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“The Wrecking Crew” – The Best Music Documentary You’ve Never Seen!

Written by: Jeff Cazanov

Music Documentary “The Wrecking Crew” – Musician Porn?

Watching a screening of the music documentary The Wrecking Crew is like going 15 rounds with Manny Pacquiao Juan Manuel Marquez: the HITS  just keep on comin’ and comin’ and comin.’

God Only Knows! Wichita LinemanI Got You Babe! Mr. Tambourine Man! Little Old Lady From Pasadena! MacArthur Park! Don’t Worry Baby! He’s a Rebel! These Boots are Made for Walking! California Dreamin’! Eve of Destruction! Fun Fun Fun! River Deep Mountain High! Let the Sunshine In! You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’This Diamond Ring! Everybody’s Talkin’! Surf City! San Francisco! Out of Limits! By the Time I Get to Phoenix! Cherish! Dizzy! Poor Side of Town! California Girls! Never My Love! Good Vibrations! Up Up and Away! Da Doo Ron Ron! I Get Around! Classical Gas! Strangers in the Night! Midnight Confessions! The Beat Goes On!… and on and on and on.  One after another after another.

Toe-tapping audience members can scarcely contain their joy (or their singing voices) as the first notes of every familiar tune fly at them rapid-fire.  And with each new salvo of nostalgia, viewer-listeners are left asking themselves that same baffling question:  “the SAME BAND played all of these songs?!”

Indeed they did.  The movie tells the story of a relatively small group of studio musicians nicknamed “The Wrecking Crew” that played on almost every hit single of the late 1960s and early 1970s.  With a relentless work ethic and a mastery of the recording process these 20 or so souls formed a backing unit the likes of which was never seen before, nor will ever be seen again.

Despite the fame of these timeless songs, the individual members of this band of music-makers toiled in relative obscurity, and to this day most of the world wouldn’t  know their names or faces.  But for the songwriters, performers, producers and record companies of the era, these working-class professionals were, for a time, the fuel for the era’s solid gold hit machine.

Director Denny Tedesco interviews the players and the superstars that the crew helped make superstars, but it’s more than a mere historical documentation of a bygone era, for Denny’s dad – the late guitarist Tommy Tedesco – was one of the entertaining ring-leaders in this circus of merry men (and woman).  As such, Tedesco’s cinematic touch is personal and heartfelt as he goes back in time to discover what his father did when he went to work every day and night.

Despite the film’s cult popularity, numerous awards and legions of manic devotees, The Wrecking Crew - like its namesake – is still unknown outside of the music industry.   It has yet to be released on DVD for the very same reasons that it is so uniquely great – the hundred-plus song snippets that have to be licensed and paid for.  To this end Tedesco has himself been a one-man wrecking crew, spending all his time and personal finances in a quest to finish the financing.

After a recent screening, a 50-ish long-haired guitarist was overhead remarking – “This movie is like musician porn.”  Rock Cellar Magazine sat down with filmmaker Denny Tedesco to find out just why this movie evokes such pop ecstasy, and when the hell we can all buy it.

Rock Cellar Magazine:  What inspired you to create The Wrecking Crew documentary?

Denny Tedesco:  In 1996, my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  He was 66 at the time and even though he was young at the time, I always, felt we were blessed to have him this long.  He had a stroke that ended his career in 1992 and never really took care of himself.  I had always wanted to tell the story about my father and his friends that were later named, “The Wrecking Crew.” So when the cancer diagnosis came, I didn’t want to have that regret over my life of not doing it when I had the chance.

RCM:  So you got your Dad, and a few of his fellow musicians together for a little reunion.  That scene was the first scene you shot, right?

DT:  Right.  I was in the film business, so I asked my friends to help me.  We put a round-table together with drummer Hal Blaine, bass player Carol Kaye, sax-player Plas Johnson and my father.

RCM:  Tommy Tedesco, your father – who played guitar. 

DT:  Yes, among other instruments.  We were shooting 16mm film at the time.  I had two dollies, two cameras circling these four legends.  I call it “the quartet without instruments.” (laughs) My goal was to just let them be musicians and not really do the interview.  My favorite films at the time were Diner and Broadway Danny Rose.

