Music Masters: The Wrecking Crew

It’s taken Denny Tedesco seven years to get a proper theatrical release for his joyful documentary The Wrecking Crew, after years on the festival circuit, but it’s been worth the wait. This is a loving tribute to the studio session musicians who populated hundreds of hit records, primarily in the 1960s. If you lived through that era and remember the pop music, from Nancy Sinatra to the Beach Boys, from the Mamas and the Papas to Sonny and Cher, I think you’ll react to this film as I did, with a smile of warm nostalgia.

The filmmaker is the son of Tommy Tedesco, a ubiquitous guitarist whose “twang” heralded the theme song of Bonanza on television. Fortunately, Denny captured his father on camera before his passing, and he has many great, funny stories to tell, along with bass player Carol Kaye (the primary woman on the scene), guitarist Glen Campbell (a much-respected musician before he ever tried vocalizing), drummer Earl Palmer, and many others.

It turns out that members of the Wrecking Crew—a general nickname for these backup players, whose members varied from session to session—were responsible for the sound of The Tijuana Brass, The Monkees, and many other groups, although they seldom received credit. Herb Alpert, Brian Wilson, Cher, Mickey Dolenz, Roger McGuinn, Nancy Sinatra, and producer Lou Adler all testify to this fact, expressing enormous admiration for these incredibly versatile instrumentalists.

They often worked around the clock, playing on rhythm & blues, rock and roll, and mainstream pop recordings and earning a handsome living, sometimes sacrificing personal and family relationships along the way.

And then, seemingly overnight, it all disappeared. An era was over. Thank goodness Denny Tedesco captured his interviews when he did.

I love this film and didn’t want it to end. Whether you’re a music lover in general or a baby boomer harboring affection for the tunes of your time, make a beeline for any theater showing The Wrecking Crew. It’s a gem.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024