Open any page of Kent Hartman’s hit-soaked history The Wrecking Crew [wreckingcrewbook.com] (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s $25.99) and you’ll find some kinda sound nugget:
The Byrds’ David Crosby introducing The Beatles’ George Harrison to the sitar (which he then used on Rubber Soul’s “Norwegian Wood”) despite just months earlier being aced out of his own rhythm guitar part by a session musician in the recording of “Mr. Tambourine Man”. (That wouldn’t happen to The Byrds again.)
The Monkees’ Mike Nesmith putting his fist through a hotel room wall after famed producer Don Kirshner refused to let him (or the rest of the band) write their own music or play their own instruments; then saying “That could have been your face, motherfucker.”
The Ray Charles Orchestra’s bus being stopped by a phalanx of Birmingham cops outside of the Garrett Coliseum at the height of the civil rights fights, insisting the (almost) all black band give up the lone “white boy” Don Peake because “race mixing” was against the law (and Charles deftly fooling the Southern Crackers by countering that Peake was “Spanish”.)
I could go on (and on), but then I’d have to forsake mention of the songs themselves, and if The Wrecking Crew did one thing in the world it was delivering songs.
And oh what songs: “Be My Baby” (for The Ronettes), “California Dreaming” (for the Mamas and the Papas), “Up, Up and Away” (for the 5th Dimension), “I Got You Babe” (for Sonny and Cher), not to mention “Strangers in the Night” (for Frank Sinatra) and “Everybody Loves Somebody” (for Dean Martin) — (which gave renewed relevance to both) — as well as virtually everything that came under the name of The Grass Roots, The Monkees, The Partridge Family and The Beach Boys (including the seminal classic Pet Sounds). Not only did The Wrecking Crew play every note on every one of the aforementioned (and then some), but they often also tricked out the track in ways that would propel it to Number 1 in the first place (i.e. Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made for Walkin’”and Sonny and Cher’s “The Beat Goes On”, each of which benefitted from a bopping bass line by Carol Kaye, the sole female of the Crew).
In case you haven’t guessed by now, The Wrecking Crew were an extended group of studio musicians operating in L.A. when rock ‘n’ roll was still in its infancy (and most rock ‘n’ rollers looked better than they played). Responsible for more chart-toppers than any other outfit before or since, The Crew were a producer’s secret weapon, and for the most part remained secret to the record-buying public as well. In fact, while some of the members went on to become famous in their own right (most notably Glen Campbell, Leon Russell and Dr. John), most of the Crew remained in the studio lights, rather than the limelight.
Now though all of the Wrecking Crew is getting its due. Not only has Hartmann delivered this copiously-researched and engrossingly-readable homage to the set of sidemen (and woman), but pivotal Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco’s son Denny Tedesco recently put to screen a full-length (and widely-applauded) documentary on his father and his aurally influential friends. (I’ve not yet seen the film, but it looks dynamite.) Granted The New York Times says Hartmann’’s “hagiography… has the glib but potent excitement of a collection of greatest hits”, it’s just that kinda AM Radio glibness that propelled the world the Crew so wonderfully Wrecked, and which makes this remembering such a fun-for-all. And why shouldn’t one have some fun dancing down Memory Lane anyway?