Here’s a true strange music fact. Have you heard the Wrecking Crew play? Before you say no, check this out. You might be surprised.
Music lovers will be astonished at the influence The Wrecking Crew wielded over rock and pop music in the 1960s and early 1970s. These unsung instrumentalists were the de-facto backing band on hit records by The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, Elvis, The Monkees and many more. These dedicated musicians brought the flair and musicianship that made the American “West Coast Sound” a dominant cultural force around the world.
I knew session musicans played on the Monkeys songs and backed up Elvis and other singers, but I didn’t realize it was a core group of players, or that The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel used the same players for some studio recordings.
In the ‘60s and ‘70s, a should-be-legendary group of studio musicians dubbed The Wrecking Crew played on the era’s defining songs. You might not have heard of them, but you’ve definitely heard them on hits by everyone from The Beach Boys, The Byrds, The Righteous Brothers, and the Mamas and the Papas to Elvis, Sinatra, Lennon, and The Monkees. They even provided Phil Spector’s famed “Wall of Sound.”
I had actually heard of Tommy Tedesco from reading a Guitar Player magazine once. His credits include the theme from television’s Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, M*A*S*H, Batman, but I hadn’t heard of others, except Glenn Campbell who had a hit song called Wichita Lineman. If you are good, can be a studio musician to make money and also become a superstar somewhere along the way, or you can avoid the hassles of fame and be often heard but little known. An example among the Wrecking Crew is an amazing female bass (plus guitar and banjo) player, Carol Kaye.
What the Funk Brothers did for Motown… The Wrecking Crew did, only bigger, for the West Coast Sound. Six years in a row in the 1960s and early 1970s, the Grammy for “Record of the Year” went to Wrecking Crew recordings. And now, THE WRECKING CREW tells the story in pictures and that oh, so glorious sound. THE WRECKING CREW is a documentary film produced and directed by Denny Tedesco, son of legendary late Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco. The film tells the story of the unsung musicians that provided the backbeat, the bottom and the swinging melody that drove many of the number one hits of the 1960’s.
Here are some songs with music by The Wrecking Crew.
- Mason Williams: Classical Gas, 1968, Chart: Pop #2
- The Crystals: Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home), 1963, Chart: Pop #3
- Paul Revere & The Raiders: Kicks, 1966, Chart: Pop #4
- Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walkin’, 1966, Chart: Pop #1
- The Beach Boys: Good Vibrations, 1966, Chart: Pop #1
- The Partridge Family: I Think I Love You, 1970, Chart: Pop #1
- The Mamas & The Papas: Monday, Monday, 1966, Chart: Pop #1
- The Righteous Brothers: You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, 1964, Chart: Pop #1
- Simon & Garfunkel: Bridge Over Troubled Water, 1970, Chart: Pop #1
- The Carpenters: We’ve Only Just Begun, 1970, Chart: Pop #2
- The Monkees: I’m A Believer, 1966, Chart: Pop #1
- The Grass Roots: Sooner Or Later, 1971, Chart: Pop #9
- The Byrds: Mr. Tambourine Man, 1965, Chart: Pop #1
- The 5th Dimension: Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In (In Flesh Failures), 1969, Chart: Pop #1
- Vicki Lawrence: The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia, 1973, Chart: Pop #1, Country #36
- Glen Campbell: Rhinestone Cowboy, 1975, Chart: Pop #1, Country #1
- Neil Diamond: Cracklin’ Rosie, 1970, Chart: Pop #1
- Frank Sinatra: Strangers In The Night, 1966, Chart: Pop #1
Is a new Wrecking Crew behind making much of the music you hear even today?
I wondered because I’ve been working on a project with two studio musicans (bass player and drummer) who have played with a wide array of artists.
Elton John, Seal, Babyface, Queen Latifah, Billy Childs, Christina Aguilera, Anita Baker, Christopher Cross, Bette Midler, George Duke, Whitney Houston, Stanley Clarke, David Lynch, John Mellencamp, Warren Zevon, Mariah Carey, Tina Turner, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Johnny Cash, The Dixie Chicks, K.D. Lang, Alison Krauss, Etta James, John Fogerty, Lionel Richie, Ricky Martin, Josh Groban, Boz Scaggs, Nelly Furtado, Spice Girls, James Taylor, Dave Stewart, The B52’s and Joni Mitchell, …and many more.
It seems more a case of top artists all wanting to use the best possible players.
Two days ago, I had a chance to ask an Oscar & Grammy winning, Emmy nominated Producer/Engineer/Mixer with 30 years of Gold & Platinum experience whose credits include Lady Gaga, U2, Chaka Khan, Cristina Aguilera, Alice Cooper and Duran Duran, how to take the music I’m working on to the next level.
He gave a simple answer, and when I think about it today, it’s something all of the above artists did, something other than using great players.
He said, “Write good hooks.” Meaning catchy melodies/rhythms for voice and other instruments.
Here are a few of Tommy Tedesco’s studio log entries. These two are from 1976 and 1979. Guitar Player magazine has others from their magazine only days on their web site.