RCM:  That’s exactly what it reminded me of.

DT:  Both these films let the actors just be real when there is a group of them at the table. And with this group of musicians, you can’t get more real.  I would throw something out there and they ran with it.  First day of shooting was eye opening for me.  Gave a great base to start with.

RCM:  The Wrecking Crew movie is the most-talked-about music documentary of the past few years.  Maybe because of the fact that it isn’t yet readily available – it’s got that “underground” status?  When do you hope it will finally be released on DVD to buy?

DT:  As soon as I pay off the final licensing of the music, stock footage and musicians union.
Everyone thinks that I’ve been held up for ransom by the record companies.  But the truth is, it’s taken years to get everyone in agreement among the labels and publishers.  The rates are very favorable, but there are so many songs and that added up.

I wish some of them would have donated their fees to the Musicians Union cost, but again, I can only bust so many chops.  Herb Alpert and Nancy Sinatra owned their masters and were able to donate them, but the folks I’m dealing with at record labels are barely keeping their jobs.  99% of the folks have been cool.  I’ll let you know the 1% who haven’t been cool on the DVD outtakes!

RCM:  Yes, “the songs.”  After seeing the movie it feels like these musicians played on every single hit song from like 1965-1972.  Can you even venture a guess as to how may #1 songs the Wrecking Crew played on?  And how many top-40 charting hits?

DT:  That’s a good question. I can only talk about the songs in the film.  In the film of 99 minutes, I used over 110 songs.

RCM:  They sure come at you fast and furious…

DT:  I literally went ‘”wall to wall” sound – like Phil Spector. (laughs)  Beach Boys, Sinatra, Elvis, Spector, Sonny and Cher, and Herb Alpert cover a lot of ground there.  There are so many songs that I didn’t put in the film – I ran out of time and money.

Plas Johnson

RCM:  I don’t know how many more a person could even handle. 

DT:  99% of the music in the film is tied to these musicians.  Some of the hits I used maybe only had a couple of the guys on the tracks; sometimes, they were the whole band.   Even the background music under interviews I have the music from the musicians themselves.  For example, during the interview with Plas Johnson, I used some of Plas’s original jazz music.

Here’s a good story.  There was a point when Plas is talking about coming out of New Orleans and I wanted some Dixieland music.  And I really didn’t know where to go.  So I went to my only source in Los Angeles that played Dixieland and it was Conrad Janis who had the “The Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band.”

Most people will remember Conrad as the Father in Mork and Mindy.  But most people didn’t know he was a fine musician.  When I told Conrad what I needed, he suggested I use a live album that he did.  Here comes the wild part of the story: Plas is featured on it!  That was synchronicity.

RCM:  Until it’s released, people can see it at various screenings around the country and the world.  [Wrecking Crew website HERE.]  Are you planning to continue these screenings after the DVD release, or is the goal just to raise enough money from the screenings to get the release?

DT:   I’d love to keep showing it with an audience.  I realized after seeing the film with audiences around the world it’s so much fun to watch people react to the music when the musicians start playing the licks that they created from the albums.  The first time I saw the film with an audience, I was surprised there were emotions that you don’t see in an edit room.  And the audiences around the world laugh at the same spots or gasp at the same spots, or whatever.

Another thing I realized showing The Wrecking Crew around the world.  This is “America’s Greatest Export.”  They know the music everywhere its shown.  We always talk about the British Invasion, but we never talk about the “American Invasion” when it came to music.

RCM:  The movie officially has a release date of 2008, right? How many years were you working on it before that?

DT:  After the first shoot day, I actually thought it would be an easy documentary to put together.  I knew the story pretty well.  I had the beginning, middle and the end.  I just needed to get financing to film the rest of it.  We cut a 14-minute teaser clip and it included Cher, Nancy Sinatra, Dick Clark and a few others, but everyone would just compliment and just say, “do you have any more?”  Then the naysayers would say it would be impossible to get this film finished due to the licensing of the songs.

