Tuesday, March 29, 2011


A week or so ago, I went back and forth with a guy I know in the comments section of a recent post. He turned me on to a site about the Wrecking Crew, the elite crew of LA studio aces used in a whole lot of 60's hits, and a huge part of Spector's Wall of Sound. If it sounds like a boring subject, consider drummer Hal Blaine's quote, from the trailer of a recent documentary: "We came into the studio, with Levis and T-shirts, smoking cigarettes, and the older guys said 'They're going to wreck the music business'." They were upstarts, young studio hot shots, right at the time the music industry moved west. Just a partial list of Wrecking Crew members included Glen Campbell, Barney Kessel, Tommy Tedesco, Al Casey, Billy Strange, James Burton, Jerry Cole, Carol Kaye, Leon Russell, Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), Hal Blaine, Earl Palmer, and Jim Gordon.

Clockwise, from top left: Tommy Tedesco, Carol Kaye, Glen Campbell and Hal Blaine

They were on tons of records that you know well, very well. Everything from Sonny & Cher, all of Phil Spector's stuff, the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, Herb Albert (they were the TJ Brass), the Monkees, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, Sam Cooke, Davie Allan (!), the Mamas and Papas, the Association, and a bunch of faceless instrumental bands (among them, the Marketts, and the T-Bones), and that's just a few. Their discography is mindblowingly immense (for a sample, see bassist Carol Kaye's discography here). If you're at all into unsung musicians, the story of the Wrecking Crew is quite a different tack than the "born in a log cabin, died penniless" thing. Though rarely listed on album credits, they did more than alright. Carol Kaye said that one year she did so much session work, she pulled in more than the President of the United States. But you never heard of her, right? Now you have.

There's a few links below that go into detail about their entire history, and the one thing that's remarkable is that, to many of them, the hit making was just a job. Denny Tedesco, son of Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, said that his dad would get a call from a producer and be off to the studio, without any fanfare. He had no idea the number of hits that his dad played on. And a clip at YouTube relates how guitarist Billy Strange got the call for the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" session, but had to pick up his kid. So, he picked up his kid, stopped by a music store to buy a twelve string that was needed, and showed up, kid in tow. After the session, Brian Wilson paid him $500 and paid for the guitar. A neat divergence is the "Behind the Sounds" channel at YouTube, where someone has posted annotated videos, describing the recording process of several of the cuts from the Beach Boy's Pet Sounds LP, with the Wrecking Crew. All sorts of oddball factoid text rolls while you listen to outtakes, including who played what, and who muffed what take. Pet Sounds was recorded at Western Recorders with Brian Wilson arranging and producing, while the rest of the Beach Boys were dilly-dallying on tour in Europe.

While most of the songs below are probably bordering on the overly familiar, you ought to listen to a few back to back, and dig how the faceless hit machine worked. Sure, Phil Spector, Jack Nitzsche, Brian Wilson and Lee Hazelwood (and other legendary producers and arrangers of the time) all heard sounds in their heads. But, would the string of hits have happened without the top notch talents of the Wrecking Crew? They were the consummate studio musicians. Frank Sinatra's "Strangers In the Night" was rehearsed 15 times before Sinatra showed up at the studio. Once Sinatra stepped up, there were only three takes recorded. And the first take was the one that became the hit. Yeah, just another day at the office.

The Ronettes - Be My Baby mp3 at Love My Oldies
The Crystals - And Then He Kissed Me mp3 at The Cadillac of Winter
Sonny & Cher - The Beat Goes On mp3 at The Brother Love
The Beach Boys - Wouldn't It Be Nice mp3 at St Kilians1966
The Monkees - I'm A Believer mp3 at Songs You Need To Know
Nancy Sinatra - These Boots Are Made For Walking mp3 at Beware of the Blog
Sam Cooke - Another Saturday Night mp3 at Sound Salvation Army
Elvis Presley - I Can't Help Falling In Love With You mp3 at North and Nadine
Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass- Casino Royale mp3 at Time Travel Is Possible
The Fifth Dimension - Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In mp3 at KLG.CPS.com
The Mamas and Papas - California Dreamin' mp3 at Ock Stomping Meteorock
Frank Sinatra - Strangers In The Night mp3 at Blue Moon Bar
More info:
The Wrecking Crew - Documentary site
Excellent, lengthy feature at American Heritage
The Wrecking Crew at Wikipedia
The Forgotten 60's - Various Wrecking Crew anecdotes
Behind the Sounds channel at YouTube
Carol Kaye's discography as bassist
Other posts about studios & producers:
The Sound Of Studio One
Produced By Jack Nitzsche
Give The Producer Some
Don't Know Jim Dickinson?

Special thanks to Tim LaMadrid, for the nudge.


Steve Stelling said...

I just found this and thought a comment or update might be worth throwing your way: http://www.willardswormholes.com/archives/19741, It's a fan-assembled CD mix of Wrecking Crew work. I haven't checked into the accuracy but either way, it's chock full of veritably great stuff. Peace and Bon Appetite

Tom G. said...

A belated thanks for the heads up Steve, that's a great cross section.