Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Wrecking Crew - Part 2

I have ALWAYS stood in admiration of the TREMENDOUS amount of talent that went into the recording of some of the most popular music made during what WE call The FORGOTTEN HITS Era. That INCREDBILE, "behind the scenes" band of studio musicians are FINALLY getting their due, thanks to a brand new film documentary called THE WRECKING CREW.

Those of you who followed our recent PHIL SPECTOR Series already know that we've given this team of cracker-jack studio musicians a fair amount of attention recently ... we've ALSO spotlighted their efforts in earlier articles surrounding the music of THE BEACH BOYS, THE MONKEES, THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS, GLEN CAMPBELL and many others. PHIL SPECTOR seems to be the guy who's been given the MOST credit over the years for originally assembling this team of musicians as THESE are the artists that he used during his infamous Wall Of Sound Recording Sessions of the early '60's. And, quite honestly, based on all that I've ever read about these guys ... from PHIL SPECTOR to THE BEACH BOYS ... to THE MONKEES ... to THE MAMAS AND THE PAPAS ... to GLEN CAMPBELL ... and to dozens of OTHER artists who had hit after hit after hit back in the '60's, to the best of MY knowledge they were ALWAYS known as THE WRECKING CREW ... this seemed to be the way that EVERYBODY referred to them ... and, quite honestly, EVERYBODY who was ANYBODY back in the '60's wanted to work with these guys!!!

However, several months ago I received an email from PRESTON RITTER, the original drummer for THE ELECTRIC PRUNES, that made me begin to wonder about the origin of this legendary team of musicians ... and, in particular, their "WRECKING CREW" name:

Hi Kent,
In the last few comments pages, I've seen reference made to the West Coast studio musicians, known as "The Wrecking Crew." I spent some time with Carol Kaye, the #1 recorded bassist (she's a guitarist, as well) last month. We were talking about the "old days" and she mentioned that drummer, Hal Blaine was mad at her. I asked "Why?" She said that the name, "The Wrecking Crew" was something Hal Blaine made up in the 80s. He was upset that she "let the truth out, regarding that nickname." She said, back when they were all making all the hit records, they were never known by that name. She said there were about 400 musicians, all working in various combinations in the studios back then. Hal invented the name "Wrecking Crew" many years later and wrote a book by that title (which I have).
Carol is a fascinating lady to talk to, since she was the #1 bassist in L.A. in the late 50s through the early 70s. She has a great sense of humor as well. She lives about 15 minutes away from my home and makes a living teaching bass and guitar. Her favorite drummer, from those days in the studio, was Earl Palmer, with whom she remains in touch. She was on approximately 10,000 recordings! Her bio with many of the hit records and TV shows she played on is on her web site:

I know this info isn't particularly important, but since accuracy is important for history, I thought this should be mentioned, as it comes straight from the "horses mouth," as they say. I worked with Carol back in the mid-sixties on some sessions myself. It was great to see her again after so many years. My friend, Sandy Nelson also worked with her, since she played Fender bass on some of his recordings.

Well, PRESTON, as you know, FORGOTTEN HITS is ALL about presenting THE MOST ACCURATE TRUTH we can, based on the information and recollections made available to us ... so your email got me to thinking ...

I was familiar with HAL BLAINE's book (and most of the legendary musicians who helped to make up the so-called WRECKING CREW) ... but I seem to remember them ALWAYS having been referred to that way … for as long as the “average music fans” knew about them anyway, regarding who it was behind the scenes creating all those great sounds! (Certainly it's been well-documented that BRIAN WILSON wanted to work with THE WRECKING CREW because THOSE were the guys who made PHIL SPECTOR's records sound so cool!!!) But, based on CAROL KAYE's assessment (as related in PRESTON RITTER's email), perhaps this is not really the case. Perhaps there was a little bit MORE to the story.

The PLUS was, we now have many of the musicians who were recording during this era on our FORGOTTEN HITS Mailing List ... which meant that I could ASK them!!! I also made it a point to re-read HAL BLAINE's book, just to be sure that I hadn't missed or forgotten anything over the years.

In his book, HAL BLAINE AND THE WRECKING CREW: THE STORY OF THE WORLD’S MOST RECORDED MUSICIAN, HAL refers to this team of musicians this way:

“As for our nickname, The Wrecking Crew, it came about because that was the impression we gave the older musicians. The established studio musicians always wore their blue blazers and neckties and always cleaned their ashtrays after a date. We were the new guys, and we dressed as we lived – in Levi’s and T-Shirts. We were informal and spontaneous, and a lot of the old hands thought we were wrecking the music industry.”

