In terms of music, I’m a 70s guy. Pink Floyd, Grateful Dead, The Allman Brothers Band. I have an affinity for those groups comprised of musicians who find each other, form a band, and write and play all their own songs. I enjoy the majority of groups that were popular in the late 50s and 60s less so. Those bands tended to be assembled by producers, and most did not play their own instruments on the records they cut, nor did they write any of the songs. Enter the 20-30 studio musicians -- no one can quite agree on an exact number -- known as The Wrecking Crew.
The name for the group was coined by a member of the suit-and-tie-wearing old guard of studio musicians. He was convinced that this poorly dressed assortment of punk kids would wreck the music business for good. The new crew played on just about every hit song that came out of the Los Angeles music scene for about a decade and a half (roughly 1958 through 1970), and despite not being particularly fond of that era, the movie covers its subject with such affection and respect that I was won over. The Wrecking Crew made me care about a subject I wouldn’t normally be interested in, which is exactly what all well-made documentaries should do.
The Wrecking Crew is a labor of love by Denny Tedesco, son of Tommy Tedesco. In the documentary, Denny establishes his own flesh-and-blood father as the spiritual father of this group of musicians. It’s taken Denny almost 20 years to complete this tribute to his father, a man who was in part responsible for the soundtrack of the lives of millions of baby boomers, but whose name almost no one recognizes. For instance, as seen in archival footage covering the elder Tedesco’s passing, his last name is misspelled and one reporter calls him “Tony”, not Tommy. This absence of public recognition extends to nearly every member of the group, and Denny hopes to right that injustice with his film.
Listening to the members talk about their contributions, you get a sense of the exciting creative environment they fostered, even if it happened anonymously. The only woman in the group, Carol Kaye, describes the one-chord bass line handed to her for Sonny and Cher’s The Beat Goes On, and how she transformed it into an unforgettable part of the song.
The younger Tedesco began filming interviews with the Wrecking Crew members in 1996, and completed collecting and assembling that footage by 2008. This long production schedule creates a unique effect on the film itself. There is a round table discussion with some of the group’s surviving members filmed before Tedesco’s death, as well as new conversations filmed in the late 2000s. There are also interviews with celebrities like Cher and Dick Clark filmed in the late 90s, which have a distinctly aged quality to them that took me back to that time period. The feeling of my own nostalgia mixed with the general nostalgia for the Crew’s heyday blend together to create a meditation on the passage of time. This was likely an unintended consequence of the lengthy production schedule, but it gave me something to think about long after the movie ended.
Between the end of shooting and the documentary’s release, Denny was consumed with getting the rights, called “clearance” in the film business, to include the hundreds and hundreds of songs recorded by The Wrecking Crew in his finished film. The effort was worth it, as the subject matter of the film is as entertaining as it is informative. These musicians played on hits fronted by everyone from The Monkees to The Righteous Brothers to The Mamas and The Papas to The Beach Boys. The grueling schedule that the group kept in order to turn these records out at such a fast pace is astonishing.
Changes came quick to the music business by the early 70s, but the Wrecking Crew gives little sense of melancholy about the abrupt end to their way of recording popular music. What’s uplifting about the documentary is that the members realize they were part of something special, something that will never happen again. They are grateful for that, and I am grateful that Denny Tedesco was able to shed some light on a unique period in music history.