Greetings again from the darkness. The music business has always been a bit of a mystery – not just to the average record buyer, but even to those within the industry. History is filled with singers, band members, and songwriters missing out on the pot of gold due to slick legal maneuvering from some less-than-upstanding agent, producer or label. This documentary details the prolific recordings from a core group of studio musicians responsible for the sounds heard as rock and roll music exploded on the scene … their stellar performances marketed to the public as the work of popular bands.
Lest you think this is limited to an obscure genre or style of music, the two dozen (or so) musicians known as The Wrecking Crew were responsible for the album music for such groups and performers as The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, The Righteous Brothers, Elvis Presley, The Mamas and the Papas, Sonny and Cher, Sam Cooke, The Byrds, and The Monkees. And we can’t leave out Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” which dominated the charts for years. Director Danny Tedesco set out to make a documentary short about his father, guitarist extraordinaire Tommy Tedesco, but quickly realized the story was much bigger than just his dad.
In addition to the very talented (and funny) Tedesco, we get interviews with such talented musicians as Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, Don Randi, Al Casey, Pals Johnson (The Pink Panther sax soloist), Carol Kaye, and Bill Pittman. There is also insight from producers Lou Adler and Snuff Garrett, American Bandstand’s Dick Clark, songwriter Jimmy Webb, plus icon Herb Alpert. Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork explain the business rationale in having the professionals take care of the recordings, while Roger McGuinn spills the beans that other members of The Byrds (including David Crosby) were pretty miffed at the process.
The personal importance of telling this story is quite obvious in the work of the director, and is especially clear in the segments featuring his father. In addition to the popular music he was involved with, the senior Tedesco’s work is heard in such well-known TV themes as Bonanza, MASH, Batman, and The Twilight Zone … plus many movie scores. Archival footage is available for Q&A roundtables and some of the seminar work Tedesco did in the later stages of his career (he passed away in 1997). There is also footage of Phil Specter working in the studio, and some audio from Frank Sinatra as he works on recording, and early Brian Wilson creating the magic of Pet Sounds with the Wrecking Crew.
Glen Campbell and Leon Russell are the two big breakout performers from this group of studio musicians and both speak so highly of these unpublicized artists. Their interviews, and that of Dick Clark, highlight the confusion of timeline in the making of the film. It began making festival rounds in 2008 before running the age old issue of “musical rights” brought distribution to a screeching halt. So now, in 2015, the film is finally getting some theatre time, and with it comes the recognition and appreciation that is long overdue for the members of this very secret club … few of whom seem to hold any type of grudge. They were just happy to make a living doing what they love.
This film instantly becomes one of four documentaries highly recommended for those who want to better understand the music biz. Group it with Standing in the Shadows of Motown (2002), Muscle Shoals (2013), and Oscar winner Twenty Feet from Stardom (2013) to form an 8 hour education and history of popular music over the past three generations.
**NOTE: Kent Hartman released a book entitled “The Wrecking Crew” that provides additional detail; however, it is not affiliated with Danny Tedesco’s film.