BLAINE goes on to name some of the “key” players who made up THE WRECKING CREW:

“Carol Kaye and Ray Pohlman on Fender basses; Lyle Ritz and Jimmy Bond on upright basses; Tommy Tedesco, Barney Kessel, Howard Roberts, Glen Campbell and Bill Pitman on guitars; Don Randi, Leon Russell, Larry Knechtel, Michael Melvoin and Al DeLory on pianos; Earl Palmer (along with BLAINE) on drums; Steve Douglas and Nino Tempo on sax; Jay Migliori and Roy Caton on trumpet along with other horn men like Ollie Mitchell, Tony Terran, Virgil Evans, Lou Blackburn.” (EDITOR’s NOTE: Another name that comes up all the time is BILLY STRANGE.)

PRESTON mentioned above that CAROL KAYE appeared on over 10,000 records … BLAINE’s book claims he’s done THREE TIMES that many recordings!!! (And, while CAROL says that HER favorite drummer was EARL PALMER, HAL BLAINE stated … about CAROL KAYE … that she was “a killer bass player who never let you down … we made such solid music together … I often thought that this was the woman I should have married.”)

Based on this revelation, I decided to contact a few of the artists who were there at the time to hear first hand what THEIR recollections were ... and I would LOVE to hear from a few more of you out there should this topic strike anybody's fancy.

As PRESTON said, let's get it as "Historically Accurate" as we possibly can. Meanwhile, you can still order a copy of BLAINE's book, THE WRECKING CREW, through AMAZON.COM:

Click here: Amazon.com: Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew: The Story of the World's Most Recorded Musician: Books: Hal Blaine,M


We are VERY fortunate to have on our list of FORGOTTEN HITS Readers some of the artists who worked first-hand with THE WRECKING CREW back at a time when their music literally SATURATED the radio airwaves. Here are just some of those memories that we're now able to share:

As far as I recall, they were just INDIVIDUALLY known. Sonny Bono, Hal Blaine, Tommy Tedesco, Bill Pitman, Carol Kaye, Steve Douglas, Leon Russell, etc. There was also an east coast band that recorded at Mirasound in NYC engineered by Bill Macmeekan(sp?)

-- Al Kooper


No, they were not known as the Wrecking Crew at the time Dino, Desi & Billy first met and worked with them. But they were known as being the top session musicians in town; and I don't know exactly where or how they got their name, sorry.We always thought we would be recording our own songs on our own instruments since we really could play. It came as a total shock and surprise when we were told that studio musicians would be hired to do the recording, though we were invited to attend the sessions! Dino, Desi & Billy's very first session was produced by Jimmy Bowen and it included Jerry Cole on guitar, but I don't recall who was on drums or bass. The songs were "Since You Broke My Heart" and "We Know." Though we appeared on the Hollywood Palace TV show in 1964 to promote it, the song was not a hit. It wasn't until Jimmy Bowen turned the Producer duties over to Lee Hazlewood (though Jimmy was Executive Producer) that we had our first bona-fide hit with "I'm a Fool" / "So Many Ways" in 1965. Earl Palmer was definitely on drums, James Burton was on electric 12-string guitar for sure, but I don't recall if it was Ray Pohlman or Carol Kaye on bass. There was a percussionist on jawbone who might have been Jack Nietsche (sp ?). Don't forget, since we were only a 3-piece band, there weren't that many musicians on the date so as to SOUND like it was only a trio. When "I'm a Fool" became a smash hit for us, we went back into the studio to make our first album. It was at that time that I met more of the studio musicians who later became known as The Wrecking Crew: Hal Blaine, Don Randi, Barnie Kessel, Billy Strange, Al Casey, Tommy TeDesco, Mike Rubini, etc. This is all to the best of my recollection. Of all the players, I still see James Burton, Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye and Don Randi on occasion.
Hope this helps,
Billy Hinsche
(Dino, Desi and Billy)


I listened to these various Phil Spector cuts. Brian Wilson ADORED Phil Spector, even before he, BW, got up and running in the music biz. NOW I KNOW why Brian Wilson's Wrecking Crew sounds somewhat similar to the Wall of Sound approach. Brian emulated (and of course made his own unique style) the Phil Spector approach, some of his arrangement tricks, the echo-ey ambience, etc. Brian Wilson had his own unique evolutions, twists, plus his MELODIES and HARMONIES and vocal-instrumental arrangements are pop-rock classics. I guess the Wrecking Crew was mostly a West Coast or LA outfit, and I guess either the CREW would travel to the East Coast, or Phil Spector would travel to the West Coast. That was the probable explanation of how they worked together, logistically and spatially and geographically. Great stuff for folks who are into music writing, arranging, etc. I LEARN something new everyday from you and your newsletters.

