The Wrecking Crew

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As a music nut, I was thrilled to finally catch The Wrecking Crew. This documentary was started in the mid-90s, and wasn’t finished until 2008 (with the help of a Kickstarter campaign).

Production originally started when studio guitarist Tommy Tedesco was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His son Denny started making the film, and when you throw in the amount of time it took to secure the rights to the music (some songs, almost seven years)…it’s amazing this finally came out.

Unfortunately for this documentary, we got 20 Feet From Stardom last year. It was a much better, similar story…that dealt with backing vocalists.

Last year, we also got Muscle Shoals. It was a better documentary about studio musicians (The Swampers) that worked in Alabama.

It’s also strange than when these musical greats are discussing how studio sessions changed from guys in suits, to guys wearing jeans and smoking in the studio…we get the talk about the California sound, rock ‘n’ roll, but none of the “sex and drugs” that also goes with it. We hear musician talk about six divorces, two of which were costly. Well, did the marriage crumble because he was in the studio 12 hours a day, or was he partyin’ like (and with) a rock star?

The movie was often unfocused and repetitive with the stories. We don’t need them all telling us Brian Wilson is a genius. We already knew that. Instead, probing questions should’ve been asked. Maybe let us know which of the big names were difficult, which of them were nice. What songs did they expect to be huge that weren’t, or vice versa. I only recall bassist Carol Kay mention the Ike & Tina Turner song River Deep, Mountain High not being as successful as she thought it would be.

An example of something the movie did well, was having Kay pick up a bass. We got to hear her play along to The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations” and it was a good moment.

We got to hear her explain how she came up with that memorable opening bassline to Glenn Campbell’s “Highwayman” and how she cried hearing it in a drug store. We needed more of those moments.

The Wrecking Crew consisted of between 20 and 30 various studio musicians that were called upon often in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It started with Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” and soon, they were booked by many. We all knew The Monkees didn’t play on those albums, but who knew with The Association (Windy, Along Came Mary, Cherish) it was the same thing; or that Brian Wilson brought them in, because they played better than the actual Beach Boys. They were offended, but as some of these stars admit – they were better.

It was nice to see footage of a few legends we lost (Dick Clark, Frank Zappa), talking about the band. Always fun seeing Cher and her face trying to talk (all kidding aside, her praise and stories about the first time in a studio with Sonny were interesting).

Yet the many conversations with the members of the Crew sitting around a table, don’t reveal as much as I’d like. We hear them reference Milli Vanilli, the band that got busted for not singing on their records (which resulted in one of them committing suicide). I would’ve liked hearing their take on rap (which samples previous songs that real musicians performed on).

The Byrds frontman Roger McGuinn tells a great story about the Wrecking Crew nailing a few songs, in a few takes. Bandmate David Crosby was upset by them being called to do the songs, yet as McGuinn points out “It took the Byrds 77 takes. On just one song!”

Songwriter Jimmy Webb (MacArthur Park, Wichita Lineman, Up, Up, and Away), also shares great stories when talking about music.

There were anecdotes from Herb Alpert, Nancy Sinatra, and a rather coherent Brian Wilson.

In the 1987 movie Blind Date (Blake Edwards/Bruce Willis), a first date includes a trip to the studio to watch guitar virtuoso Stanley Jordan record. The thrill Kim Basinger had sipping wine and watching the process…is what I wanted watching this movie (while sipping Cherry Coke).

That doesn’t mean I was bored, just underwhelmed. You’ll just realize you’re watching a documentary done by somebody that is rather inexperienced, and fails to delve into topics he should. For example, we get a few good stories from Leon Russell – yet no talk about how successful he became when he left the Crew (they do cover Glenn Campbell’s success, though).

If you’re a music fan, this is a must see. Unfortunately, it’s only at the Ken Cinema for the rest of the week, so hurry.

It gets 3 ½ stars out of 5.