Righteous 'Wrecking Crew' documents rock's real heroes

Peter Porco

"The Wrecking Crew," screened at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center on Friday evening for the Anchorage International Film Festival, is a documentary about a group of Los Angeles musicians that happens to be a love story.

It's about the love that the Wrecking Crew -- the informal name was given to the studio musicians who played during recording sessions of hundreds of rock hits from the 1950s and '60s -- felt for their work.

It's about the love of the movie's director, Denny Tedesco, for his father, the guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and for Tommy's fellow Wrecking Crew members, several of whom, like Tommy, are now dead.

And the movie is very much about the romantic pop music of that period, which viewers of a certain age still cherish -- viewers who will love this movie for its soundtrack alone.

For anyone not a music historian, "The Wrecking Crew" is a revelation. Who knew that the Beach Boys are not playing their Fender guitars on "Good Vibrations" and "California Girls"? That not one of the Byrds except Roger McGuinn plays on the recording of "Mr. Tambourine Man"? And not a single one of The Association is playing on "Windy" and "Never My Love"?

In the recording studio the Wrecking Crew backed up the Mamas and the Papas, Carpenters, Fifth Dimension, Jan and Dean, Sam Cooke, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Crystals, Ronettes and dozens of others.

Accompanied by Herb Alpert on trumpet, they were the Tijuana Brass. On many records produced by Phil Spector, the Wrecking Crew created the legendary "Wall of Sound."

They recorded with Elvis Presley, Ricky Nelson, Ike and Tina Turner, Sonny and Cher, the Righteous Brothers and Ritchie Valens.

Rock mogul Dick Clark, one of those interviewed in the movie, said they were "an established groove machine." My wife called them the "content providers" of their day.

The Wrecking Crew were all men except for one very cool woman, bassist Carol Kaye. Next time you listen to "Good Vibrations," pay close attention to those opening bass lines nimbly skipping down. That's Carol Kaye, a name very much deserving of recognition.

Glen Campbell and Leon Russell were two Wrecking Crew members who achieved fame as solo artists. Kaye and the rest generally remained unsung and unnamed. That's because, as someone in the film says, the record producers would have been embarrassed to include the musicians' names on the album's liner notes because they would have been the same names over and over.

But don't feel too sorry for them. These cats got a lot of gigs. "In the mid-'60s," says Kaye, "I was making more money than the president of the United States."

Peter Porco catches movies in Anchorage and blogs at adn.com/greenroom.

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