Director Denny Tedesco is the son of featured guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who was a go-to player on smash hits by everyone from Herb Alpert to Cher and worked alongside drummers Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer, bassist Carol Kaye, a pre-fame Glen Campbell on guitar, keyboardist Leon Russell and others to create the most in-demand and overworked studio roster of their time, known as the Wrecking Crew. In contrast with the buttoned-up, decidedly non-rock ’n’ roll, old guard of studio players before them, this new generation wasn’t afraid to improvise off their scores or offer new ideas in the service of a song.
An endeavor that began in 1996 when Tommy Tedesco became terminally ill, “The Wrecking Crew” screened at select festivals in 2008. It’s only recently that it was upgraded with a busy, crowd-funded licensed soundtrack, which illuminates the depth of the Crew’s work and history. For even the most jaded music fan, hearing ‘Be My Baby’ accompanying Ronettes session photography is electric. “The Wrecking Crew” begins as a first person memorial to his father’s career, before switching to a roundtable reunion format.
These conversations are charming, but they provide only sporadic insight. We travel, vaguely chronologically, through Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound productions for The Crystals, Ike & Tina, The Righteous Brothers and Ronettes, to Brian Wilson’s increasingly ambitious compositions, culminating in ‘Good Vibrations.’ We stop off for brief looks at Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s sessions, the making of The Mamas and The Papas’ ‘California Dreamin,’ and Campbell’s Jimmy Webb–penned classics like ‘Galveston’ and ‘Wichita Lineman.’ Nowhere is there discussion of the wider West Coast culture and scene history that links much of this music.
“The Wrecking Crew” is essentially a one-trick pony; you could get the same amount of pleasure from combing through credits on Discogs or Wikipedia for a few minutes. What is astounding is the sheer variety of sounds the Crew turned up on; besides the pop, folk and country hits, there are dozens of significant movie and TV themes, like ‘Where Everybody Knows Your Name’ (“Cheers”) and ‘M*A*S*H* (Suicide Is Painless).’ Not covered in the film are any jazz performances the instrumentalists played on, as well as key artists like David Axelrod, Love, Lou Rawls, and Simon & Garfunkel.
It’s bassist Carol Kaye’s moments on-screen that provide the most amusement and make up the film’s biggest draw. She’s inherently likeable and unassuming, the antithesis of her downright nasty bassline on the 5th Dimension’s ‘Let The Sunshine In,’ which she plays for the camera. Kaye, now 80, was also a guitarist, but it’s on bass that she went into the record books. The honors of “most requested studio musician” and “most recorded bassist” are frequently attached to her name. She moved from the jazz clubs into the rock world and was soon totally rewriting basslines she deemed too boring to play. You get the sense that there are myriad enlightening stories to be heard from Kaye, who could certainly anchor her own documentary. But with little guidance, we get just a taste.
Still, it’s great to see her riff with her old studio mates. Tales of the players’ unforgiving schedules reveal their dedication to making each artist’s songs as strong as possible (as well as to putting food on the table). That so many of these songs ended up being all-time classics is uncanny, and tracing this thread of pop history adds another layer of enjoyment to them.
“The Wrecking Crew” shares the same due-giving motivation as films like “Standing in the Shadows of Motown,” “Muscle Shoals” and “20 Feet From Stardom.” In this case, the pathos-heavy raw deal narrative is toned down slightly, but the stakes of the project are also smaller. “Wrecking Crew” also goes against genre by omitting that music doc hallmark, the Bono endorsement. The upside of the insular approach used is that for once, we don’t have to hear about how there’s “something almost spiritual” about X band.