Meet ‘The Wrecking Crew’: Largely anonymous studio geniuses behind countless hits

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The West Coast pop music scene exploded in the early 1960s, providing work for local studio musicians and New York session players who headed to Hollywood for lucrative gigs. The Wrecking Crew, a tight-knit group of between about 30 L.A. studio musicians, were the unsung heroes of 1960s pop music. Denny Tedesco’s documentary, The Wrecking Crew, pays long overdue homage to this talented group of rock ‘n’ roll heroes.

Members of the Wrecking Crew played on hit songs by Elvis Presley, the Monkees, the Mamas and Papas, Simon and Garfunkel, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the Carpenters, Johnny Rivers and other artists. They even played on many iconic TV and movie theme songs of the ‘60s — Bonanza, Batman and Mission: Impossible, to name a few, and a few hits from the early ‘70s like “Love Will Keep Us Together.” They fleshed out Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, too. The list could go on and on.

The musicians were paid well, but received no official credit for their contributions. The Wrecking Crew included some names you’ll recognize — Glen Campbell, Leon Russell — and most people won’t, including guitarists Louie Shelton and Al Casey, bass player Carol Kaye, drummers Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer and saxophonist Plas Johnson.

Denny Tedesco began work on The Wrecking Crew in 1996, and completed it in 2008. After a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013 raised money to pay for music licensing rights, the documentary secured distribution. It’s now available on iTunes, VOD and DVD. If you want to see the documentary the old-fashioned way, The Wrecking Crew will be screened at select theatres throughout the U.S. over the next few months.

The Wrecking Crew works on two levels. It’s a heartfelt tribute to director Denny Tedesco’s father, Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco — who died of lung cancer in 1997 — and a look at the anonymous (at the time) musicians who breathed life into so many pop hits

In the mid-1990s, Tedesco conducted sit-down interviews with his dad and other members of the Wrecking Crew, including Carol Kaye (the Wrecking Crew’s only female member), Al Casey, Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, and Plas Johnson. Their names may not be familiar, but you’ve heard their playing on an unbelievable array of hits from the 1960s and 1970s.

That’s Carol Kaye’s distinctive bass you hear in Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” and the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” Hal Blaine’s drumming you hear on the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby,” and Plas Johnson’s saxophone in the Pink Panther theme. They didn’t just play music that was handed to them, either: Kaye came up with the descending bass intro to “The Beat Goes On.” The Wrecking Crew added their own touches to make great songs even better.

Through archival footage, photos of the musicians in the studio and original interviews, we get a look at the non-stop pace of the Wrecking Crew’s lives in the halcyon days of pop music. The demand for the Wrecking Crew was so great the musicians could barely find time to sleep or spend with their families. Nancy Sinatra talks about recording “Somethin’ Stupid” and “These Boots Are Made for Walkin.” Cher remembers her first session with the Wrecking Crew as a shy 16-year old, and Brian Wilson praises the musicians’ ability.

Session musicians fell out of favor in the mid-1970s, when rock bands took over the recording studios and the charts. Some of the Wrecking Crew members fell on bad times and turned to other jobs to make ends meet. But Wrecking Crew members Glen Campbell, Dr. John and Leon Russell eventually became music stars in their own right.

Learn about them all in The Wrecking Crew, an intriguing look at the hard-working but typically anonymous musicians who helped make hundreds of classic hits of the Baby Boomer era so unforgettable. It’s a must-see look at a pivotal slice of pop culture history.

Jade Blackmore

Jade Blackmore

Jade Blackmore has written about classic rock, hard rock/metal and indie films for EarCandy Mag, Rock Confidential, Cinema Sentries, Perfect Sound Forever and Entertainment Today, among others. Her past day jobs in the entertainment industry included stints with Mix Magazine, Bourne Music and Boxoffice Magazine. She lives in Los Angeles. Contact Something Else! at
Jade Blackmore
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