wrecking_crew_3Year: 2015
Director: Denny Tedesco
Writer(s): Denny Tedesco
Region of Origin: US
Rating: PG
Color, 101 mins

Synopsis: A celebration of the session musicians who provided back-up instrumentals to such legendary recording artists as Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys and Bing Crosby. (Source)

The majority of the public more than likely have no idea about the connection between television’s Mission: Impossible theme and The Beach Boys. As crazy as it seems, both of these pop culture staples feature many of the same recording musicians. Carol Kaye played the funky bass line on Lalo Schiffrin’s theme song and can also be heard playing the bass solo on the latter group’s “Here Today”, from their 1966 magnum opus “Pet Sounds.” Kaye is one of the featured musicians in director Denny Tedesco’s documentary, The Wrecking Crew, named after a group of unsung session musicians who regularly recorded together to create nearly every ubiquitous pop hit in the late ’50s and ’60s. The Wrecking Crew were not a band in the way that most people would think, but instead worked as freelance musicians contracted from gig to gig.

As a labor of love pieced together from hundreds of hours of interviews, Tedesco’s film focuses on the more notable figures and recordings that utilized the crew, while also giving the crew themselves a chance to reminisce firsthand about their experiences. At times the film even plays out like a love letter to Denny’s father Tommy. As it turns out, Tommy was a member of the group who flourished in Los Angeles, providing guitar work for television shows such as The Twilight Zone, Bonanza, and Batman, to name a few. Although so much information is covered, you still get the sense that lots of it had to be left on the cutting room floor.

wrecking_crew_2There’s a great moment in the film that occurs when Carol Kaye singles out the bass line from the chorus of The Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations,” calling it a walking bass line that showed how 24-year-old Brian Wilson was on a creative level much higher than his peers. This segment and one in the final 30 minutes of the film do a great job of breaking down why a band of The Beach Boys’ level of success would need outside musicians to come and play on their recordings.

A more fascinating element of the entire doc is the discussion as to why the crew weren’t credited on the backs of record sleeves for specific bands. Mickey Dolenz of The Monkees says that looking back, it was wrong of the record companies to have left these key players out. At one point, Plas Johnson (the tenor sax behind Henry Mancini’s “The Pink Panther Theme”) mentions that there was a frustration that came with having played the lead on “Surfer’s Stomp,” an instrumental hit from the band The Marketts, since it appeared that none of the crew had anything to do with.

Giving attention to the time period’s sexism, the job’s toll on some of the players’ home lives, the eccentricities of Phil Spector, and of course, the money that came with the gigs, The Wrecking Crew is a fond look back on the studio musicians of yesteryear and the indelible mark they made in such an important period of music. Tedesco’s film doesn’t go into music theory, but instead focuses on the actual rapport amongst the musicians and those running the sessions. The conversational nature of the film’s round table interviews reveal a camaraderie that shines through as the crew’s veterans recall stories of how they got started and the record dates they played together. To this day, people within the “inner circle” still don’t know how the name The Wrecking Crew came to be, but Denny Tedesco’s exploration of these unsung heroes finally gives them the credit they deserve.


Author Eduardo Victoria loves all things film and music related. If he’s not writing, he’s playing music or scoring films. Follow him @eduardovictory for more.