Thursday, April 2, 2015

THE WRECKING CREW (2015)

Directed by Denny Tedesco


Where & When: Sundance Sunset Theaters, West Hollywood, CA. March 24, 2015 2:30PM



The documentary, "The Wrecking Crew" made a splashy premiere at the SXSW Film Festival way back in 2008. The film, named after the little-known collective of session musicians who played on just about every song you might have heard recorded throughout the 1960's and early 1970's, took home several prizes during it's run on the festival circuit that year. A successful theatrical run seemed inevitable but the doc's momentum came to an unexpected grinding halt. Due to all of the numerous songs played in the film, the rights needed to obtained which also meant that more money needed to be paid. That was not a speedy process for director Denny Tedesco but after a spirited  Kickstarter campaign raised the funds, the remarkable "The Wrecking Crew" is finally able to be shown to the world.

This project began as a way for Mr. Tedesco to honor the legacy of his father, Tommy who was part of this band of brothers (and sister) that shaped the sound of contemporary pop music with little fanfare and virtually no credit. With the elder Tedesco fighting cancer, the director knew he had a limited time to record his father and got together many of the other musicians to recall their stories on how these songs were created.

It really shouldn't be a great surprise that the main focus here is on Tommy Tedesco but he was a colorful, fascinating character and brilliant guitarist who was able to play a large number of different stringed instruments. In addition to the interviews, we see footage of Tedesco telling stories and teaching at a master class as well as home movies of him at work and play. He started off playing jazz, however Tedesco soon found himself making his living playing rock and roll. Not particularly a fan of the music (which was true for most of these artists) but he learned to eventually appreciate the genre.

There's a slight dispute over how the name "Wrecking Crew" came about, with members of the band having varied recollections on who actually came up with it. Some of the other players on board to share their stories are drummer, Hal Blaine (who memorably kicked off The Ronettes' 1963 hit, "Be My Baby") sax man, Plas Johnson (who played that seminal solo on "The Pink Panther" theme) and on bass, Carol Kaye. Being the lone female among the boys was never an issue because she was considered a true musician, so Kaye (who was responsible for that bass line on Sonny & Cher's "The Beat Goes On") was treated as an equal. A couple members of the crew, Glen Campbell and Leon Russell would go on to forge successful solo music careers and guess who they called to play on their records?

Many of the pop artists who benefited from the amazing talents of these musicians appear on screen to sing their praises. That includes Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork of The Monkees, Nancy Sinatra and the one and only, Cher with producers Lou Adler, "Bones" Howe and prolific writer Jimmy Webb joining the chrous. By the mid '70's, many bands wanted to have more control over their sound and began actually playing on their recordings. This effectively put the Wrecking Crew pretty much out of business and brought an end to an era.

While not nearly as vibrant as "Twenty Feet From Stardom", the Oscar-winning doc on the background vocalists working during this same period, "The Wrecking Crew" is still quite illuminating. According to the film, these top-notch musicians seemed to be buried even further in the background than those singers as the producers and record labels didn't want the world to know that their favorite artists were not playing the music on their hit songs. But these professionals didn't worry much about credit because they were too busy making a great living doing what they love.

Tommy Tedesco didn't live to see the completed documentary (he passed away in 1997) but I can safely assume he would be very moved and proud of not only what an electrifying work his son has accomplished but also how "The Wrecking Crew" finally gives this hard-working band their long overdue recognition.