“The Wrecking Crew” works on two levels.
The documentary, this month’s Fresno Filmworks feature film, is an informative tale of the session musicians who performed on almost every top record produced in Los Angeles in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. These journeyman players went to recording sessions (sometimes three and four a day) to create memorable sounds without getting any recognition.
Providing an equally entertaining harmony is its beautiful nostalgic trek. Anyone old enough to remember when tunes by Sonny & Cher, The Monkees, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Frank Sinatra, The Beach Boys and countless others ruled the airwaves will remember when and where they fell in love with this music.
Director Denny Tedesco started making the film a decade ago when his father, guitar player extraordinaire Tommy Tedesco, was diagnosed with terminal cancer. What started out as a labor of love ended up being a compelling look behind the curtain of the music industry. The film never loses its heart.
The film is a musical archive of the music industry’s biggest — and least — known names: Tedesco, drummer Hal Blaine, bass player Carol Kaye, keyboard player Don Randi, keyboard player Leon Russell, saxophonist Plas Johnson and others. There’s no definitive number to how many performers made up the Wrecking Crew (a nickname given the session players), but many are featured either in interviews or archival footage.
Like a beautiful song, Tedesco weaves together the history, personal stories and tributes by well-known performers like Cher, Nancy Sinatra and Mickey Dolenz.
It would have been easy, as in the case of Dolenz and The Monkees, to shy away from talking about how the session players were the real musical force behind the group. Yet, this film is not an indictment of the music industry. It’s a sweet and loving salute to the industry’s most unsung heroes.
Todesco was smart enough in his direction to let the players finally have their say. It’s like being allowed to be part of a secret musical society where the members talk about their passion for music as if it was a living being.
The only flaw: Unless you’re a music historian, it’s a little difficult to keep up with where the story is chronologically. It would have been nice to have a date for some of the footage to know when these recording sessions were happening. But that’s so small it’s like one note being misplayed in a full orchestral performance.
This is a Fresno Filmworks screening at 5:30 and 8:45 p.m. Friday, May 8, only. Go see the film both to pay a small tribute to these musical giants and for a sweet reminder of the days when the music they made helped us fall in love.