Tuesday, March 31, 2015

One Man Wrecking Crew

If I have any issues with buying my music electronically, it is that it has been the death of the art work and credits.

I was, and am, the geek who was all about reading the credits: who wrote the music, where it was recorded, the producers, engineers, who designed the artwork and the musicians.

With the advent of CDs, most artwork has gone by the side of the road. And when the artists made the attempt, reading the credits was a chore - with the teeny tiny print. Now with iTunes, most of the downloads don't even bother come with digital booklets.

As a youngster, I might have been a little let down when I heard the Monkees did none of their own playing of instruments, but even as a first grader, it never occurred to me that the Partridge Family were anything other than fronts for other musicians.

Even with my first Carpenters records, I noticed that Karen rarely ever actually played the drums - they were always played by Hal Blaine. A name that would come up over and over for years (including with the Partridge Family).

New York had the Brill Building. Detroit had Motown. But Los Angeles had a group of 12-20 studio musicians who played on many (most ?) popular records from the early 60s to mid 70s who were dubbed the Wrecking Crew.

Besides, Blaine, the now biggest known name with that cohort was probably Glen Campbell. The others were just studio musicians who were masters of their craft - and that is captured in a documentary called, the Wrecking Crew.

But the array of artists stretch on forever: the Monkees (sure), Mamas & Papas, Fifth Dimension, Elvis Presley, Herb Albert, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, most of Phil Spector's records, the Righteous Brothers, Jan & Dean......and the list goes on.

The more surprising fact is that they were the musicians on most of the hits by the Beach Boys (including Brian Wilson's masterpiece, Pet Sounds), the Grass Roots, the Association, Gary Lewis & the Playboys and the Byrds.

While the larger list I mentioned, were mostly vocal acts that didn't ever play instruments, there were a number of actual bands who rarely, if ever, played on their studio recordings.

The Wrecking Crew actually played Record of the Year Grammy winners six years in a row - never receiving one themselves. Most of the time, these musicians were uncredited, but not unpaid. Carol Kaye, the lone female of the Wrecking Crew, stated one year she made more than the President of the United States.

They're also given credit, in movie interviews, by the likes of Cher, Gary Lewis, Brian Wilson, Herb Albert and a lot of others, who readily admit their bands could not play as well, or pull of the kind of music as the Wrecking Crew.

These were men (and one woman) who could and would knock out three or four songs per day.....and sometimes a full album in one day. Producers would delay recording sessions if these folks were not available, though it sounds like they worked 16 hours per day every day.

I should mention they also played the themes to Green Acres, Bonanza, Mission Impossible, Hawaii Five-O, the Pink Panther.....and yes, the Partridge Family. And I'm sure others.

As the early 70s rolled around, with the emergence of singer-songwriters (Carole King, James Taylor, etc), and then full bands who wrote, played and produced, there was little need for many session musicians.

It was, at least for me, a very interesting topic.

The filmmaker was not an experienced one. He was the son of one of the Wrecking Crew guitarists, Tommy Tedesco. Most of the interviews are years and years old, as many of the Crew have passed on, and Glen Campbell is deep into Alzheimer's Disease. Obviously, the photos and few film clips that exist are ancient at well.

The film was actually completed in 2008, but it took another six to seven years to raise enough money to pay for the music licensing rights.

The storytelling, interviewing and editing could have been sharper, but it kept both 710 and I engaged for 90 minutes. This wasn't even our plan to see this movie, though when I saw the description, he agreed to go. The theater had a good crowd, considering what could be its limited appeal.

And while the movie does not address this, Glen Campbell had his final recorded song, "I'm Not Gonna Miss You", (the title and lyrics which play into his Alzheimer's) which was up for an Oscar this year for Best Song - and it was credited to Glen Campbell & the Wrecking Crew.

A nice touch.

2015 Movie Count / Goal:  2 of 12

Song by: Guster


Bob said...

I doubt it'll ever play near Smallville, so I may have to check it out On Demand.
Sounds like an interesting film.

Mark in DE said...

Very interesting!

I believe Karen Carpenter started out playing the drums but the Carpenters' manager (or someone in charge) felt they'd have a better stage appearance with Richard on the keyboard and Karen standing up at a mic singing, rather than playing the drums and singing.