By Linc Leifeste | March 10, 2015
Director: Denny Tedesco
Unbeknownst to many listeners at the time, much of the great recorded pop and rock music coming out of Los Angeles in the 1960’s featured a relatively small number of studio musicians, a band of somewhere from 15 to 30 (depending on who’s doing the counting) eventually dubbed with the collective moniker the Wrecking Crew. The list of artists and albums who benefited from this band of musicians’ immense talents would be way too long to list but a small sampling includes the Beach Boys, Elvis Presley, the Byrds, the Monkees, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, the Mamas and the Papas, and Sonny & Cher. Interestingly, back in those days, very few albums included credits for the studio musicians who actually played the majority of the music. So these talented musicians toiled in relative obscurity. Heck, probably most people today don’t even know about the existence of the Wrecking Crew or their immeasurable contributions to 60’s popular music.
One of these talented, relatively unknown musicians was guitarist Tommy Tedesco, whose son Denny is the director of The Wrecking Crew. In his quest to give his father and the other musicians their belated due, he spent over fifteen years making the film before it made its well-received 2008 debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Now, seven years later, it’s finally gotten long overdue distribution, something that was held up while Tedesco and company went through the time and money consuming process of getting all 132 music cues in the film properly licensed, a process complicated by the fact that these musicians recorded for dozens of labels of all different sizes.
Comprised of interviews with a number of the musicians who made up the Wrecking Crew as well as with several performers and producers (Nancy Sinatra, Herb Alpert, Lou Adler), dispersed amongst a treasure trove of still photos and a generous sampling of musical samples, with occasional personalized voice-over from the director, the documentary is heartfelt and at times engrossing and is filled with an endless supply of great songs. But it’s also hurt by what feels like a lack of a coherent vision and a lack of filmmaking skills and experience. As director Tedesco has said himself, when he started shooting footage in 1996 (he shot on 16mm film, 8mm, 3/4[-inch] tape and Beta tape), he had no idea of what he was doing when it came to directing. And over the years he conducted interviews with 76 musicians, producers, writers, arrangers and engineers (29 made the final cut), a process that was probably complicated by the fact that there was never really a set membership in the Wrecking Crew. While there was undoubtedly a core group, it was an ever-changing, undefined group of studio musicians whose membership varies depending on who you ask.
Also complicating things is the fact that there’s almost no footage of these musicians performing in the thousands of recording sessions they participated in or being interviewed at the time. So the film has to rely solely on still photographs and modern interviews. And these folks played on an almost unbelievable number of sessions. All of that adds up to a lot of music, a lot of people, a lot of stories, a lot of footage, a lot of raw data, that had to be compiled and then structured and edited into a relatively short, entertaining, educative film. It’s debatable on some level how successful Tedesco was in that endeavor but what’s not debatable is that this story was one that needed to be told. These musicians and their amazing craft and output were of a time and place that no longer exists but the music they made has survived the test of time. And while the people whose names were on those LP’s often came into a lot of fame and money, the Wrecking Crew musicians’ contributions for the most part had been forgotten. Tedesco’s loving documentary should go a long way towards changing that. And he undoubtedly deserves a lot of credit for putting in the daunting time and effort required to make that happen.