Wow. Talk about 'timing.' Just got this a few moments ago in the mail. Back at you regarding when the 'name' came about.
Fred Vail

The Eagerly Anticipated Film Has Been Selected For Screening At The Upcoming South By Southwest (SXSW), Buffalo And Nashville Film Festivals
Howard Roberts and Tommy Tedesco, world-renowned guitarists who contributed to the founding of Hollywood’s Musicians Institute, are among the many L.A.-based session musicians profiled in The Wrecking Crew, a documentary film currently under development by producer (and Tommy’s son) Denny Tedesco. In recalling the golden years of the L.A. recording studio scene, Denny Tedesco tells the story of the A-listers who performed on thousands of records, film and television soundtracks that comprised a virtual soundtrack of ‘60s popular culture. Tommy Tedesco (who died in 1997) and Roberts (who died in 1992) were among the legendary players in the Crew who supplied the music for the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, the Monkees, Sonny & Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, Frank and Nancy Sinatra, and dozens of other pop icons. In the era before home studios and sampling, the booming recording industry demanded musicians who could read and play any style of music on cue, and the Wrecking Crew filled the bill. Racing across LA from one studio to the next, the Crew could shift gears in a single day from rock albums to orchestral film scores to jazz arrangements to cartoon soundtracks, routinely turning out multiple finished tracks in a single three-hour session.“The story of the Wrecking Crew is a picture of a unique moment in American musical history,” says Tedesco. “Like the musicians of Motown, Memphis and Nashville, these were the unsung heroes of popular music. They were as integral to the success of those records as the singers – most people never knew their names, but they knew their music note-for-note.”The singers agree; Nancy Sinatra states, “I think they were the best musicians in the country, then and now. Brilliant technique, execution and feel…and they could READ!” In later years, Roberts turned his vast musical experience and educational philosophy into the foundation for MI’s world-renowned professional music curriculum, while Tedesco and other members of the Crew appeared regularly to share their unique career perspectives in seminars and classes.The Wrecking Crew has been selected for screenings at the upcoming South By Southwest (SXSW) (March 7-15), Buffalo (March 24-29) and Nashville (April 17-24) film festivals. The documentary has received rave reviews at previous festival screenings, but wider distribution hinges on finalizing clearances for the dozens of hit songs included in the film. “We’re in the final process of nailing down funds, “said Tedesco. “If there are investors, we’re still taking calls.” To learn more about The Wrecking Crew, visit
www.wreckingcrew.tv .
Yes, this is the film that we talked about yesterday ... I had hoped to make The Nashville Film Festival showing but, as I mentioned earlier, was unable to attend. We're still trying to gather more information as to when and where this film may be available for mass viewing and, as soon as we know something for sure, we'll be happy to let the rest of the list know as well!!!
It appears that it will 'debut' in three cities at three different festivals. A lot of these films don't make it to general distribution but are shown at colleges, universities, and trade events. I remember that the film about Tom Dowd was shown at Vanderbilt University here, if I recall.
Thanks to HENRY GROSS (who just happened to be one of the judges at this year's Nashville Film Festival ... and then performed at the Super Star "After Party" ... and who then filed a review of the film and party event EXCLUSIVELY for FORGOTTEN HITS yesterday), I had the pleasure of speaking with DENNY TEDESCO last night ... keep checking back with these FORGOTTEN HITS Pages as I'm looking forward to receiving more film updates from DENNY himself in the days to come! Our readers will be amongst the first to know when, where and how they can see this high profile film.

When contacting some of the artists on the list, I put together a series of questions in an effort to "ease" the narrowing down process:

KENT KOTAL: Were these musicians known as The Wrecking Crew in the industry at the time?
RICHIE ROTKIN of THE RIP CHORDS: Hi Kent! No,they were not. They were A-list Musicians,who were known during that era for playing on just about everybody’s records. Hal Blaine was the contractor as well as the Drummer for the majority of the sessions.

KK: Any idea WHERE the name came from?
RR: You'll have to read Hal Blaine's book, where he explains that. I think it had something to do with "wrecking" a band, because they got to play on the records instead of most of the actual band members back then.

KK: I think about that GREAT MOTOWN piece (STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN) that came out a few years ago spotlighting THE FUNK BROTHERS ... some of the TOP musicians of their day ... who got virtually NO recognition at the time for the sound they created to MAKE those records the mammoth hits that they became. Yet (on a similar note) did ANYBODY refer to them as THE FUNK BROTHERS at the time??? Just curious as to your thoughts on this. Do you have any recollections you can share???
RR: I think that name was given to them later on. They were on tour recently with guest vocalists and they still had that magic!

KK: Thanks!!!
RR: My pleasure Kent. I love the newsletter!

Former RIP CHORDS Musical Director BOB RUSH told me that he would try to get answers to my questions from AL JARDINE, a member of THE BEACH BOYS at the time of all of these great recordings. Unfortunately, AL was away on vacation when BOB tried to contact him .. and we never did hear anything back. Perhaps now that we've got this up on The Blog, some of the OTHER artists who were recording at this time will contact us ... if and when they do, you can be sure that we will update this piece. Meanwhile, here's what I sent to BOB ...

