Saturday, February 21, 2015

Film Review: The Wrecking Crew

Writer/Director: Denny Tedesco
Producer: Denny Tedesco, Suzie Tedesco, Jon Leonoudakis, Mitchell Linden, Claire Scanlon
Cast: Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson, Don Randi, Cher, Micky Dolenz, Nancy Sinatra, Jimmy Webb, Lou Adler, Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, Roger McGuinn, Earl Palmer, Al Casey, Don Randi, Tommy Tedesco
Music Documentary
1 hour, 35 minutes

They were the unsungs heroes behind so many hits from L.A. in the sixties: “Be My Baby,” The Byrds' “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “You've Lost That Loving Feeling,” “California Dreaming,” “River Deep Mountain High,” the early Monkees, and all of The Beach Boys' legendary Pet Sounds.

This loose collection of studio session players were never credited on album sleeves, but were revered by other musicians for their sheer ability to play Latin, jazz, rock, blues and country effortlessly and reliably.

They were the Wrecking Crew, mostly east coast jazz musicians who drifted to the west in the sixties to become the most in-demand musicians on the exploding L.A. scene. This was the heyday of Phil Spector's “Wall of Sound” and The Beach Boys. The records they played on rivalled only The Beatles and Motown in terms of chart hits and enduring quality.

Director Denny Tedesco spent 20 years creating this loving tribute to the Wrecking Crew, which included his father, guitarist Tommy. Undoubtedly, this connection granted Tedesco access to many of the Wrecking Crew and the musicians they backed, including Brian Wilson, Cher, Monkee Micky Dolenz and Nancy Sinatra, not to mention fans like the late Frank Zappa.

The film sizzles with energy from the first frame to the last, largely told through contemporary reminisces by the Wrecking Crew and effectively blended with stock footage and photographs.

If you were a singer in Los Angeles in the sixties, chances are your backing musicians were these players. Tedesco left behind a dreary warehouse job in upstate New York to work in California. Like drummer Earl Palmer, guitarist Al Casey and keyboardist Don Randi, Tedesco was working 24/7 as a hired gun. He made excellent cash that supported a large family, but had little time to see them.

All in all, life was glorious for the Wrecking Crew, even though pop and rock tunes were primative compared to the jazz they were weaned on. Palmer says he made lot more money drumming rock than he ever would have playing jazz.

Sure, getting credit for playing a signature bass lick on a million-selling single would have been nice, but the Wrecking Crew were too busy working to stop and complain.

The film breaks down into two general sections: bassist Carol Kaye in the first, and drummer Hal Blaine in the second. Kaye was the lone female in a boys' club. She's articulate and charismatic on film as she talks about her career. The issue of sexual harassment is mentioned too briefly and leaves a few questions hanging, but we get the picture.

Blaine represents the height of the Wrecking Crew. At his peak in the late-sixties he owned a Hollywood mansion and yacht, but blames his ex-wife for reducing him to a pauper by the late-seventies. There's more to his story than that, and unfortunately the movie doesn't dig deeper. Again, we get the picture, but I wish the film explored more of his decline.

Of course, there is music liberally sprinkled throughout. Around 100 tunes are excerpted, and it took seven long years to clear all that on the limited indie budget that Tedesco raised mainly through crowdfunding.

I'm glad Tedesco endured. Without his film, these gifted musicians would have been relegated to footnotes in music history, just like Standing In The Shadows of Motown celebrated that label's unsung heroes.

The Wrecking Crew is essential viewing for any fan of rock music and pop culture.

Review by Allan Tong

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