Episode 189: The Wrecking Crew

Episode 189: The Wrecking Crew
Pat and Co-Host Murray Valeriano welcome Director Denny Tedesco to discuss his documentary film "The Wrecking Crew."
From February 26, 2015

With your hosts:

Pat Francis

Murray Valeriano

00:00:00 Pat welcomes us to the show. Kyle is rocking a Batman t-shirt because that's the only type of shirt he owns. Batman t-shirt and jeans: The Kyle Dodson Collection. Murray is happy because he recorded his live stand-up comedy album a couple of weeks ago. Kyle was there and it was a jam-packed house. The good thing was that no celebrities were there to ruin the show. Famous comedians sometimes go up before Murray and they kill. Then Murray goes up after them and bombs gloriously. But thankfully that didn't happen with the album taping.
Murray decided to take the bull by the horns and get today's guest in studio. They used to work together at Comedy Central. It's director Denny Tedesco! Denny made a music documentary called The Wrecking Crew. He's been working on for it 19 years.
00:05:00 Pat watched the movie one night and he loved it. He says any music fan will love it. Murray is a big fan of The Wrecking Crew. The Wrecking Crew is the name for a group of session musicians in the 60s in L.A. who did session work for artists like The Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, The Mamas and the Papas, The Fifth Dimension, and many more. Record companies didn’t trust the artists to record their work quickly, so they hired the session musicians to make things run smoothly. Denny’s dad Tommy Tedesco was one of the Crew's guitar players. 19 years ago, Denny started the project because his dad had cancer and he didn’t have much time. Denny wanted to tell the story of the group. He based it first on the roundtable talk of Broadway Danny Rose. Denny just let them talk. The group of four was drummer Hal Blaine, bassist Carol Kaye, guitarist Tommy, and saxophonist Plas Johnson. Because it took so long to make it, some of the people in the movie died before it came out. Tommy died in 1997. No one would jump in and make the movie because the music rights alone would be nuts. There are 110 songs in the movie. By 2006, it was "the most expensive home movie ever." But there had come a point where a line was crossed and Denny had to keep going or else it would have been a waste.
00:10:00 Denny interviewed people like Brian Wilson, Herb Alpert, Cher, and Nancy Sinatra in person. Denny worked with Cher on a music video in the 80s. She fondly remembered Tommy Tedesco from back in the 60s when she was 18. Cher agreed to do it because Denny asked her directly. Pat says from experience that if you can get to the artist directly, they say yes. But managers and agents slow things down considerably. The contemporary artists that turned him down: artists like Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and Bonnie Raitt. But it wasn't a considerably big loss because they didn't work with the Wrecking Crew. Everyone in the film either was in or worked with the Wrecking Crew. The only person who wasn't or didn't is Dick Clark. Clark did a eulogy for Tommy on the radio. Clark initially turned Denny down to being in the film, but he eventually came around.
We start playing the music of the Crew. Off the album In Case You're in Love, it's "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny & Cher. The talented Carol Kaye on bass.
00:15:00 Hal Blaine coined the name "Wrecking Crew" in his book. The older, established L.A. session guys saw the new, rock and roll session guys and didn't like them. They thought they would wreck the business. But once those new guys got locked into the session circuit -- Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco, Leon Russell, Carol Kaye, Dr. John, etc. -- the old guys would get locked out. Tommy was a very smart businessman. In 1953, he was living in Niagara Falls with his wife and Denny’s older brother. He got invited to a dance at a university. He went to the dance and afterwards got an audition to be the guitar player for the big band. Their guitar player had left, so they needed a replacement. Tommy got the gig, went on the road for a bit, and then got fired in Dallas. He moved to L.A. with his family to be a musician. Tommy wasn’t working a lot and he originally wasn’t going to go to the dance. But his wife spent 35 bucks on a dress, so they had to go. Luck, it’s all luck. You can be amazing, but unless you get out there and be lucky, you won’t make it.
00:20:00 Did you know that Tommy and the Wrecking Crew worked on famous TV theme songs. Oh yes, like "Suicide Is Painless" from the TV show M.A.S.H.. Tommy also played on the "Batman Theme Song", composed by Neal Hafti for the 1966 Batman show. And he worked on The Ventures' version of the "Hawaii Five-O Theme" on their album Hawaii Five-O. They would get a session fee for each recording. But if the song went to something like TV or commercial, they would get another fee. It was 50 bucks for 3 hours. Times were different.
The Wrecking Crew in the studio
