Sunday, June 1, 2008

Forgotten Hits Interviews Denny Tedesco

DENNY TEDESCO may have spent a good portion of his life growing up as "The Son of Famed Guitarist TOMMY TEDESCO" ... but I've got a feeling that once word gets out about his brand new film documentary spotlighting not only the career of his father but ALL of the guys who made up the Legendary WRECKING CREW ... probably the most FAMOUS group of studio musicians EVER assembled ... he'll soon be known in his OWN right as Film Maker Extraordinaire DENNY TEDESCO!!! THE WRECKING CREW is an EXCELLENT film documentary, coming at a time when film documentaries seem to be back in fashion again, earning both the respect of the movie fans along with MANY awards of the movie industry ... and THIS one just happens to profile a topic and music era that's been VERY near and dear to OUR hearts for AGES now.
Is it for EVERYBODY??? No, probably not. Let's face it ... there's nothing politically incorrect or controversial about it ... nobody mentions anything about global warning ... or froze off any limbs while filming the rituals of its subject matter ... and, to the best of my knowledge, nobody ate ... and then regurgitated ... SO many hamburgers that a percentage of the film's potential profits had to be mopped up off the floor between takes ... but for us music aficionados, it's the film that we've all been WAITING for ... FINALLY giving credit to the many musicians behind the scenes who recorded the most popular music of the 1960's.
You can read OUR review of this hot new film in yesterday's FORGOTTEN HITS posting ... and today DENNY has agreed to talk with us about what it was like growing up during this exciting musical era ... and putting together this EXCEPTIONAL film paying homage to these unsung musical heroes.

FORGOTTEN HITS: How aware were you, growing up as a kid, as to the extent your father was involved in the music business? (Obviously, looking back at it now, even YOU have to be COMPLETELY astounded by the sheer VOLUME of hits he was involved with ... but how aware were you at the time?)
DENNY TEDESCO: I really didn't think my dad was doing anything different than other dads. He just went to work like everyone else. I never comprehended the amount of recordings he did until the last few years. You look at those work books and realize, "wow, he was busy".

It wasn't until many years later that I realized what projects he was actually on.

FH: Was THE WRECKING CREW a tight-knit bunch at the time? Did they "hang out" together outside of the studio, too ... or were they simply too busy working?

DT: The only hanging out they did was probably at work. At least for my father. They spent more time with each other than with their own families and that was in the studios. My father's extra activities included Gin Rummy. So he spent many of late hours and early mornings with one of his best friends, Producer Snuff Garrett. They could play for days. They would bet on anything. It didn't matter what the circumstances were, it was all about the bet. Snuff said that they would bet on where a rain drop would hit.

FH: There seems to be an underlying theme in everything I've read about these guys that they didn't DARE turn down a session for fear they might not be asked to the NEXT one!!!
DT: Turning down work??? ... Never!!! Only if he was too busy and couldn't do it. There was also a unwritten rule. Never tell the answering service or anyone that you were on vacation. You just told them that you were already booked.

FH: What about the recording artists themselves? Did the musicians form friendships and bonds with any of these artists? Who were some of the folks who might have stopped by YOUR house growing up as a kid?
DT: My Dad really didn't hang out with the stars. He went to work and came home. The musicians would come over for card games or parties but not the artists. I would occasionally go to sessions when school was out, but that was usually pretty boring. I remember going to TV scorings like The Six Million Dollar Man or CHIPS, but it was pretty boring for a kid. Not knowing that some of the musicians in the room were some of the greatest in the world. Guys like Shelly Mann would be playing drums or Emil Richards on percussion.

FH: From all that's been written, this was a VERY lucrative business back then ... HAL BLAINE implies that he's made (and lost) MILLIONS over the years ... who were some of the artists that your Dad enjoyed working with the most? (Maybe the biggest tippers?!?!? lol)
DT: My dad loved working with people like Sinatra, Streisand, and Elvis. Frank and Barbra were his favorite singers and they treated the musicians with respect. So did Elvis, who always catered lunches. It always came back to food with my father. It was a lucrative business and we were the lucky ones. My parents stayed together and my father continued working into the 80s with film work. So he created a pension which is something I can't say is possible for many of us today. The musicians union was strong at the time.

