A decade in the making, “The Wrecking Crew” took almost as long to make it to theaters. But Danny Tedesco’s “unknown musicians who cranked out the hits” doc, which predated and inspired the Oscar winning “Twenty Feet from Stardom,” finally gets its due and a big screen run.
“Twenty Feet” was about backup singers, “Crew” is about studio musicians. These were the guys — and one woman — who dominated Los Angeles music studio session work from the late 1950s well into the ’70s.
Sax man Plas Johnson honks out the unforgettable first notes of “The Pink Panther Theme,” Carol Kay picks up her bass guitar and plays the bass line that “made” Sonny & Cher’s iconic “The Beat Goes On.”
“The Wrecking Crew” — they weren’t really called that until after their era had passed — fleshed out Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” and played most, if not all of the instruments on Beach Boys LPs and “Monkees” singles.
Those who took advantage of this elite aggregation of 20-30 in-demand players, from Herb Alpert of Tijuana Brass fame to Cher, call them “the best.” Members of this exclusive club such as Leon Russell, drummer Hal Blaine and Glen Campbell recall how “tight” and “professional” they were — showing up, knocking out somebody’s charts or improvising sounds that defined an era.
But Campbell’s presence poignantly reminds us how hard it was for filmmaker Danny Tedesco, whose Wrecking Crew guitarist dad, Tommy, died in 1997, to get this movie on the screen. It turned up in film festivals six or seven years ago. Dick Clark was still living when it started, and was interviewed. Tommy Tedesco himself led a round table gab session that was the film’s first footage back in 1996.
Glen Campbell showed no signs of the Alzheimer’s that has robbed him of much of his mind in recent years.
That’s a shame, because this movie, fascinating as it is, suffers in comparison to the more touching and uplifting “Twenty Feet.” Those of us who caught “Crew” in a late 2000s film festival showing cannot help but see it as being diminished by that later film’s artistry.
Still, it’s a fascinating slice of rock and pop archeology and well worth your time.
MPAA Rating: PG for language, thematic elements and smoking images
Cast: Cher, Glen Campbell, Tommy Tedesco, Herb Alpert, Plas Johnson, Carol Kaye, Earl Palmer, Hal Blaine
Credits: Directed by Danny Tedesco. A Magnolia release.
Running time: 1:44