RCM:  But what makes music films good is music.  I couldn’t even conceive of how much these sound bites must have cost you.

DT:  Right.  But the comment I heard over and over was “no label and publisher will ever come together to let this be affordable.” I kept going,  not paying attention.  Used the credit cards, refinanced the house, did all the things you’re not supposed to do as a filmmaker! (laughs)  But I had no choice; I had to continue.

RCM:  This labor of love then became like an obsession for you…?

DT:  Well, 2006 came, we had hundreds of hours of footage but no cut film.  My wife and producer, Suzie was concerned we just made the most expensive home movie ever!  So we hired an editor/producer, Claire Scanlon who came on and over the next couple of years, we cut together a film.

RCM:  And you took it on the film festival circuit in…?

DT:  Our first festival was 2008 at SXSW.  From that point, we played around 50 festivals around the country.  We won a dozen awards and received amazing reviews.  But no one was looking for a music documentary for distribution with over 750K for pick-up deal.

RCM:  It’s always said if there’s only one thing a film buyer hates to hear worse than “documentary” it’s “music documentary,”  right?

DT:  You got it.  At one point there was an article in Variety. The article was based on the difficulty of finding homes for music documentaries. They spoke about Martin Scorsese and his struggles with the Stones Documentary. They talked about Jonathan Demme’s Neil Young film and then they talked to me about my struggles.  I finally came close to meeting my hero!  So in my mind, I guess I can struggle like these “other music documentary directors.”

RCM: This is where your creative financing came in?

DT:  Yeah, so I had to go back and re-negotiate the terms and beg for a couple of years. When we got it down to half of that, distributors still weren’t interested.  So the only thing to do was pay off the licensing by donations.  The International Documentary Association became our fiscal sponsor and were able to take donations on our behalf.  When donations came in, we paid off the labels and publishers as we went along.  We’ve paid off over 200K over the last couple of years.

RCM:  So, 110 hit song clips?

DT:  All of the songs are on what’s called “most favored nations.”  Doesn’t matter if it’s a hit or a non-hit.  Everyone gets the same amount.

RCM:  Most filmmakers don’t have the guts or money – or sanity – to have that many clips in a music documentary.  But that’s absolutely critical to what this movie is all about…

DT:  People who hadn’t seen the film came up with ideas from the practical to the absurd.  Some would say “just use less songs.” “Use 20 instead of 100.” Well, you can do that with other groups of musicians and tell the story.  If you hear 6 Motown songs, you know instantly the thread.

But what do the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra, the Byrds, the 5th Dimension, Sam Cooke and the Chipmunks all have in common?  The same musicians.  I needed to show the quantity of music that was coming out of Los Angeles at the time.

They were at the right place at the right time.  Record companies realized this music could make them money.  In L.A. you had the artist, studios, producers, writers, and musicians to knock them out.  I had to show quantity, not necessarily quality.

RCM:  But this is ALL quality.

DT:  The worst idea which was absurd came from a musician/writer who wanted to be an executive producer on the film.  This was early on before we had a cut.  His idea was to do sound-a-likes.  I almost threw up.

RCM:  Not a surprise.   That’s what most of these bio-pics do these days…

DT:  That would be a Milli Vannelli recording a Milli Vannelli.  ”Lets do a story about the Mona Lisa, but show something almost like it!”  That was a short lunch. (laughs)

The Wrecking Crew: guitarist Tommy Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine

RCM:  Your father, Tommy Tedesco is at the center of this film, although this is really a movie about an ensemble of musicians.  You sort of touched on it but was your original intent to do a labor-of-love movie about him alone, or was it always about the group?

DT:  When I started the film, it was always about the group of musicians.  It wasn’t until Claire and I started editing that a mutual friend, Director/Editor Grady Cooper looked at the 30 minutes we cut and brought up a very stinging comment.  His comment was, “It’s good, but why are you making this story? What I just saw in this cut, any one of us can do.” What he meant was I wasn’t taking advantage of something that I was avoiding – my connection to the film through my father.

RCM:  It does bring a warm and bittersweet tone to the overall film – all the footage with your late dad. 