KENT KOTAL: Although we have ALWAYS known them as such, I recently read an article that states that back AT THE TIME, SPECTOR's stable of studio musicians was NOT called THE WRECKING CREW ... that label didn't, in fact, come until the '80's when Drummer HAL BLAINE named them that!!! To the best of my recollection, EVERYBODY referred to them that way throughout musical history ... it was important, for example, for BRIAN WILSON to recruit THE WRECKING CREW for many of THE BEACH BOYS' recording sessions ... and even HE referred to them that way ... yet this NEW revelation causes me to wonder ...
First of all, were they known that way in the industry at the time???
BOB RUSH: Interesting question! Al is away on vacation but when we talk I will ask him if he knows.

KK: Secondly, any idea WHERE the name came from?
BR: I think that's in Hal's book, but I forget and hope to find out (maybe from Carol?) Another great question!

KK: I think about that GREAT MOTOWN piece that came out a few years ago spotlighting THE FUNK BROTHERS ... some of the TOP musicians of their day ... who got virtually NO recognition at the time for the sound they created to MAKE those records the mammoth hits that they became. Yet (on a similar note) did ANYBODY refer to them as THE FUNK BROTHERS at the time???
BR: Yes! They referred to themselves as The Funk Brothers. They were, like most studio cats, not discussed. There was also a female b/u group (ever notice how the Four Tops sound a lot like women on some songs??!), The Andantes (I believe that's Spanish for "secret")! c/o www.BankHouseBooks.com I did an interview with bassist Bob Babbitt - helluva good guy!
KK: Ironically, I just read a little bit about THE ANDANTES in the new FLORENCE BALLARD book ... not much info to go on, but an interesting tie-in. And, DENNY TEDESCO told me yesterday that BOB BABBITT was also in attendance for The Nashville Film Screening ... and just look at how successful that STANDING IN THE SHADOWS OF MOTOWN Film was!!! No question that there is DEFINITELY a market out there for a film like this WRECKING CREW project ... and a VERY excited audience is waiting for THEIR chance to see it, too. Thanks, Bob!

And then THIS just in from the legendary guitarist DAVIE ALLAN, MR. FUZZ Himself!!!

Regarding "The Wrecking Crew", I realize this is smal potatoes compared to all the hits they were on but I did many sessions with them including a few of the soundtracks (while my drummer engineered) including "Devil's Angels", "Thunder Alley", "The Glory Stompers" and "Wild In The Streets".
Davie Allan

Thanks, DAVIE ... my hope is that OTHER musicians who attended some of these sessions will ALSO share those memories with our FORGOTTEN HITS Readers. Just simply email me at either forgottenhits@aol.com OR kk@forgottenhits.com ... and we'll post YOUR memories on our brand new FORGOTTEN HITS Blog Page. (And DENNY ... if ANY of the guys who attended the film screening would like to share a memory or two, PLEASE have them contact me!!!)



GLEN CAMPBELL tells the story (in his autobiography RHINESTONE COWBOY) about the time he was asked to play guitar on FRANK SINATRA's legendary recording session for his #1 Comeback Hit, STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT. (We've related this story once or twice before ... but it's SUCH a goodie ... and ties in so well with our WRECKING CREW Series today ... that I couldn't resist telling it one more time!) CAMPBELL remembers the excitement he felt when Producer Extraordinaire JIMMY BOWEN asked him to play on the session:

"One of my earliest thrills came when Bowen called for me to play rhythm guitar in a Frank Sinatra session. I had been in Hollywood about three years, but there was still more Arkansas than California in me. I was one of four guitarists and the only one to play in E-Flat with a capo. 'Strangers In The Night" was to become a classic. We rehearsed the song fifteen times before Sinatra arrived. We recorded only three versions or 'takes' when Bowen stopped the session and selected the first rendition. The multi-million-copy version of that song was recorded on the first take!

"There were perhaps thirty musicians in the studio that day, including a string section, so who should wind up standing right next to Sinatra's singing booth? Me!

"I couldn't take my eyes off him. I couldn't believe that I was in the same room, much less that I was playing for him. Each time I looked at him, he was looking at me. I thought that he was impressed with my playing and that he was taking note that I was the only guitarist using a capo. I was positive I had impressed him, particularly after I saw him talking to Bowen and looking in my direction after the session.

"'Bowen,' I asked, 'was Frank talking about me?'"

"'Yes,' Bowen replied."

"'What did he say?' I asked anxiously."

"'He wanted to know who the fag guitar player was. Frank said you never stopped looking at him and he thought you were lusting.'"

Lol ... GREAT stuff!!!