Film review: THE WRECKING CREW, from ‘Built For Speed’

The Wrecking Crew were a group of gun LA studio musicians who, often unknown to the public, played on many of the big pop music hits of the 50’s and 60’s. They provided much of the musical accompaniment to The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Sonny and Cher, The Byrds and perhaps most famously The Monkees. They also worked on many of the hits by producers like Phil Spector and Lee Hazelwood. The erratic but fascinating documentary simply entitled The Wrecking Crew rapturously recounts their amazing contribution to so many of rock and pop’s most memorable songs.

Written and directed by Denny Tedesco, the film centres on his father, guitarist and long-time crew member, Tommy Tedesco while also dedicating segments to other core Crew members including bassist Carol Kaye the only regular female member of the crew, drummers Earl Palmers and Hal Blaine and guitarist and later solo country superstar Glen Campbell. The Crew’s story is recounted through interviews with these members and many of the musicians with whom they worked such as Brian Wilson, The Byrds’ Roger McGuinn, Mickey Dolenz from the Monkees and Cher as well as industry luminaries like Dick Clark.

The name The Wrecking Crew, which was coined by Hal Blaine, was a joke on the snooty attitude the casually dressed crew members copped from the old school “blue blazer’ brigade of session musicians who preceded them. The old guard lamented that these scruffy youngsters, who played that offensive rock music, would wreck the recording studios. Scruffy as they might have been by the standards of ultra-conservative America at the time, they were superb musicians whose skills were constantly in demand.

In America in the 50’s and early 60’s the music industry was a hit factory with manufactured pop stars who rarely played everything on their albums, a little like today except the songs were much better than the throwaway commercial pop we have now.  In some cases the crew members just played what was written but often they would form an organic part of the song writing and production process and invent or improvise much of the music they played.  Some of the Crew members provide tantalising descriptions of the riffs they constructed for various hit songs. We also see snippets of them performing solo – the footage of Tommy Tedesco at his fleet-fingered best is astonishing – but it would have been good to see more film of their individual playing.

The Crew’s fortunes began to fade in the late 60’s as the hit groups became much more musically skilled and started playing everything themselves. The Crew members don’t blame anyone for their demise or the fact that they were rarely celebrated for the music to which they contributed so much. Many of them admit that, at their peak they were making a bundle, Carol Kaye even says she was earning more than the President. Sadly, some of them fell on very hard times and had to mothball their instruments and take menial jobs; Tommy Tedesco even appeared on The Gong Show dressed in a tutu.

Denny Tedesco reveals the crew’s story with passion and respect for the players but his meandering narrative style means the film doesn’t quite have the energy and momentum of the similarly themed Oscar winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom. Still, this film is a potent reminder that the music industry is a tough business with legions of supremely talented people who never received the accolades they deserved.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Documentary.

Classification: PG.

Director(s): Denny Tedesco.

Release date: 1st Oct 2015.

Running time: 101 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.



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