Denny Tedesco, son of studio guitarist Tommy Tedesco, has made the best film ever about the Los Angeles studio scene in the 1960s and 1970s. The Wrecking Crew will be released in selected theaters and available for streaming on March 13. This release comes after many years of limited showings due to music royalty issues for the 100+ songs referenced in the film. A recent round of funding from Kickstarter has finally allowed Tedesco to release his movie through Magnolia Pictures.
The Wrecking Crew is a part valentine from a son to his father and part nostalgic look back at the LA recording studio music scene. Phil Spector, the Beach Boys, and many other LA-based artists/producers were cranking out a new type of hit song that, unbeknownst to the public, fueled the contributions of these unsung musicians (including Tedesco). These new, younger studio musicians who favored casual clothes to the suits of their predecessors were said to be “wrecking the business.” Hence the label, The Wrecking Crew.
This film works because the senior Tedesco was a real deal. He played on thousands of gigs. He was an amazingly versatile player who could read music and whose professionalism put him in the orbit of many significant artists, musicians, and recording sessions. Younger Tedesco does not need to overstate anything about his father’s accomplishments as they speak for themselves.
In addition to playing on such notable guitar-heavy tracks as “The Bonanza Theme” and “The Batman Theme,” Mr. Tedesco further endeared himself to thousands of young guitarists in the 1970s through his Studio Log column in Guitar Player magazine. Each month he would recount the gig, the music, and how much he earned, all with his great sense of humor that comes through vividly in the film.
But it was his connection with other studio musicians that provided the real narrative for the film. His peers, specifically drummer Hal Blaine and bassist Carol Kaye, obviously enjoyed working with him.
The Wrecking Crew is about the songs and the stories of the musicians who made them. The anecdotes about the bass line for “The Beat Goes On” and “Good Vibrations” or the opening lick to Glen Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” and the kick drum count-in to “A Taste of Honey” are fascinating. These are shared by the musicians themselves, often illustrating them with their instruments.
What also comes through is the camaraderie between these musicians. Some of the best parts of the film are the musicians sitting around a table reminiscing and yucking it up with each other after all these years. This natural and genuine affinity is impossible to stage.
The talking heads assembled in the film 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 these early days. They had no idea this music would have the longevity it did, going on to become the soundtrack to a generation. For many of these musicians, it was simply another gig.
Because of the length of this project took in coming to release, some of the key players (including Tedesco in 1997) have passed on. So, have some talking heads like Dick Clark, who is here in full voice and health. The silver lining to the delayed release is that Denny Tedesco has added the original release (2008) with some more recollections from other musicians not included in the previous edit. With all the extras, this should be a terrific DVD.
This DVD is a must-have alongside Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002), Respect Yourself – The Stax Records Story (2007), and Muscle Shoals (2013), which also deal with studio musicians’ contributions to popular music. Of those three, this is my favorite.
Sadly, home studios, software, and loops have replaced the Wrecking Crew generation, where musicianship and songwriting were front and center. Now anyone with a computer can slap together a song. Heck, they can even do it on their phone.
The days of the Wrecking Crew were when LA, with unheralded thanks to these great songwriters and musicians, could compete for the toe to toe with the Beatles and Motown.
I’m sure Tommy Tedesco would be proud of what his son has accomplished in paying proper respect after all these years.