DT:   Well they pushed me for a little while – to try to bring my connection to the film.  So I started it with an introduction narration at the beginning: ”This is the story of my father and his extended family, The Wrecking Crew.

RCM:  Did you feel that there was perhaps an injustice that the crew didn’t get the recognition that they deserved? Were you additionally hoping that through this film they would get retroactive album/song credits? Or royalties and so forth?

DT:  No – I don’t feel there was ever an injustice at all with these guys.  My father was a very fortunate musician.  He was working in an era and a city where they were kings of their world.  They were so respected among producers and artists that recording dates were held until these musicians were available.

RCM:  And they were paid well…?

DT:  These recordings were all on union contracts.  So they were able to have health benefits, and put their kids through school and raise their families.  They were paid proper wages and if you messed with them, they didn’t work for you on the next project.  Not the other way around.

Drummer Hal Blaine of The Wrecking Crew

RCM:  No one in the film except for Hal Blaine, maybe Plas Johnson seem at all unhappy about being unheralded, or not getting credit.  Are they all just that humble?

DT:  My father used to say, he was the luckiest guy in the world.  He never thought he’d make a living at the instrument.  He always felt you’re part of a minority to be able to do that.  And then he became part of a smaller minority, making a living as a session musician.

Hal’s only regret was his personal life.  Doesn’t regret anything professionally. My father’s only regret would have been not playing live for 20 years.  Or for himself.

My father also said, he worked on hundreds of hits, but he worked on thousands of bombs.  And he never gave the guy that had a bomb his money back.  So it all worked out.

RCM:  But it does seem like they were screwed on the credits, no?

DT:  Regarding credits, in the early days it was singles.  On albums, I’m sure they would have loved to get the credits, but as pianist Don Randi said, “as long as my name is on the contract, I knew it was a good deal.”  Also, if the songs are used later in movies or commercials, they’re compensated again.

There are great injustices in the world.  Not being paid, or getting swindled is a greater injustice than not giving someone credit on an album.  My father used to say, this is a Music Business.  There is Music and the Music Business.  Sometimes they mix.  But not always.

RCM:  It’s common knowledge that although the Monkees eventually played their music live, studio musicians – this Wrecking Crew – covered for them on recordings.  What isn’t so commonly known are just how many famous bands didn’t play on their own records.  Name some of the most shocking ones.

DT:  Many of the groups were vocal groups that might play their instruments on the road. But there were the few that were the famous ones that we assumed that they did their own recordings.

RCM:  Give a “for-example.”

DT:  The Byrds single, Mr. Tambourine Man.  Producer Terry Melcher only allowed Roger McGuinn to play on the song.  To be able to get the chance to record an album, you needed to have a hit.  So the producers gave themselves the best chance possible.  They hired the musicians for just this hit.

RCM: And that wonderful Roger McGuinn story in your film – that they recorded Tambourine Man and the b-side [I Knew I'd Want You] in 3 hours, but when the Byrds came in on Turn Turn Turn it took 77 takes!

DT:  Right.  Both Number Ones, but that’s why these guys were hired.  Because they could be counted on to nail it.

[Recording session out-takes from the Byrds/Wrecking Crew Mr. Tambourine Man sessions]

RCM:  How about some other bands that people may not know were actually recorded by the Wrecking Crew?

DT:  Some groups were real groups that played on the road but not necessarily in the recording - some of the Beach Boys albums; Al Jardine spoke about Pet Sounds.  It would have taken the Beach Boys a lot longer to pull off what Brian wanted, where the session players could just knock it out.

The Association, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Tijuana Brass, Paul Revere and the Raiders were all groups that used these session guys.

RCM:  Of the 20 or so musicians who composed the loose-knit group, there are quite a few famous names who played stints with them before going on to their own solo careers. Talk about a couple of them. 

DT:   Glen Campbell and Leon Russell were really the ones that I always thought as the two that broke out.  Both were from the south who were amazing musicians.

My father used to say that Glen Campbell was the best rock guitarist he played with at the time.  ”Couldn’t read a note, but it wasn’t necessary.  He had ears like an elephant.”

