“The Wrecking Crew” joins the company of great documentaries like “Standing in the Shadows of Motown” and “20 Feet from Stardom” as it puts the spotlight on a group of musicians who have been in the background for far too long. The title refers to studio and session musicians based in Los Angeles, California who played anonymously on many famous records back in the 1960’s. During a decade dominated by The Beach Boys, The Mamas & The Papas and The Monkees among others, they were the ones who recorded the music we came to love so much.
“The Wrecking Crew” was directed by Denny Tedesco whose father, Tommy Tedesco, was a legendary guitarist who played with this group of unsung musicians. Tedesco started filming this documentary back in 1996 when he discovered his father was diagnosed with terminal cancer as he wanted to get as much of his father’s musical history on film for the record. From there, it became a celebration of musicians whose work resulted in the creation of many great songs. In addition, Tedesco succeeded in getting many interviews from stars like Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Mickey Dolenz, Glen Campbell and Dick Clark who shared their memories of The Wrecking Crew and of what they brought to the world of music.
A press day for “The Wrecking Crew” was held at The Professional Drum Shop in Hollywood, California, a famous location where George Harrison once bought a pair of drums for Ringo Starr. Joining Tedesco was The Wrecking Crew’s drummer Hal Blaine who came up with the group’s name, and its keyboard player Don Randi. While the documentary started playing at film festivals in 2008, it did not receive a theatrical release until 2015 due to the incredibly difficulty of licensing music for its inclusion here. I asked Tedesco how the documentary evolved from when he started shooting it in 1996 to when he finally got a rough cut together.
Denny Tedesco: Format wise, we started shooting in film, 16mm, because I wanted to be a filmmaker. My wife Susie and myself, she’s a commercial producer, had better access to the film cameras, but we also liked the idea of film. But years later I started to go to video out of necessity, and I realized that was much easier because now what I missed with film is a lot of great interviews. With film, you’ve got to have a whole film crew. When we started cutting I knew the beginning, I knew the middle and I knew the end, but when the first 30 minutes of the film were cut another director saw it and said, “Why are you cutting it like this?” And I said, “What do you mean?” Because I wasn’t gonna be part of this film at all. I was the director and I wanted to keep myself out of it. He said, “You’re crazy not to be a part of this. You have access that none of us have. What you’re cutting, we couldn’t do this. You should go the other way.” And that’s when I decided that I would try and introduce the film as myself and that this is the reason why I started the film; my dad’s passing away and I said this is the story of my father and his extended family, The Wrecking Crew, and that’s how I introduce all of these guys.
Tedesco, Blaine and Randi said all the musicians originally came from jazz backgrounds, but that they eventually found themselves playing rock and roll music as they could make more of a living this way. We get to meet each of these musicians, and one who stands out in particular is Carol Kaye not because she is the only female member of The Wrecking Crew, but because she is a truly gifted bass player. Randi himself described Carol as being very innovative and that she has a great ear for music, and she gave us all a respect for the bass guitar we should have today.
Hal Blaine: I have to make mention right here about Berry Gordy who was actually a neighbor of mine. We used to laugh at the limo that used to pick up this little, tiny child to take him to school every day. Eventually there were people out there saying they did all the Motown records, and we knew that they didn’t. We knew that we had done a couple, three maybe, but there were some people who claimed they did all of them. They will be nameless at this point. Berry Gordy, not very long ago, did an interview and mentioned the fact that the very first hits came out of his garage where he had a little studio, and then he became Twentieth Century Fox’s head of musical engineering. We did the first few (songs) like “Baby Love” and a couple of things and it was an amazing time, and I was shocked to hear Berry Gordy actually do this. Not coming clean, but just to clear up things.
Randi also shared a sobering story about The Funk Brothers, Detroit based musicians who performed the backing music to the majority of Motown recordings from 1959 until 1972 when the company moved to Los Angeles.
Don Randi: When we all went into the Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville, The Funk Brothers were there and The Wrecking Crew was there. We all went in at the same time and I sat with The Funk Brothers and they had me crying because there weren’t no contracts and they didn’t get the residuals. These guys are old and they don’t have that… Those guys worked their butts off for Berry, and when they first came out on the first date I did for them they went to pay us with cash, and I said, “Wait a second, we don’t do this.” And they said, “Well that’s the way we do it in Detroit. We pay cash.”
Well, hopefully all these musicians will get the respect they deserve when audiences watch “The Wrecking Crew.” It is a great celebration of the music we grew up on and of the artists who created it in the first place. While this documentary might look like it is riding the coattails of similar ones, it stands on its own and sheds a light on a piece of musical history we all need to know more about.
Danny Tedesco: All these other docs, thank God they came out. Thank God they laid the ground work and thank God they were successful. And I’m so happy because there is always another story. I tell people there’s so much information out there. You could interview your parents and you would get a great story and they should. There’s so much knowledge out there and I’m so glad that these different musicians… I’m lucky that I got them in their youth. If I had to do this documentary today, forget it. A lot of guys are gone and memories are maybe not as sharp.
“The Wrecking Crew” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.