The 2015 New Zealand International Film Festival has just wrapped up and there were a plethora of good music documentaries on show. One of these was the long-awaited and much-heralded film “The Wrecking Crew”. Directed by Denny Tedesco, the film which was originally made for release in 2008, but had its release delayed due to distribution issues is about a group of Los Angeles-based musicians who made up the session group from the late 50s and 60s called the Wrecking Crew. This collective of session players which totaled over fifty musicians played on all the big hits of the period, including those by the Beach Boys, Frank and Nancy Sinatra and the “Wall of Sound” records produced by Phil Spector. At that time big name American pop artists wanted the best musicians backing them on their records and in the form of the Wrecking Crew they knew they were getting the case. In the process, this often led to as was the case with the Beach Boys bands ditching their own members for the Wrecking Crew to play on their records.
You might not know the names of the musicians, but you will definitely have heard some of the music they played on, with songs like “Good Vibrations”, “The Beat Goes On” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” coming to mind. And, this is one of the things the film sells itself on, the idea that these musicians stories have been left untold for too long, while the superstar singers and bands whose records they played on have gained all the fame and fortune. Session musician groups such as the Wrecking Crew are now a thing of the past, and that is one of the sad facts of this story in that once the 70s came, many of these musicians had no more work and simply vanished from the industry as work became scarcer. Some, fortunately, such as Leon Russell and Glen Campbell were able to get gigs with other big acts, or in the case of Campbell carve out a successful solo career. But other interesting personalities such as bass player Carol Kaye and guitarist Tommy Tedesco, both highly influential players struggled to maintain work in an industry which was undergoing significant change as the decades moved on. Session players were out as more and more acts picked up their own instruments. A shame really as these players are talented and extremely gifted players, with the ability to play any style of music, play it more than competently and read music to boot, something which in itself is becoming rarer and rarer amongst pop and rock acts today.
“The Wrecking Crew” is a truly beautiful story which was actually quite a touching watch at times, as these musicians sat with one another yarning and reminiscing about the good times had in the studio. And, although many of them have long since had much to do with the industry, this film was a fitting reminder that they once carved out a place at the center of the music industry and made their mark well and truly in the process. Thankfully the distribution problems which have prevented the release of this film were able to be sold and the opportunity for these musicians to tell their story has come about. A great rockumentary film which anyone with an interest in popular music history should see if given the opportunity.