DT (cont.):  Leon Russell was another natural.  As a producer and keyboardist Leon was so responsible for Gary Lewis and the Playboys success.  My dad loved Leon’s natural ability as a musician. He told me he was a great guitar player as well.

RCM:  Two of the best music producers of all time worked with this group – Phil Spector and Brian Wilson.  Do you consider them part of the “crew” even though they got credit and glory?

DT:  I consider the engineers, producers, arrangers all part of this crew.  I look at it as a family that wasn’t just the musicians.  Others may say differently.

RCM: The crew members in age were a bit older than the bands and musicians popular during this era.  Did Spector and Wilson seek these guys out, or did the record companies enlist them, or…?

DT:  I think the maturity of musicianship made the difference for them in the studios.  My father was 30 in 1960.  So having those years behind him gave him an edge in the studios over the artists who were teenagers or early 20s.

Drummer Hal Blaine, producer Brian Wilson and guitarist/bassist Ray Pohlman

RCM:  Phil Spector obviously admired your dad greatly.

DT:  Spector was a big jazz head so he surrounded himself with jazz players.  He also considered himself a guitarist.  He took lessons from Howard Roberts and Bill Pitman and used them as well as Barney Kessel and my father in the sessions.

RCM:  What’s additionally enjoyable about The Wrecking Crew is the working-class approach that these guys took to their music.  Like craftsmen, just doing their jobs.  You’ve mentioned that your Dad never brought his work home from the office…?

DT:  I never saw my father play guitar at home until the ’70s.  When he started playing for himself.  After 12-14 hours a day in the studio, the last thing he did was grab a guitar. People always think we had a cool upbringing being the son of a musician.  But we were no different than any other kids.

Dad went to work with a Telecaster, mandolin, banjo, 12-string, acoustic and gut string in the trunk.  Other fathers had a hammer and saw.

RCM:  You really show that these guys were working all the time – day and night – at a somewhat dizzying pace.

DT:   [Songwriter] Jimmy Webb sent this ‘Grammy Charm’ over to the musicians after he won a Grammy for Up Up and Away.  My father asked Hal [Blaine] ‘what’s this about?’ And Hal says ‘that’s that song we did for the 5th Dimension last year? With Johnny Rivers and Bones Howe?”  My father didn’t even know!  They did so many dates, they sometimes didn’t realize what they worked on.  And in this case the 5th Dimension were on tour when they laid the tracks down.

RCM:  Jimmy Webb is one of the stars of this movie as he talks about the musicians.  Did Jimmy commonly hang out with them?  Or were the crew members ever responsible for co-writing songs?

DT:  Jimmy and Hal had a close relationship.  When Jimmy was putting together MacArthur Park, he brought Hal to London for a couple of weeks.  Hal was going through some tough times personally and he was exhausted.  When they got there, Hal met with Richard Harris and Hal assumed they were going to record.  But Jimmy just booked Hal to let him rest and get a much needed vacation.  Then when they returned to LA, they did the session for MacArthur Park.

Bass player Carol Kaye

RCM:  One of the coolest aspects of The Wrecking Crew is seeing how memorable riffs were created in the studio. That in addition to being a solid backup team, they also contributed creatively to what made these hit songs hits.  Can you mention a couple that you yourself found surprising?

DT:  I realized over the years that I can’t hear lyrics.  But I can tell you where the guitar riff is or the drum fill happens.  So when we were cutting, Carol[Kaye] was the only one that had an instrument in her interview and would show examples.  People responded to that.  Hearing the bass line made it easier for the viewer to understand what to listen for.

So I brought Hal, Don, Joe Osborn and others into the studio and let them play to playback. But I only mixed the original album up after they did their famous lick for the viewers.

Carol Kaye

RCM:  Carole Kay comes off as one of the coolest characters in this movie – a talented chick in an almost-exclusively man’s world. 