FH: What are some of YOUR favorite recordings from this era ... and why? (For me, one of the highlights of the film was that little flamingo guitar segment on the GARY LEWIS AND THE PLAYBOYS track SURE GONNA MISS HER ... NOBODY could touch that thing!!! lol)
DT: When my father played Gut String or classical guitar, he always gave more than anyone ever expected. You always can hear those fills of his. You hear his work on "Up Up and Away" as well as the opening of Elvis's "Memories". It starts off all guitar and then Elvis starts singing. One of the last songs that I added to the film was, Ray Charles singing, "It Ain't Easy Being Green". I just found out recently that Ray wanted strings to play behind him, but my father during rehearsal started to play his guitar and Ray stopped the session. He decided to use the guitar instead of the strings. My father played until he saw smiles. That day Ray, gave him a smile.

FH: Looking at some of the interview footage, it appears that this project has been in the works for some time now ... maybe 10-12 years ... is this accurate? When did the concept of putting this film together first come to light?
DT: I started the project when my father was diagnosed with Cancer in 1995, and I knew time wasn't with us. I decided to go forward and start filming. We had already lost Ray Pohlman on Bass and Steve Douglas on Sax. So I wanted to make sure I started recording my father's history as well as the others.

FH: What were some of the obstacles that you ran into along the way?
DT: 12 years ago, I started the project in 16mm film. I really had this vision that I wanted it to look a certain way and video of the time wasn't going to give it to me. But it was expensive and sooner or later, the video formats got better. Or at least the formats that I could afford. I regret not filming my father on any format. I should have kept asking him questions. Even a cassette would have been great.

FH: What was the hardest part about making this film?
DT: Not giving Up. I had a 14 minute piece that everyone thought was great, but no one would give me money to continue. So we had to do it ourselves. Thank God for my wife, who is also my producer. She urged me to continue as well as my other friends and producers, Jon and Mitchell.

FH: Are the members of The Wrecking Crew happy to finally hear their story told? Are they all still on pretty good terms? Are ANY of them still working today on sessions?
DT: I've gotten some wonderful feedback from all of them. Many have had tears in their eyes at public functions. The hardest part is not being able to put everyone in the film. I wasn't able to interview Larry Knechtel, Lyle Ritz, or Mike Deasy until Nashville. So the DVD is going to be packed with new extras that were not part of the original film. They all should be remembered and heard. Regarding work, Larry Knechtel is playing with the Dixie Chicks. That's amazing and Glen Campbell is coming out with a new album for EMI, called, "Meet Glen Campbell". That's amazing. I don't care what age you are, you can still produce at any age.

FH: Several of the artists who made some of these great recordings are interviewed during the course of the film: BRIAN WILSON, MICKY DOLENZ, NANCY SINATRA, CHER, GLEN CAMPBELL, HERB ALPERT, ROGER McGUINN, GARY LEWIS ... the recording artists involved seemed to genuinely enjoy participating in sharing their memories and reflections ... obviously, these behind-the-scenes musicians were "instrumentally" responsible for making their careers. Were there any other artists that you would have liked to include in the film but, for one reason or another, were unable to do so?
DT: I tried to get a few current artists that I know that were influenced by these folks but I could never get past their managers or agents. In some ways, I'm glad. It's better this way.

FH: I think it's great that additional footage is still being assembled ... the "theatrical version" that I saw is outstanding ... but these NEW snippets will make for EXCELLENT viewing as DVD extras. (How cool would it be to capture The Wrecking Crew NOW ... jamming at one of the Film Festival "After Parties"?!?!?!) You mentioned earlier the passing of a few members of The Wrecking Crew prior to the making of this film ... and, I believe a few others have passed on since this project first got under way, including your own father. It DOES seem that this film REALLY needed to be made NOW. I imagine that it had to be difficult in the editing stages, watching some of that footage that included your dad.
DT: To be honest, I thought it would be very difficult to carry on, but it was the opposite. It felt like he never left. Someone gave me an unedited radio interview a couple of months before he passed. I had never heard it before and something made him cry in the interview. That was hard to hear him like that. Very vulnerable.

FH: What other types of "extras" can we expect on the DVD release? Certainly there always seems to be film footage that never makes it past the cutting room floor. Was there more footage that you would have liked to include in the film? Any chance that some of this material will find its way to a DVD release?
DT: Absolutely. As I said earlier, I'm still interviewing guys. My editor Claire kept telling me to stop shooting. Her concern was and rightly so is the fact that you can't fall in love with these characters if they're only on for 20 seconds and gone. So having 40 interviews is not a great way to approach it. Plus there were whole sections about the business at that time period but I had to drop it from the final cut. Producer Snuff Garrett was one of my favorite interviews and he was awesome. But that section got cut. It'll come back as well as a section about the Gold Star guys. Cutting down from over 2 hours to 95 minutes was torture. But that's why God gave us DVDs.

