The Wrecking Crew

Is this the Greatest Rock & Roll Band in history?

Based on the number of hit records they played on over a quarter of a century, these four fabulous musicians just might be the best rock band ever assembled. But most people who bought those smash hit records in the late 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s had no idea.

Tommy Tedesco on guitar and Carol Kaye on bass (pictured at left), Hal Blaine on drums, and Glen Campbell on guitar: they were the cream of an incredible crop of L.A. studio musicians that came to be known (mostly to rock and roll insiders) as The Wrecking Crew.

Only a legendary group like The Wrecking Crew could have drawn me out into today’s torrential downpour. I drove down the Ventura Freeway through sheets of driving rain and 60 mph winds, past fallen trees and one emergency vehicle after another to Vitello’s Restaurant in Studio City. Come hell or high water – and the high water was already flooding the streets – I was taking my two rock & roll loving teenage daughters to see a screening of “The Wrecking Crew”, a documentary film by Tommy’s Tedesco’s son, Denny.

Denny Tedesco’s film is a wonderful, warm, musical, funny and revelatory labor of love. And, if you haven’t seen it yet, you can click here to see when and where there will be a private screening in your neck of the woods. These screenings are being held to raise money to pay for the music rights to all the fabulous songs in the film so it can be given a wide theatrical release. You can click on this link to find out more info about “The Wrecking Crew” and to make a donation to the worthy cause of getting this movie out to the masses.

The great Earl Palmer.

So, who were The Wrecking Crew?

Beyond the four luminaries listed above, there were also guitarists like Barney Kessel, Al Casey, James Burton and Bill Pittman; drummers Earl Palmer and Jim Gordon; sax players Jim Horn and Plas Johnson; keyboard men Leon Russell, Mac Rebennack (aka Dr. John), Don Randi and Larry Knechtel; and bassists Joe Osborn and Chuck Berghofer; among others.

Brian Wilson plays Hal Blaine a song.

These guys (and Carol) played for everybody, from producers like Phil Spector, Jan Berry, Brian Wilson, Herb Alpert and Lou Adler to such varied artists as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, The Byrds, The Association, Jan & Dean, The Monkees, The Tijuana Brass, The Beach Boys, The Partridge Family, The Mamas and the Papas, Sonny & Cher, The Carpenters, John Denver, Simon and Garfunkel – and too many more to list. I mean, they played with EVERYBODY.

Chances are that the music you heard on a record by your favorite band in the 1960’s was actually played by The Wrecking Crew – especially if that record was recorded in Los Angeles.

I first became aware of the existence of studio musicians in the late 60’s when a controversy erupted over the shocking revelation that Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones didn’t play their own instruments on The Monkees’ albums. It seemed like a sinister thing to me at the time. After all, didn’t The Beatles play their own stuff? The Monkees rebelled and played their own instruments on Headquarters, which was released in May of 1967. Headquarters went straight to number one – until Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released the following week.

I had no idea at the time that it was The Wrecking Crew who were responsible for The Monkees sound, and The Beach Boys sound, and on and on and on…

I finally learned about The Wrecking Crew when I wrote and produced “Jan & Dean: Behind the Music”. Looking for people to interview, I made a habit of finding out who played on the albums – which led me to Hal Blaine and Glen Campbell. I knew a lot about Glen already, but I had no idea he had been a session guitarist before he became a huge star in his own right.

My interviews with Hal and Glen opened up a whole new world to me: this small group of amazing session musicians who spent their days going from session to session, from studio to studio, recording the soundtrack of my young life. When I interviewed early Jan & Dean producer Lou Adler (who later worked with The Mamas & Papas) he also hipped me to The Wrecking Crew.

Later, I wrote and produced “Behind the Music” episodes on Glen Campbell and The Monkees – and my Wrecking Crew education became more complete. (Though Denny’s movie certainly filled in a LOT of the blanks.) I fondly remember my conversations with Hal Blaine – and his generosity. He gave me so much of his time – and he lent me so many of his rare studio photos from those glorious sessions in the 1960’s.

A few years ago, Hal wrote a book about his legendary experiences: Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew: The Story of the World’s Most Recorded Musician. Buy it. Read it. Learn from the master.

If you love rock and roll like I do. Hell, if you love music at all – you owe it to yourself to learn more about The Wrecking Crew.

Tommy Tedesco & Hal Blaine. Incomparable.

For Baby Boomers like me, The Wrecking Crew laid down the marvelous groove that drove so much of our formative years. For my daughters’ generation, they are still an inspiration: a reminder of how all that great music on those cool oldies stations was made.

And the beat goes on.

Oh, by the way, they played on that one, too.

4 Comments

Filed under History, Music

4 responses to “The Wrecking Crew

  1. rushy

    I too discovered the Wrecking Crew late, and like The Funk Brothers of Motown, it is a shame they are not well known. (great and obvious double bill, “The Wrecking Crew” and “Standing In The Shadows Of Motown”)
    When I sent off for some CDs by Carol Kaye, I expressed my awe in the order, Carol Kaye herself wrote me back, and sent some information about her from articles and such. The Wrecking Crew also recorded lots of TV Show theme songs. Carol played on “Mission Impossible” and the first “Bill Cosby Show” where he was a gym teacher, which is a funky song I still love to sing now and again.
    Thanks, as always, for your insights, Paul!

    • Carol Kaye is one of the highlights of this documentary. She shows how she came up with several of the most memorable bass lines of all time — and she does it with humility and humor. What an amazing woman. She should be getting one of those fancy Kennedy Center honors before it’s too late.

  2. I’ve known about the Wrecking Crew for years, but didn’t know about the doc. Definitely wanna see it. Thanks for the heads up! And I’m with Rush on the killer double bill!

  3. Barbra Zuanich-Friedman

    Hey, Paul…thanks for the info…I’m going down to LB on April 3rd…What a line-up of talent that lent their sounds to those guys (and girls) we thought were making all their own music….I used to go to listen to Don Randi at his Baked Potato restaurant over in Studio City many years ago and also loved jazz guitarist Barney Kessel and the sounds of Plas Johnson…so many of those mentioned played at the old (Shelly’s) Manne Hole on Cahuenga Blvd oh so long ago and I used to be in the front row.

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