00:25:00 Tommy would sometimes get doubles or triple fees on songs by pulling out different instruments and adding them to songs. That genius bastard. Speaking of TV shows, by the way, Pat plays a family band backed by the Crew. Off of The Partridge Family Album, it's "I Think I Love You" by The Partridge Family. Denny once met the second guy to play Chris Partridge. The first guy was a dick.
Sometimes the guys were credited on the albums, sometimes they weren't. Jan & Dean credited them, The Beach Boys didn't. Then there were the make-believe groups that were actually the same band. Denny calls them "Milli Vanilli groups." Tommy did his work 2 or 3 sessions a day. The musicians in the movie talk like it wasn't work.
00:30:00 One of these Milli Vanilli bands was a band called The Markets. We hear a song called "Out of Limits" from the album Out of Limits!. It's always very odd to see a young Leon Russell without all that hair.
Here is something very surprising. This song is played almost exclusively by the Wrecking Crew. It's "Mr. Tambourine Man" by The Byrds off the album Mr. Tambourine Man. That's right, the only person from The Byrds who plays an instrument on that song is Roger McGuinn on lead guitar. It took them 3 hours to record the A-side and the B-Side. It's Leon Russell on piano, Larry Knechtel on bass, Hal Blaine on drums, and Jerry Cole on rhythm guitar.
And then there are some bands who had the Wrecking Crew play the entire album. Murray plays "Never My Love" by The Association off the album Insight Out. None of The Association play instruments on that album.
00:35:00 Tommy kept his personal life and his professional life separate. He was immersed in music all day long, so when he came home, he didn't want to hear or play a single note of music. Tommy also never invited the other guys over to jam. The only time the guys came over was for gambling. The record producer Snuff Garrett (which sounds like a cool cowboy name) was a notorious gambler, so he would always come over Tommy's house to play cards.
00:40:00 Tommy was also self-taught on guitar, banjo, and mandolin. The difference between him and a deeply learned musician, says Denny, was that Tommy needed to make believe that he was the best at it. He had to go in every day and play a song that he didn't have that much time to study, so he had to will himself to know it and excel at it. Tommy was also a very happy-go-lucky guy. He treated people very well and he would protect them. One time the bassist Chuck Berghofer got lost during the recording of a song. So Tommy deliberately fucked up on the guitar to cover him. He did it twice before telling Chuck "You're on your own."
Murray plays one of the Wrecking Crew's jazzier outings. Off the album Whipped Cream & Other Delights, it's Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass with the song "A Taste of Honey".
00:45:00 Denny says that Hal Blaine has more jokes in his repertoire than most comedians. Hal plays on EVERYTHING. He plays on at least 50 of the 110 songs in the film. Back in the day he would go from studio to studio, playing drums on different songs. Once he did 7 sessions in a single day. Murray plays a little more Hal on the song "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes off the album Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica.
The list goes on for the Wrecking Crew: The Partridge Family, The Byrds, The Association, The Turtles, The Monkees, The Carpenters, Nancy Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, and Simon & Garfunkel. Even Frank Sinatra used the Crew, including on this next song. It's "Strangers in the Night" off the album Strangers in the Night.
00:50:00 Dean Martin recommended producer Jimmy Bowen to Frank. And Jimmy brought along the Crew. Frank didn't actually like the song because it sounded too much like a pop song. The reason he does scat singing in the song is because he forgot the words.
The Wrecking Crew members would pass around parts that they thought the other guys could do better. Everything was fast. They didn’t write the songs, so they didn’t have to like them. Most of the music that Tommy was working on was what it was. Denny says you gotta separate the music from the music business. As long as you’re getting paid, it doesn’t matter if the song is good or bad. Money is money.
00:55:00 Pat plays a song where the Wrecking Crew didn't get credit. Off the album Pet Sounds, it's "Wouldn't It Be Nice" by The Beach Boys. Murray follows this up with "Sloop John B" off the same album. Carol Kaye is all over Pet Sounds. The Wrecking Crew treated her just like one of the guys. To be fair, they had no idea about sexual harassment back then. In fact, they were actually respecting her by disrespecting her. No preferential treatment because she was a lady. In those days, there was only one track, so you had to play your parts to a tee. If you slowed up the session, your ass was in dutch. Carol helped drive the band to be the best.
