding,’ said Carol, ‘musicians probably thought he was nuts, and of course he was!’
So what did the Wrecking Crew got from this game if their names were not even mentioned on the albums they were recording? Money of course, and plenty of it! Carol Kaye said she was making more money than the president of the United States in the 60’s, and for a while, they got the good life with mansions in the Hollywood hills. But it was also a fun job and a way to make cool connections, ‘If you love work, it’s not work’ said drummer Earl Palmer who was inducted to the Rock and Roll of Fame in 2000. ‘We also got a lot of respect and creative freedom’, added keyboardist Don Randi and member of the Wrecking Crew, who is now the owner of the Jazz club the Baked Potato and who joined Tedesco for a Q&A after the movie.
However, things became so crazy for the Crew, they were so much in demand that they were always booked. ‘Everybody wanted us!’ said one of them. They could do an album per day at times, several recording sessions a day, and this constant demand led to some serious burnt out and tremendous strain on family life… ‘I am a better grandfather than I was a father’ said Tommy Tedesco.
Times changed and things eventually slowed down and you get to see the end of an era for them toward the end of the movie. During the Q&A Dennis Tedesco said that his father Tommy thought he got a stroke (which left him partially paralyzed) ‘at the right time’ because the phone calls had stopped… and this is the sad part. But ‘The Wrecking Crew is essentially a very uplifting and heartfelt movie with funny moments and it pays the right homage to a group of people who will always be one of the most influential backing bands in rock history, because behind some of the most well-known songs ever, from the Beach Boys’ ‘California Girls’, to Sonny and Cher’s ‘I’ve Got You Babe’…
Tedesco, who struggled for a very long time to get a distribution for his movie — he started filming in 1996 and never gave up — couldn’t be happier to see his movie coincidentally released at the same time than the Brian Wilson biopic ‘Love and Mercy’. He talked a little bit about the impact of the crew: ‘There was so much influence on each side’, he said talking about the west coast influence on British bands like the Beatles, ‘we always talk about the British invasion but the US invasion never stops and this is the only invasion we can agree on!’
The film will be released on March 13th with an L.A. premiere at the Nuart Theatre, where Denny Tedesco will join musicians Hal Blaine, Joe Osborn, Don Randi, Bill Pitman and several other people, but you can get complete information on future screenings across North America at its website.