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Everything’s Untruth: Mike Nessing on the Myth Of The Wrecking Crew

Rock NYC Contributing Editor Mike Nessing dispells the myth of the great LA session musicians of the 60s.

Everything is a myth. This needs to be established first and foremost. Even the reality that exists behind the myth is probably a myth, too. Case in point “The Wrecking Crew”. In the genre of pop music these people are most commonly known as the studio musicians that played on just about every hit record that came out of Los Angeles, CA during the 1960’s and early 1970’s. I’m going to repeat that for emphasis. Just about EVERY hit record that came out L.A. employed the same core group of musicians. Forget about all the glitz and glamour of the teen magazines and the album covers. Most pop stars simply did not do the heavy lifting when it came down to the business of making a record. There was a system in place and they were not part of it.

I promised myself that when writing this I wouldn’t fall into the trap of providing a laundry list of bands to back up my statements. However, to provide the appropriate context, I’m finding it necessary . So here goes. Artists such as The Beach Boys, Mamas and Papas, The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, Herb Alpert, The Association, The 5th Dimension, The Carpenters, The Byrds, Johnny Rivers, Jan And Dean, The Ronettes, Bread, The Partridge Family, The Turtles, The Grass Roots and dozens of others all used paid professional studio musicians to make their records.

This “scam” if you will was perpetuated by the record companies themselves. The environment grew out of the ashes of the old Hollywood studio system. With no staff orchestras on the payroll, there became a growing need to hire musicians to do commercials as well as movie and television soundtracks. Add the birth of rock and roll to the equation, and you’re faced with the classic scenario of supply and demand.

So, there really was no “Wrecking Crew” per se. The moniker was in fact coined by session drummer Hal Blaine long after the fact. It was simply the way things were done. If you were in California and you wanted to make a record, you had to hire musicians. If you wanted the optimum chance to get the maximum return on your investment, then you hired the BEST musicians. Similar policies were in place at Motown studios in Detroit, as well as New York and Nashville.

Some of these people were new to the scene such as Glen Campbell. Others were making a steady living in Hollywood for a very long time. Someone like Larry Knechtel who played on sessions for Billie Holliday in the early 50’s as well as Beach Boys albums in the mid ‘60’s. Some had jazz backgrounds, others had country chops. This was a true melting pot of styles. In many instances they were encouraged to go over and above the sheet music that was handed to them. Commonly referred to as charts, it was understood that these were rough outlines of what was expected of them , and if they felt that they could embellish, then feel free to go for it.

The music is a permanent part of our lives. The story behind it, not so very well known. The accolades given for it, somewhat misplaced. So what you end up with is a group of crackerjack musicians not being credited for collaboration on some of the most revered musical works of the pop era. Like I said, everything is a myth.

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