01:00:00 At 62, Tommy had a stroke. But just before, he was playing his ass off. As time went on, Tommy moved away from pop music sessions and moved to film soundtracks. He became a guy who could be counted on. Here's a fun fact: He was the guitarist for the fictional band Happy Kyne and His Mirthmakers for the TV show Fernwood Tonight starring Martin Mull. "They needed a guy who looked like a truckdriver from Cleveland," remembers Denny. Tommy almost quit because they wouldn't let him smoke onstage, but then management relented and let him smoke. The Crew would smoke all the time in the studio with Sinatra and the rest. Vikki Carr hated the smoke. When Tommy played with her live band, they agreed that when Tommy wasn't playing guitar on a song, he could go backstage and smoke. Murray used to smoke and he is still amazed than when he goes to small towns, people still smoke their lungs out indoors.
01:05:00 We return to Hal Blaine, where Denny presents a medley of songs called
  • "Be My Baby" by The Rosettes
  • "Another Saturday Night" by Sam Cooke
  • "Can't Help Falling in Love" by Elvis Presley
  • "He's a Rebel" by The Crystals
  • "She's a Fool" by Lesley Gore
  • "Surf City" by The Beach Boys
  • "Count Me In" by Gary Lewis & The Playboys
  • "Come a Little Bit Closer" by Jay & the Americans
  • "Dance Dance Dance" by The Beach Boys
  • "Da Doo Ron Ron" by The Crystals
  • "Where the Boys Are" by Connie Francis
  • "Return to Sender" by Elvis Presley
  • "Surfer Girl" by The Beach Boys
  • "Monday, Monday" by The Mamas and the Papas
  • "Mountain of Love" by Johnny Rivers
  • "Little Old Lady from Pasadena" by Jan & Dean
  • "A Taste of Honey" by Herb Alpert's Tijuana Brass
Murray continues the music with a shoutout to Mike Siegel. Off the album Twistin' the Night Away, it's Sam Cooke with "Twistin' the Night Away". Sam Cooke was a very big influence on The Wrecking Crew.
01:10:00 To get the film out there, Denny had to take donations in order to drive down the price of the music rights. Music is what drags everything down in terms of DVD releases, from WKRP in Cincinnati to The Wonder Years. Once Denny finally got the price down, people started talking to him. He also found sponsors like dog groomers to help him. Magnolia Pictures got involved last year.
01:15:00 Denny just wants to educate the people about the Wrecking Crew, the guys behind the songs that they most likely already know. One of the questions that Denny wanted to tackle: What was it like to go from being on the most sought after music team in the business, only for all that to go away as the years went on. Every music act has an up curve, a pinnacle, and a down curve. It's not about staying at the top. That is impossible. It's actually about riding the down curve for as long as possible. Tommy actually said that he had his stroke at the right moment. The movie will be out on March 13 on VOD and iTunes. It's in 30 theaters around the country.
01:20:00 Murray and his wife were tracking this project for years. Pat had no idea about it until a few weeks ago. A lot of people don't know about the Wrecking Crew, so this film will help that. The DVD is coming out June 16. Denny kept interviewing people, so he had to put them on the DVD because there was no room for the theatrical cut. Leon Russell didn't want to do the film until a year and a half ago. Meanwhile Hal Blaine and Don Randi were his biggest supporters. In the 19 years it took to make the movie, 7 Wrecking Crew guys died along the way.
01:25:00 The film focuses on 4 stories: Tommy, Hal, Carol, and Plas Johnson. We haven't really touched Plas yet, so Murray plays his piccolo work on "Rockin' Robin" by Bobby Day. Plas also did the saxophone solo for "The Pink Panther Theme."
Plugs time. You can find The Wrecking Crew film on social media: On Twitter @WreckCrewFilm and on Facebook at Wrecking Crew Film/a>
A big thank you to Denny for all the fun stories. We end with "Memories" by Elvis Presley from the '68 Comeback Special Elvis.
Time Song Album Artist Who
00:15:00 The Beat Goes On In Case You’re in Love Sonny & Cher Pat
00:20:00 Suicide Is Painless M*A*S*H* Soundtrack The Mash Murray
00:20:00 Batman Theme Batman TV Series Theme Neal Hefti Denny
00:20:00 Hawaii Five-O Theme Hawaii Five-O The Ventures Denny
00:25:00 I Think I Love You The Partridge Family Album The Partridge Family Pat
00:30:00 Out of Limits Out of Limits! The Marketts Denny
00:30:00 Mr. Tambourine Man Mr. Tambourine Man The Byrds Pat
00:30:00 Never My Love Insight Out The Association Murray
00:40:00 A Taste of Honey Whipped Cream & Other Delights Herb Alpert’s Tijuana Brass Murray
00:45:00 Be My Baby Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica The Ronettes Murray
00:45:00 Strangers in the Night Strangers in the Night Frank Sinatra Denny
00:55:00 Wouldn’t It Be Nice Pet Sounds The Beach Boys Pat
00:55:00 Sloop John B Pet Sounds The Beach Boys Murray
01:05:00 The Hal Blaine Resume N/A Hal Blaine Denny
01:05:00 Twistin’ the Night Away Twistin’ the Night Away Sam Cooke Murray
01:25:00 Rockin’ Robin Single Bobby Day Murray
01:25:00 Memories Elvis Elvis Presley Denny