The Wrecking Crew Documentary

Richard Stanley

Well-Known Member
Last night I watched the documentary The Wrecking Crew as it popped up on my Hulu recommendations. I had not been aware of the 2008 documentary nor the informal name of the incredibly talented session musicians that this is about, albeit the general phenomenon I was aware of -- especially about the controversy over the TV show band, The Monkees.

The underlying story is about how, in the time of the emergence of rock and roll music in the mid to late-50's, that most professional musicians at the time had a low opinion of Rock, just as even newer genres have had to undergo. Rock was beneath them, but new Rock bands, at the time, either did not usually have great, experienced musicians or the bands themselves didn't even exist at the time their first songs or albums were produced. In the latter case, session musicians cut a first song or album and then a fronting band was formed around this.

Here what the Wikipedia synopsis says about the docu:

Popular music of the 1960s was dominated by young bands like the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, Jan and Dean, and the Monkees. Listening to rock and roll on jukeboxes and car radios created devoted fans of these groups, whose music communicated the optimism and sorrow of a generation contending with strong countercultural forces.
Record companies happily supplied the public with new songs and musical groups, all packaged with artistic photographs and biographical profiles. Left out of the story was an important historical fact: the bands, in some, but not all, cases, did not play the instruments heard on their records. Instead, the task of recording the perfect tempo, pitch, and timbre fell to a small group of accomplished session musicians.[3]
The Wrecking Crew documents the work of studio players who recorded the tracks for such hits as "California Dreamin'", "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'", "Be My Baby", "The Beat Goes On", and "Good Vibrations".[4] Interviews with producers, engineers, and session musicians reveal the warmth and humor that allowed their collective talents to turn a simple chord chart into an international phenomenon.

Brian Wilson discusses that it was WC session musicians that cut the legendary Pet Sounds album as well as others.

As such, I remember a co-worker of mine, back in the day, bitterly complaining that such bands did not play their live music anywhere near to the studio album quality. This is why, for the most part.

It was much cheaper for a music label to pay session musicians to come in and make the music for the albums, as they could produce one or more songs a day versus some bands taking weeks or months to do the same. Recording studio time is expensive, and time is money. Thus, musicians that were more practical minded, needing to pay their bills and feed their families, became session musicians, in many cases never needing to go on tour. For many, the main problem became needing to turn down work.

These musicians were generally well versed in techniques and genres, and thus they worked with artists from crooners Sinatra and Dean Martin to the new Rock artists. The Wrecking Crews' works are perhaps best recognized by such as the so-called Wall of Sound production values.

However, as Rock became more entrenched more and more aspiring bands determined they they did not want to have their albums cut by other musicians, and so upped their playing chops. This forced these first session players to move into such as making music for movies, TV, and commercials. Or to become stage perfoming artists in their own rights, like Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. Session players are still used in music recording, but I'm guessing they usually are used now for filling special roles in specific songs and such. I have known a couple of such latter-day session specialists as a harmonica player (the late David McKelvy) and 'fiddle' player (the late Steve Van Gelder).

It was also interesting, for me personally, to see Don Randi, one of the WC, interviewed as he was also the owner of The Baked Potato, an intimate club that played late night jazz fusion. I used to frequent the place in the mid-80's, where sometimes Randi himself would play only a few feet away. And yes, they served great baked potatoes.

Not mentioned, for good reasons I'm sure, is how this WC phenomenon interacted with Dave McGowan's thesis of the Laurel Canyon phenomenon, where many acts appeared to have been recruited from the ranks of the offspring of military intelligence officers. I'm guessing the relationship here is likely the LC phenomenon conveniently piggybacking on the organic rise of the Wrecking Crew period.

However, in researching this, I came across mention that Dean Martin had become upset with the murder of Sharon Tate, his co-star in a movie titled The Wrecking Crew:

Dean Martin was so distraught over the murder of his The Wrecking Crew (1969) co-star and friend Sharon Tate that he abandoned the next already announced "Matt Helm" motion picture series installment (to be titled "The Ravagers") and never played the character again. This is contrary to the post that the series ended due to poor ratings.

As Dave McGowan discusses, Tate was murdered in Laurel Canyon, as part of the bizarre Manson phenomenon, the Manson tableau of which has been separately covered by Peter Levenda(?) as a kind of 'spook' operation.
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