The Wreck­ing Crew

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Loren Bien­venu

The Wreck­ing Crew , mu­sic doc­u­men­tary, rated PG, Jean Cocteau Cinema, 3 chiles

Any­one who has turned on a ra­dio in the last 50 years is familiar with the work of the Wreck­ing Crew. This group of ses­sion mu­si­cians played on many of the big­gest and most en­dur­ing hits of the 1960s and ’70s, but few peo­ple are aware of that. Drum­mer Hal Blaine (who claims to be the most recorded mu­si­cian of all time, though this is con­tested) is a good ex­am­ple of the Wreck­ing Crew’s sub­tle yet sweep­ing im­pact on mu­sic his­tory. Some of the dozens of megahits fea­tur­ing his drum­ming in­clude Elvis Pres­ley’s “Can’t Help Fall­ing in Love,” the Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda,” Nancy Sinatra’s “Th­ese Boots Were Made for Walkin’,” the Byrds’ “Mr. Tam­bourine Man,” Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe,” Simon and Gar­funkel’s “Bridge Over Trou­bled Wa­ter,” and John Den­ver’s “An­nie’s Song.” Other key mem­bers of the loosely de­fined crew with sim­i­larly im­pres­sive cred­its in­clude bassist Carol Kaye and gui­tarist Tommy Tedesco. Not long be­fore Tedesco died in 1997, his son Denny be­gan film­ing th­ese mas­ter ses­sion mu­si­cians and oth­ers in con­ver­sa­tion, even­tu­ally cre­at­ing a full-length mu­sic doc­u­men­tary that pays homage to their work. A la­bor of love, The

Wreck­ing Crew (which was com­pleted in 2008 but was only re­cently picked up for dis­tri­bu­tion) fi­nally gives credit where credit is due.

The to­tal num­ber of play­ers in the Wreck­ing Crew is es­ti­mated at be­tween 20 and 30; the source of the name is more am­bigu­ous. Blaine is the only mem­ber who of­fers a the­ory on its ori­gin. As he tells it, the ear­lier gen­er­a­tion of stu­dio mu­si­cians was de­fined by a cer­tain pro­fes­sion­al­ism that en­tailed not talk­ing on the job, not smok­ing, wear­ing suits to work, and play­ing the mu­sic with pre­ci­sion. When Blaine and com­pany ar­rived on the scene in jeans, with cig­a­rettes hang­ing from the cor­ners of their mouths and bois­ter­ous at­ti­tudes to match, the older gen­er­a­tion thought they were go­ing to “wreck” the sys­tem. In a way they did, but not nec­es­sar­ily for the worse. This new gen­er­a­tion de­vel­oped its own sort of pro­fes­sion­al­ism based al­most en­tirely on ver­sa­til­ity and cre­ativ­ity — in di­rect con­trast to older play­ers’ un­will­ing­ness to stray from strict read­ings of the writ­ten score.

This ver­sa­til­ity was rec­og­nized and seized upon by a young pro­ducer named Phil Spec­tor. The soonto-be stu­dio leg­end used mem­bers of the Wreck­ing Crew to craft the Wall of Sound record­ing am­bi­ence that re­mains his hall­mark. (Spec­tor is also re­mem­bered for the 2003 mur­der of actress Lana Clark­son, for which he is cur­rently serv­ing a pri­son term.) A com­mon mis­con­cep­tion is that the huge sound heard on Spec­tor record­ings like “Be My Baby,” by the Ronettes, was the re­sult of some sort of ar­cane com­bi­na­tion of knob-twist­ing and other en­gi­neer­ing feats. But, as Blaine ex­plains it, “It was wall-to-wall mu­si­cians, first of all. Most peo­ple used a four-piece rhythm sec­tion — he had four gui­tarists, or six or seven. There were four pi­anos al­ways. One up­right bass, one fen­der bass. Only one drum­mer usu­ally, but 15 peo­ple play­ing per­cus­sion in­stru­ments, all in the huge echo cham­ber that Gold Star [Spec­tor’s record­ing stu­dio of choice] was fa­mous for. That was the Wall of Sound.”

Like all good movies, The Wreck­ing Crew con­tains a bit of ten­sion. In this case, it comes from ex­plor­ing the diver­gent spheres oc­cu­pied by the ses­sion mu­si­cians and the ac­tual mem­bers of the bands mak­ing an al­bum. The film makes it pretty clear that the rea­son the Wreck­ing Crew subbed (of­ten anony­mously) for the more idol­ized mem­bers of groups like the Beach Boys is be­cause those mu­si­cians were sim­ply not good enough to lay down con­sis­tently solid takes in the high-pres­sure stu­dio en­vi­ron­ment. This opin­ion is ex­pressed by the ses­sion leg­ends and echoed by mem­bers of the Byrds and the Mon­kees, who re­mem­ber with a sort of re­signed hu­mor the frus­tra­tions of hav­ing some­one like Tedesco record a sig­na­ture gui­tar lick that the band could never re-cre­ate on­stage.

One of the strong­est and most cre­ative as­pects of the film fea­tures the ses­sion play­ers re­vis­it­ing some of the parts they made fa­mous by play­ing along to the clas­sic record­ings and ex­plain­ing their tech­niques. Sam­ples in­clude Kaye (in her late six­ties), look­ing mighty cool as she demon­strates the palm-muted bass line that de­fines Mission Im­pos­si­ble ’s theme song, and Plas John­son (even older and just as cool) play­ing the sul­try sax­o­phone part from Henry Mancini’s The Pink Pan­ther

Theme . The film does have a few mi­nor weak­nesses, pri­mar­ily its ten­dency to me­an­der and drag a bit: two things its sub­jects could never have got­ten away with while on work duty. Like the play­ers, the film may never be­come a true pop sen­sa­tion in its own right, but it does in­clude enough hu­mor and his­tory along­side the hits to sat­isfy mu­sic nerds and laypeo­ple alike.

We’ve got your backs: crew mem­bers bring it to the stu­dio

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