DT:  Carol was an amazing musician.  You have to realize in the early days, you were only in the studios if you could really play.  They didn’t have the technology – Pro Tools – to save or edit solos or passages.  They all had to be in the room together.  So Carol as a bass player or guitarist was there because of her ability.  She was a musician first and then a woman.  I give credit to the guys for seeing that.

RCM:  In addition to the massive catalogue of radio hits, the Wrecking Crew played on countless TV shows and commercials.  Mention some of the most famous.

DT:  Some of the guys were able to jump into film and TV.   In the ’60s, I have to think all the TV that was recorded in LA, they had something to do with it.

Some of the TV shows that my father worked on that had famous guitar riffs were, BatmanGreen AcresBonanza, and then there were the other shows they all did: Gilligan’s IslandThe Partridge FamilyThe Brady Bunch.

But there seemed to be a huge jump going from a “record guy” to playing with John Williams and an 90-piece orchestra in film.  My father was very exceptional in that case because he could read everything thrown at him.  He was very strange in that way.  Hal, Earl Palmer, Chuck Berghoffer, Lyle Ritz, Don Peake and Don Randi all made that transition.

Hal Blaine and Glen Campbell

RCM:  Marijuana and harder drugs have always been part of the music scene, but one gets the feeling that not a lot of these guys partook.  Was it more like a Mad Men alcohol scene, or were they just that devoted to their profession?

DT:  Most of the guys like my father, Carol and Hal and Don didn’t take part in the drugs. It seemed like drugs came a little later.  My father’s vices were coffee, pasta, gambling and cigarettes.  If you had a reputation of not showing up or not performing, you were gone.
Not that there wasn’t drugs, but not like it was 20 years later.

RCM:  The Wrecking Crew seem very tied to a place and time.  Coming from New York to a brand new California music scene.  Is it fair to say there will never be studio musicians of this renown again?  Or that they still exist today just maybe not in rock music?

DT:  It won’t happen again because there’s no need for it.  In those days, they needed these folks because of technology. You had to be able to get into a studio with everyone nailing a song in very few takes.  You had 3 hours to be able to do 3-4 songs at a time. That’s what was expected from you as a session player.  There was a music business that was promoting and looking for product.  They would develop artists and spend money on acts.

Today, unless you’re a major act, you have to do it all on your own.  Writing, music, and even promoting and marketing.

RCM:  The end of the Wrecking Crew Era probably was the emergence of the folk-rock singer songwriters of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Would you agree? That it was absolutely not cool to have someone else play the music that you wrote?

DT:  There were a few reasons why you didn’t need session players. Yes about the folk-rock singer songwriters but I also think technology gave producers an opportunity to use players that may have been good players but not totally “studio tested.”

Earl Palmer; The Wrecking Crew

As the great drummer Earl Palmer said, they weren’t recording dates anymore.  They were “recording projects.”  The music changed and many of the groups were established and had the power to call the shots with the record labels.  As we know, the money spent on an album is coming out of the profits of the band later.

RCM:  Many of the crew had backgrounds in jazz and classical music. Your film hints that not all of them were so happy being rock and rollers, right?

DT:  I can really answer for my father the most.  He came out of a jazz era where he was in awe of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Bill Evans.  That was music that blew his mind.  So playing some of the rock anthems like, the Routers’ Lets Go or Hawaii 5-0 or the Batman theme was not that mind-blowing nor difficult.  But he made sure he made it sound like he loved the music.

RCM:  Almost all the funniest lines in your movie are courtesy of your Dad…

DT:  He used to say, “I play for smiles.  If the leader or the artist is smiling, I’m doing my job.  I might play something that I think is better suited, but in the end, if he isn’t smiling, I’m not coming back the next day.”  He had lots of respect for the other players like Glen, Dick Dale, James Burton, Duane Eddy, Nokie Edwards in the surf days and then guys like Clapton, Carlton, Jimmy Page came later.  But it was their music.  Not his.

RCM:  What is the difference between a “session player” and a “specialist.”

DT:  My father used to say, as a session player, you go to work and you have no idea what is behind the door.  So you can’t just send anyone in there.  If you want the best blues player, you send B.B King in there.  Specialist.  But what if it’s blues and then they need someone to add a mandolin part?  You need to be able to jump to mandolin, banjo, classical or whatever the part calls for.

