Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

The Talented, Unsung Wrecking Crew

A shocking number of big-hit sounds from the 1960s and 1970s weren’t produced by the artists featured on the album cover. They were largely the artistic creation of unsung studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew.

Wrecking-Crew-Denny-Tedesco-Interview-TOC-3Iconic sounds in hits such as “Good Vibrations,” “These Boots Are Made for Walkin'” and “The Beat Goes On” originated with sidemen, not marquee artists. Sometimes the big name wasn’t even in the studio when memorable riffs were created and laid down on tracks.

Denny Tedesco, whose father, Tommy Tedesco, was a member of the Wrecking Crew, has produced and directed a documentary that gives these talented musicians a portion of their due for making some of the best rock and roll music ever recorded.

Good VibrationsTedesco said the side men – and Carol Kaye, a homemaker with a love of the guitar – never chafed that others, including some with much less talent, got the credit and acclaim for their brilliant work. “My dad was thrilled to make a living at guitar,” he said.

Denny had produced a 14-minute film about the Wrecking Crew, but decided to turn it into a full-fledged documentary when his father was diagnosed with cancer. Tedesco said many of the recording artists, such as Cher, were eager to lend their voice to the documentary. He noted that record companies, which hold licenses to the more than 100 songs the Wrecking Crew worked on that are played in the documentary, have been very supportive of the project.

We’ve grown accustomed to Pretty Boy Bands, but it still surprises when you learn how many of the sounds of your youth came from the guitars, drums and horns of people whose name never showed up on the album cover credits.

Nancy SinatraThe list of phantom credits is staggering. So is the range of work the Wrecking Crew performed. Paul Revere and the Raiders, Glen Campbell, Tijuana Brass, Ike and Tina Turner, Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and the Papas, Sam Cooke, Righteous Brothers, the Chipmunks and even Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole.

Their songs ranged from the Beach Boys’ “California Girls” to the Ronette’s “Be My Baby” to the Defenders’ “Taco Wagon” to Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.”

Sonny and CherThe sounds they helped create defined a generation, such as Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco,” Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” Sonny and Cher’s “I Got You Babe” and the 5th Dimension’s “Let the Sunshine In.”

Many of their songs were makeup favorites: The Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me,” the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” Ritchie Valens’ “Donna” and the Association’s “Windy.”

The music scored our wild sides with the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel,” Jan and Dean’s “Little Old Lady from Pasadena,” Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” and Henry Mancini’s theme from the “Pink Panther.”

And there were songs that shattered shibboleths such as Gary Lewis and the Playboys’ “Everybody Loves a Clown.” (I wish they did.)

Who knew? Apparently, everyone in the music industry, except maybe Dick Clark. The musical wizards behind the curtain weren’t a secret, just an invisible prop. They got paid while others became famous and everyone was happy. They were all just “California Dreaming'” – yes, that one, too.

carolkaye_1974-libTedesco’s film, which he is still trying to raise money to circulate, isn’t cast as a tell-all storyline. It simply let’s the music speak for itself and for those who played a key behind-the-scenes role in creating it.

The documentary is meant as a pleasant musical journey through a great time in history when almost everyone listened to the radio and knew the latest sound, like the Byrds’s version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” or the theme from “Mission Impossible.” It is a journey Glen Campbell could describe as “Gentle on My Mind” – yep, that one, too.


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