FH: I mentioned earlier the need for a soundtrack album properly crediting these musicians for the very first time. I would have to imagine that between the recording logs and union contracts (albeit with a GREAT amount of time and effort!) these sessions could be accurately reconstructed, FINALLY giving these great musicians their due. In addition, I'm sure there are TREMENDOUS licensing fees involved. What do you think the likelihood of putting together a fitting soundtrack are at this stage?
DT: I'm praying every day that we will be able to find a sound track album. Even if its shortened version, that would be fine. There are 120 songs in this movie. You'll know 110 of them. The others are jazz recordings or individual recordings from the participants themselves. 99.9% of the music has at least a few of the LA musicians involved. The only music that doesn't involve these guys is stock music that was connected to the footage that was licensed. At one point, I needed some Dixie land Music to play under Plas Johnson's bio. So I called Conrad Janis who I knew recorded many Dixieland albums. He says, "I have the perfect recording, it features Plas on Tenor." That was amazing. It was meant to be. When we do have a sound track album, I'll make sure that the credits list the musicians. At the end of the film, I've listed all the musicians that played on the songs from the film. I was able to get the names through the AFM. It took many months of research on their end.

FH: Was it difficult to secure the rights to the music?
DT: This was a major obstacle over the years. People saw that the sound track was going to be the major, major issue. People had ideas on how to get around it but some ideas were pure stupidity. One person who was a pop music writer who wanted to be involved in the film suggested we do 'sound a-likes'. I couldn't believe my ears. That would be like a Milli Vanilli on top of a Milli Vanilli. Others suggested that I pick the top 20 songs. That's impossible as well. The whole point of these guys was the fact that they went from Sinatra to the Chipmunks or from the Beach Boys to Frank Zappa. You had to show the quantity to feel the impact. Finally the record companies finally starting signing on. I know it's not Politically Correct to compliment the record labels, but I think most of them see that this is only good for the industry as well as for the label. Nobody wanted to be left out in the end. They're still going to make money and get the publicity.

FH: That is VERY encouraging to hear ... and, I feel, a VITAL part of the success of this project. I truly do believe that one will fuel the other. What are the future plans for the release of the film? Are you looking for more of a theatrical run or a straight to DVD release? How about something like one of those Pledge Night PBS Fundraisers? Where do things stand right now regarding distribution and release?
DT: Our goal is to build steam with the film festivals, which is working very well for us right now. If there would have been buyers in Nashville or Seattle, there would have been a bidding war. It was amazing. Once we find a distributor, we hope to go city by city as a small theatrical run and then either cable or PBS. Every city has an oldies outlet and it's an easy film to market. Before I hit the city, I paper the town with Posters and Postcards at every recording studio, music stores and record shops. I've been able to sell out the last five screenings. I have to prove to distributors that people want to see this. So the more people that sign up on the web-site, the better chance I have.

FH: Well, we can certainly encourage OUR music fans to do that ... and to catch one of the film screenings if it happens to be in
their area. You've got a big one coming up in Los Angeles this month, don't you?
DT: We'll be in Los Angeles for the Grand Performances which is free to the public on June 28th. It's a wonderful outdoor setting and it looks like we'll have some of our Wrecking Crew Members playing that evening. You can check on the web-site for that.

FH: That'd be great if some of our readers could get in for this showing ... and you can't beat the price ... it's FREE!!! (lol)
DT: It's festival seating so there won't be a problem. They've had 7500 people there for Inconvenient Truth. The big drag for me is not having enough seats for my family and friends. If you get there by 7pm, you should be fine. Bring a small chair or blanket. I hope people will understand the Festival Seating Idea. It's downtown in a wonderful setting between the buildings and fountain, but its BYOC (Chair) Then we just got accepted into the "Don't Knock The Rock Festival", in Los Angeles. I'm VERY excited about that! That'll be happening in the beginning of August. You'll see some great Rock Documentaries and films at that festival and we're just honored to be there. So keep checking the web-site, which is:

FH: I would love to see the LA premier ... but flying in with my own chair doesn't sound all that practical to me!!! (lol) Unless they'd let us use the floatation cushions from the airplane or something!!! But this August Rock Festival showing sounds REALLY cool ... perhaps we can fly in for that one ... maybe even get a few of our West Coast FH Readers to meet up with us there!
For more information on the June 28th festival, you can check out THIS link:

Thanks again, Denny, for taking the time to talk with us today ... and congratulations on making an EXCELLENT film!
DT: Thanks to you, Kent ... in fact, I can't thank you enough. Its guys like you that are going to get this film a home. Talk soon.