Growing up in Southern California, I was raised on the Southern California sound of the sixties, including groups like The Beach Boys, The Mamas & the Papas, Jan and Dean, The Monkees and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Even my mom listens to Alpert and we weren’t that far from Tijuana. All of these musical groups have become the basis for elevator Muzak. What I didn’t know was that studio players helped create the sound. “The Wrecking Crew” is a documentary about the session musicians based in Los Angeles who helped define the SoCal sound. The documentary is opening this weekend at the Laemmle Playhouse 7.

I already had figured out that the Monkees didn’t play for themselves. Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz describe their experiences with The Wrecking Crew and other professional musicians do as well, giving us some measure of the difference between these and other musicians. Most of the members were classically or jazz trained musicians. They had a higher level of expertise than many of the bands they helped make famous. And they were able to add musical flourishes that gave flavor to the songs they played.

This 101-minute documentary is directed by Denny Tedesco and premiered at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival. Making the festival rounds, the documentary won several awards:

Denny Tedesco is the son of Tommy Tedesco, Tommy died in 1997 from lung cancer, but during his lifetime, he was one of the top studio guitarists, particularly between 1960-1990.  Tommy recorded with the likes of the Beach Boys, the Mamas & the Papas, the Everly Brothers, the Association, Barbra Streisand, Jan and Dean, the 5th Dimension, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald,Frank Zappa, Ricky Nelson, Cher, and Nancy and Frank Sinatra.

The title of the film comes from a name coined by drummer Hal Blaine and the entire Wrecking Crew was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame in 2007.  While Phil Spector used the Wrecking Crew to create his wall of sound, I don’t recall seeing him in this documentary. Spector was on trail in 2007 for the 2003 death of actress Lana Clarkson. Spector is currently serving time in a NorCal prison.

Interviews and archival archival footage are intermingled. You can see a shy 16-year-old Cher with the late Sonny Bono (1935-1998). Seeing Dick Clark (1929-2012), made me think it  was a shame this movie didn’t get a wide release until this year. Glen Campbell was one of the Wrecking Crew before he became a solo artist. His segments are almost painful to watch with the recent release of “Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me” documentary detailing his last tour as Alzheimer’s.

You have to wonder why this movie didn’t come out earlier, say as late as 2009. With such an incredible soundtrack, the production needed a Kickstarter campaign to cover all the music licensing and production costs.  The 2013 campaign raised over $300,000.

The movie does clearly explain what the life of a freelance musician is like and why one should never marry a musician (insanely long hours). This documentary is a must-see for musicians and music lovers, particularly those interested in rock and roll. It is also of interest to those who too often hear the claim that SoCal and Los Angeles doesn’t have any culture. We created culture and “The Wrecking Crew” is just one aspect of California history.

For some cultural perspective, you might consider also viewing “Muscle Shoals,” a documentary, now available on Netflix which looks at session musicians from about the same time period in a small Alabama town that helped define the sound of American music beginning with people like Aretha Franklin and Etta James as well as the Rolling Stones and Bono.

(Not to be confused with the 1968 Dean Martin and Elke Sommer movie also called “The Wrecking Crew”)

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