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The Wrecking Crew: The Theme Team

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The Wrecking Crew

Directed by Denny Tedesco

7:30 p.m. Tue., Dec. 16

CAC, 900 Camp St., 528-3800; www.cacno.org

Tickets $8 general admission, $6 CAC/NOFS members

Director Denny Tedesco chronicles the work of his father Tommy Tedesco (center) and "The Wrecking Crew," a group of session musicians (including Carol Kaye, right) which performed on countless hits and TV theme songs.
  • Director Denny Tedesco chronicles the work of his father Tommy Tedesco (center) and "The Wrecking Crew," a group of session musicians (including Carol Kaye, right) which performed on countless hits and TV theme songs.

Denny Tedesco was all of 5 years old when he realized the melodies that led off the TV show Green Acres were coming from his father's guitar. Tommy Tedesco, an industry-renowned studio musician from the 1960s through the '80s, was a cog in what came to be known as the Wrecking Crew, a collection of skilled session players that supported — and often, when the occasion called for it, even supplanted — megawatt pop stars like the Beach Boys, the Byrds and the Monkees. Guitar Player magazine, among others, has called Tommy the most-recorded guitarist in the history of the music business.

"But, growing up, I didn't know Dad was on Bonanza and (TV's) Batman," says Denny, now a film director whose new documentary, The Wrecking Crew, tells the story of the actual players behind some of America's most enduring pop music, from Pet Sounds to Phil Spector's Wall of Sound. "Years later when I would go to work with him, sitting there in Universal Studios and watching him do The Six Million Dollar Man or whatever, that was boring. Watching music cues as a kid is boring as hell. Now it's not."

Those cues, collected by Tedesco over the last dozen years, are the most revealing moments in a film filled with them: watching Carol Kaye, the lone woman in the group, chart out the bass lines to the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations," or Hal Blaine, among the most prolific drummers ever, lay down the rhythm track to Elvis Presley's "A Little Less Conversation." For several scenes, Tedesco filmed the artist performing his or her part alone before gradually revealing the rest of the arrangement around them. It's a subtle yet highly effective technique, illustrating those overlooked instrumental contributions that often define a song.

"That was something that came out of necessity," Tedesco says. "One of my first cuts — I had 20, 30 minutes of it — a friend came up and said, 'Man, that's really cool, Carol Kaye playing that. You should have more of that.' It was the only way I could think of: Put [the viewer] in the studio and let them hear it. We don't know what's going on, especially with drums. There's nothing there (melody-wise)."

The project began as a way for Tedesco to pay tribute to the Wrecking Crew and the craft of his father, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 1995 and died two years later. But it quickly grew into a living cultural history lesson featuring more than 25 interviews and 130 songs. Brian Wilson, Cher, Dick Clark and Herb Alpert are among the stars offering candid commentary, and few minutes pass without a Top-10 single ringing out.

"One of the questions (I often get asked) is, 'How did you overcome this licensing problem?'" Tedesco says. "And the answer is, 'I begged and begged and begged.' The record companies and publishers have really come through."

Many of the interviews also proved to be the last of their kind, he says. "I knew Julius Wechter was sick (with cancer), and I just kept in touch with him. Finally he was like, 'If you want to come by ...' I instantly got a camera crew. Lew McCreary was with him, and within six months both of them passed away — within a week of each other."

Along with Wechter and McCreary, Al Casey, Larry Levine and New Orleans' own Earl Palmer have all since died, making the film as much a eulogy to the players as it is to the period. Tedesco, whose first-person narration accompanies the picture, says it should strike a chord with not only music lovers, but with anyone who has lost a parent.

"For me, [revisiting the material] wasn't so difficult because I kept constantly working with my father," he says. "He never left me."

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