The best part of Denny Tedesco’s documentary about the L.A. session musicians who made up the historic “Wrecking Crew” was the music. The best move Tedesco, son of the late guitarist Tommy of the Wrecking Crew, and AXS TV made was making this documentary available to the public this summer in an exclusive TV deal.
AXS TV began airing “The Wrecking Crew” on July 18, with reruns on through till July 26. The documentary was made in 2008 and came out in theaters, in limited release, this past March. A Kickstarter campaign enabled much of the documentary to see the light of day, but director/producer Denny Tedesco still had problems with getting this true story to the public at large, where it counts. Hopefully, the AXS TV airings will do a lot to enlighten the public at large about the musicians who were really responsible for all that fantastic music coming out of the 1940s-1970s.
Initially, the documentary was a way for Tedesco to chronicle his father’s life with the Wrecking Crew in the midst of a terrible cancer diagnosis in the mid-‘90s. Soon, “The Wrecking Crew” became greater than its humble beginning, and Tedesco realized his father’s and the rest of the Wrecking Crew’s legacy needed to be told to a greater audience. He received unprecedented access to the people behind the Wrecking Crew, as well as the stars who benefited from their music. Cher, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, Nancy Sinatra, Frank Zappa, the Monkees’ Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork, and Herb Alpert were just a few of the stars who gladly gave credit where credit was due in this moving documentary.
Some of the interviews could’ve used with a little more editing. Drummer Hal Blaine’s personal story of financial ruin at the hands of his ex-wives’ divorce demands went a bit sideways, taking away from the music.
But when Denny Tedesco went back to the music, especially bassist Carol Kaye’s naturally evocative narrating — her behind-the-scenes Beach Boys session will give you chills — and Glen Campbell’s transformation from a Wrecking Crew session player to a bonafide country-pop star, it’s an incomparable platinum moment. Considering Campbell’s tragic Alzheimer’s diagnosis, watching him in his prime on Jimmy Webb’s gentle, nostalgic 1968 tear-jerker, “Wichita Lineman” — yes, that’s Campbell playing Kaye’s bass like a guitar on another pivotal intro of hers — just about crushes your heart. Nobody writes or plays that way anymore, and it’s doubtful anyone ever will.
The music, good Lord, the music that came out of those L.A.-based studio sessions. Most of the Wrecking Crew would agree that their sessions were just jobs that more than paid the bills. But what came out of those sessions touched generations of future musicians and music lovers, for all time.
Talking about the many songs they played on doesn’t quite do it. But showing you does. The best part of this documentary, aside from the interviews and historic footage, has to be when a member of the Wrecking Crew plays a signature line from a famous pop hit. At first, you don’t know where it’s going — until the rest of the finished song is overlaid onto that signature line. That’s when you realize the significance of the Wrecking Crew, song by song, to this day: Saxophonist Plas Johnson on the theme to “The Pink Panther,” bassist Joe Osborn on “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In,” drummer Hal Blaine on Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation” (“Las Vegas” opening theme). These guys are playing at the time of the documentary, not in their prime, but they still got it.
At the end of “The Wrecking Crew,” you’ll immediately go to your stack of vinyls and hit replay on the oldies but goodies, appreciating them all over again and wondering if the music industry will ever recover.