Growing up in the 1960s, and hearing so much great music by such diverse artists and groups as the Beach Boys, the Ronettes, the Righteous Brothers, the Mamas & Papas, Sonny & Cher, the Monkees, Frank Sinatra and Glen Campbell, I never really gave much thought to who created their music. Until the arrival of bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who and the Kinks, who played most or all of their own music, it was common for the music on nearly all songs being recorded to be played by session musicians who worked behind the scenes.
Many of those musicians played for particular studios or music labels; Motown had the Funk Brothers, Muscle Shoals had the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Stax Records had their own in-house musicians, and so on. Another important group of session musicians, who were based in Los Angeles, came to be known as “The Wrecking Crew”. They played the music for such iconic hits as “Be My Baby”, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling”, “California Dreamin’”, “Good Vibrations”, “The Beat Goes On”, “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” and “Wichita Lineman”, as well as the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds, to name but a few.
Wanting to honor his father – the noted guitarist Tommy Tedesco, who along with other musicians was a key member of The Wrecking Crew – Denny Tedesco produced and directed a documentary film about these renowned session musicians. Production on the film began in June 1996, and took nearly 12 years to complete. The film premiered at the 2008 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, and closed out the Nashville Film Festival in April 2008, however, it was not released theatrically until March 2015, which is when I saw it.
Anyone and everyone who loves the songs from that golden age of music – or anyone interested in the history of American pop music for that matter – would enjoy this documentary. Scores of producers, sound engineers, session musicians and artists recall fond memories – along with a sprinkling of fraught moments as well – of sessions where they all came together to record songs that made history. In addition to Tommy Tedesco, some of the other notable session musicians included drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye and a young Glen Campbell, who started his career as a session guitarist before making it big as a solo act.
It’s fun to hear them discuss working with some of the talented and eccentric artists and producers of the day like Brian Wilson and Phil Spector. Conversely, it’s also great hearing artists like Wilson, Cher, Nancy Sinatra and Leon Russell discuss the brilliance of those musicians and producers, and how their skills and creative ideas made certain songs sound so much better. Carol Kaye’s subtle yet monumental bass riffs at the beginning of “Wichita Lineman” and “The Beat Goes On” are two examples that stand out. Two more are the beautiful opening guitar licks on the Mamas and Papas hit “California Dreamin’ and the Frank & Nancy Sinatra duet “Somethin’ Stupid”.
Here’s a snippet from the film focusing on Phil Spector’s legendary Wall of Sound:
And here’s one focusing on the Beach Boys:
The entire film can be streamed for a small fee on YouTube.