My father would never say he was the best at anything.  He was a great session guitar player.  But if you wanted an authentic rock , classical, country, or Indian sound, you hire those players.

RCM:  Everyone loves that scene where your dad talks about being asked to bring these various different cultural guitar lick flavors, only they’re exactly the same riff.

DT:  A trick my father would use when it came to getting all of those odd-ball guitars gigs was listing himself on multiple guitar sections in the union book.  If a composer asked his contractor to see who played a certain South American-style guitar, they might go through a list of names that they don’t recognize except my father’s.  So they call Tommy first.  As many guitarists know, my father would tune every instrument he owned in “guitar tuning.”

RCM:  Not as Tommy Tedesco’s son, but as a fan, what is the most surprising fact or story that you learned while making this documentary?

DT:  I really admired the brotherhood that they really had.  Even if someone didn’t care for someone else, they tended to be professional and get the job done. They laughed and teased each other a lot.

Director Denny Tedesco and his father Tommy Tedesco

RCM:  You obviously must have gained some insight as well to your father along the way…?

DT:  What I admired the most about my father’s reputation was not about his playing but about his giving to fellow players.  The stories are legendary about how he helped a new player in town.  I’m always blown away when I hear a new story of how he helped a stranger.

RCM:  This film is so professionally done, yet when you began it, you weren’t exactly an experienced director, correct? Is that a tribute to the people you enlisted?  Or do you feel it’s because your subject matter and characters are just so captivating?

DT:  Huge tribute to my friends and my wife who helped me produce it.  I was a grip for many years before ’96 and just started to produce videos for small projects.  I had friends that would help me shoot it and do sound.  I hate when I have to do either – I’m not that person.  So having professionals take the heavy lifting was the best.

RCM:  But you accomplish the number one job of an experienced director: telling a story.

DT:  Thank you.  Yeah, the one thing I had going for me as a director was knowing that story inside out.  I’m not talking about the specific facts.  But I knew from watching my dad and his career what gave him joy and what gave him pain.  I understood the nuances of getting the gigs as a musician.  Even though I didn’t play guitar, I hung out with my father at Musicians Institute where he gave seminars.  I saw friends of his who were monster players not working again because their days in the studios were gone.

I watched my dad at 62 play better than he played at 25.  But he only was getting those calls that were “Call Tedesco” for:  pretty gut-string guitar, hard reading, or mandolin parts.  His last couple of movies were Schindlers List and Godfather 3.   A stroke ended his career at 62.

RCM:  The film has almost an interactive concert kind of feel at times.  Who was your editor?

DT:  Getting the right person to edit it was huge and I’m so lucky that I got Claire Scanlon to cut it and help us produce it.  After a week of her going through hours and hours of footage, I knew she knew exactly what I was thinking. Claire is now editing and directing The Office. I tease her that I gave her the big break working with me!

RCM:  What’s remarkable is the staying power of all of these songs.  Even younger people know these exact versions of these songs.  Is it your opinion that that is due to the way hit records were made back then – that the formula was just better? 

DT:  What I’ve realized is that much of the greatness of the albums came out of being in the same room creating and listening to each other.  Sometimes mistakes became the hooks and then went onto being a hit.  Technology is a huge part of the success, and the demise of the creativity.  I talk to musicians that didn’t even see the other players in the studio.

RCM:  Does it seem that we have an almost overabundance of music these days?  And ways to get it, unlike “the old days?”

DT:  When we were kids in the ’60s, we were not really listening to albums that were recorded 50 years before.  We didn’t have the amount of material of the past to listen to.  Radio changed that in the ’60s.  Top-40 pushed product and record labels made the product to be bought.  It was a huge business for the music industry.

Now, we’re still listening to the Beach Boys, Beatles and every era of music between then and now.  Imagine the size of that catalogue.

RCM:  Do you think that part of the success of those hundreds of hits by the same guys is that that era’s talent was unique and won’t be matched again?

