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 seen this slightly sentimental valentine from a son to his father. If you are interested in the music of the 60s and 70s, 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 to bring the film to a broader 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 gets it.

The Wrecking Crew was a loose affiliation of studio musicians who flourished in the LA music scene in the mid to late 1960s. Initially made up of 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 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 timeline and history, the film can’t provide the payoff it is entitled to make: these musicians were inseparable from 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. 

Several 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 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 makes viewers 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 the 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 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 “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 grows as an excellent appreciation for Tedesco, who 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 sure to have omissions. We didn’t hear from all the critical living players from the scene. You never know why. Some may not be very articulate; others may not want to participate. The more historical context might have helped reference the Funk Brothers, Stax, or Muscle Shoales with concurrent and similar musical communities. This is a minor quarrel, however – as The Wrecking Crew stands alongside Standing in the Shadows of Motown and Respect Yourself as must-haves for any serious music fans’ collection.

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