Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Wreckered Album

The Wrecking Crew (2015) is a documentary about studio musicians, specifically, the musicians that played on almost every hit record that came out of LA. It was made by  Denny Tedesco, son of one of the Crew's guitarists, Tommy Tedesco. He was planning a nice 30-minute interview, but it just grew. It was finished in 2008, but there was one problem: It took 7 more years and a lot of money to clear all the music they needed to tell the story.

It's an amazing story: Imagine if all the great 1960s rock and pop hits were recorded by the same loose group of about 2 dozen musicians - it's pretty much true. LA always had a blot of studio musicians who could read charts and get the perfect take down, and these guys were the best. Phil Spector used them for his "Wall of Sound", but they show up everywhere: The Mamas and the Papas, the Monkees, Nancy Sinatra, the Righteous Bros., the Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, even Frank Zappa used these guys. The movie concentrates on a few, like drummer Hal Blaine (the thunderous drums for "Be My Baby"), Plas Johnson (the sax line for "Pink Panther"), and guitarist Tommy Tedesco (surf, jazz or Spanish acoustic styles a specialty). But I particularly wanted to see bassist Carol Kaye.

She started out playing jazz guitar, but filled in on bass for a recording gig, and made more money than she made in a week playing live. She was the one who talked most about the music, the feel, how it was created, what made it great. How a group would come in with a song and no arrangements. She would develop a funky bass line, just a little something, and that might be all it needed. For example, the bass in "These Boots are Made for Walking", right after "Are you ready boots?" Just a simple descending portamento, but perfect.

Some of the Crew became solo stars. Glenn Campbell was the country's best acoustic rhythm guitarists before he started recording on his own. Leon Russell was a Wrecker, and so was Dr. John, Mac Rebennack. But most of these guys (I think Kaye was the only woman) are pretty much unknown. They worked insane hours (none of them was a very good parent), made a bundle, and faded away into TV theme work, club gigs, or the Gong Show (Tedesco) when the bands started playing their own instruments. But now, you can get to know them a little.

This is a lot like Standing in the Shadow of Motown, Muscle Shoals, and Twenty Feet from Stardom. I love that we get to see the anonymous musicians who make that music that hits so close to the heart. Because this movie was made by the son of one of the musicians, it gets a little closer to the heart. And since his father died before the movie was released, its gets right into the heart. So glad he made this.

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