DT:  I’m sure there is the greatest song written out there.  There is another Brian Wilson or Jimmy Webb somewhere.  The problem is actually finding that song among the thousands and thousands of different outlets.

Anyone can record the song.  But how you get it to the next level is almost like hitting the lottery. How do you get people to hear it?

I think there are amazing musicians.  But what you don’t have is those session musicians like my father, Hal, Earl, Don Randi and the rest who walk in have to read it without mistakes.  Can you imagine the pressure that group of musicians took upon themselves?  Today, if you make mistakes, you can cut between takes and fix it.   Instead of doing it again and giving another shot at it.

RCM:  Yeah, it’s called “a professional musician.”

DT:  Y’know my father worked over 30 years as a session musician.  Imagine how much music he was given over those years.  And none of it was ever the same.   Movies, record dates, television, commercials, live gigs.

RCM:  For years all of us have said “why doesn’t Denny Tedesco just ask all those rich musicians, producers and record company people for the money and finish this thing off?”  After all, they all got famous and wealthy off the Wrecking Crew.  One tiny little check that they’d never even feel would be all it would take.  Why haven’t you done it that way?  Was it for creative control, or…?

DT:  I’ve been very careful on every request or move I made over the years.  Maybe I’ve played it too safe at times, but there are folks that you can’t get back to after you do an interview with them.  It’s not like I’m hanging out with Cher.

RCM:  You want me to give her a call for you?

DT:  No seriously, I’ve tried to let the industry know about the film and some have totally come through.  Jerry Moss of A&M and manager Cliff Burnstein both donated $50,000 each.  That was because they each saw the film and were moved by the music and the musicians.  These men have made their money from the music business and really appreciated what musicians gave to them.  But almost all the donations have been from $10.00 and up.

RCM:  That’s an almost equally amazing story: how you’ve marketed and funded this movie.  It’s like indie grass-roots donations, right?

DT:  The whole film has been funded by my family and me until we ran out after we got into the festivals.  The next chunk of change has come entirely from donations.  When I realized that we had so much footage over the years, I started to plan on multiple chapters with extras for the DVD release.  So we have out-takes for guitar, bass, drums, engineers, artists, producers and so on.   As well as a chapter of “musician jokes.”

RCM:  So how does that translate to cash? 

DT:  So one of the ideas was to find sponsors that would help sponsor a chapter.  Example, “Your Name Here” guitar maker presents “Guitar Outtakes.”  ”Your Name Here” drum maker and so on.   The amount of eyes on this DVD set will give that corporate or sponsor years of recognition.

RCM:  But individuals and our Rock Cellar Magazine readers can buy sponsorships, too, right?  Helps you and they get their name on it?

DT:  Yeah, a friend in radio suggested a “Dedication Chapter.”  Dedicate songs on the DVD like you put bricks into buildings with your name on it?  So that was our first donation. $1000.00 a song.   And it’s listed on the website and will be listed on the DVD as well.  So people can dedicate songs to their kids, parents, brothers, or loves that have passed.  It’s really wonderful to see what they say when they pick that song.

RCM:  So.  ”The Best Music Documentary You’ve Never Seen.”  What can the public and our readers do right now to help get this thing done?  And fast?

DT:  Just spread the word.  The more people that sign up on facebook, and the website really helps us in marketing.  If you see it’s playing near you, tell your friends.

The greatest compliment I get comes from wives or girlfriends of musicians when they are forced to go see a “music documentary.” This is so not that kind of documentary.  It’s just 99 minutes of fun.

I’m not trying to save the world or at least not yet.

To get more information about dedicating a song, helping with the Wrecking Crew project, or for screenings near you, visit the Wrecking Crew website here.

UPCOMING SCREENINGS OF THE WRECKING CREW:

Sun. Jan. 27th 11:00am NAMM 2013 Trade Show; Room 204-B Anaheim, CA

Thurs. Feb. 7th 3:00pm & 7:00pm LOFT CINEMA 3233 E Speedway Blvd Tucson, AZ

Sat. Feb. 9th – SABAN THEATER 8440 Wilshire Boulevard Beverly Hills, CA

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