The Wrecking Crew was a group of anonymous session players who cranked out hit after hit. They cut tracks for The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel, Nat King Cole, Herb Alpert, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, The 5th Dimension, John Denver, the Byrds, The Partridge Family, The Mamas & the Papas, and so many more. They were The Monkees. And they were Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound.”
When a hit was needed, The Wrecking Crew got the call. They literally played on hundreds of chart-topping songs from the era on record labels big and small. They laid the foundations for hit after hit; gold record after gold record. And for 6 straight years from 1966-1972, they played on each Grammy-winning “Record of the Year.”
“The Wrecking Crew were the best of the best, with the additional gift of being able to function as mini-arrangers within each song,” said author Kent Hartman, in his book The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll's Best Kept Secret. “The producers depended on them to make the songs better, and that’s why they kept getting asked back time and time again: They knew how to turn a song into a hit.”
Now it may come as a shock to some of us that our favorite songs weren’t actually performed or arranged/written by our favorite artists — but that’s how this business really works. It’s always been like that and it always will be. Music is about passion but it’s also about presentation. And at the end of the day, it’s about shifting units. Selling records. Making money. And that means delivering hits.
So it’s no surprise that behind the success of early Rock ’n’ Roll, there was a secret hit making machine — a group with the magic touch. A group with the Midas touch. One of the best quotes on this is from the late Bruce Gary, who played drums for the Knack. He once said that he was disappointed to find out that his 10 favorite drummers were all Hal Blaine. Classic!
But who was Hal Blaine? And who were these people who made the music we all grew up with? If the songs we know and love weren’t actually crafted by pop stars, then just whose music do we hum along to? Who are those unsung heroes of the 60’s?
That’s the exact question that filmmaker Denny Tedesco answers in the documentary, The Wrecking Crew. He’s not out to expose the industry or to tattle on anyone. He simply wants to present a real story about real people from a real perspective. The members of The Wrecking Crew were some of the coolest people of their time. The 20 or so individuals that made up the collective were classically trained musicians with backgrounds in jazz and classical. They weren’t rock ’n’ roll stars. They’re weren’t surrounded by the trappings of fame or ego. But they were consummate professionals and they knew it. They exuded coolness in their attitude, in their dress, and in their chops.
It’s this humanness that the film seeks to capture. Which makes sense, because underneath it all, the film is a labor of love. Denny’s father was Tommy Tedesco, a well-loved and highly respected guitarist for The Wrecking Crew. When Tommy was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1996, Denny realized that it was time to tell the full story. With his background in film and production and with his complete access to the session players and to some of the biggest names in the music industry, Denny was on the insider’s track to make it all come together.
Tommy Tedesco — mid 60's
But nothing's ever that easy. The filming took over 10 years and by 2006, Denny’s wife, who is also the producer of the film, started to joke that this may be the most expensive home-movie ever made. By 2008, the editing was finished and the film entered the festival circuit. It went on to play over 50 festivals and win dozens of awards. It garnered rave reviews and audiences loved it. But it didn’t get picked up for distribution because the music licensing price tag was astronomical. There were over 132 music cues with more than 400 different rights holders. To put it mildly, it’s a logistical nightmare. A ridiculously expensive logistical nightmare.
I first heard about the movie when it made the festival rounds but it didn’t really stick in my consciousness. Then, in April of 2012, the New York Times ran an article titled: Music Film is Delayed by Fees for Songs. I remember reading about it and saying to myself, “Man, I want to see this. What a cool story. I wish there was something that I could do to help it along. I’ll never get to see this if they don’t come up with the cash.” But there was nothing I could do. I just had to sit and wait. Then I became friends with the publicist who was promoting the film and I asked what I could do to help. Still nothing. Just more waiting. And still, no film to see.
A few weeks ago, I got the Kickstarter funding request. They finally decided to ask all of us music lovers to help bring the project to completion. Actually, that’s the wrong way to say it. The project is done. It is complete. It just needs to pay off the licensing fees so that it can be distributed and so that we can finally watch it. I instantly contributed (my first contribution on Kickstarter ever) and I’m counting down the days until I’ll get my DVD. Then I got in touch with the publicist and asked if I could write a feature about The Wrecking Crew for Head-fi since I knew this was right up our alley and since this is something that the community would want to see.
And so with that, if you enjoyed this article and if you are curious about learning more — please watch the movie trailer. If this is something that you want to be a part of, please help them reach their funding goal.
Mike Dias is a huge fan of music, of telling stories, and of laughing. And lucky for him, he’s somehow managed to make somewhat of living from this. He designs funny and creative apps for the iPhone. He is the music supervisor for Ultimate Ears and he writes about music and the music industry. He’s always happy to talk about artists, apps, and in-ears so feel free to reach out about any of those topics. Email him directly.