How The Wrecking Crew Secretly Recorded Some of the Biggest Hits of the 1960s & 70s

The top flight crew of L.A. stu­dio musi­cians known as The Wreck­ing Crew acquired their name, leg­end has it, because they “were wreck­ing the busi­ness for every­one else,” writes Janet Maslin at The New York Times­, mean­ing old­er ses­sion play­ers who couldn’t keep up. Drum­mers like Hal Blaine (“who jus­ti­fi­ably calls him­self ’10 of Your Favorite Drum­mers’ on his Web site”) and gui­tarists like Tom­my Tedesco and Car­ol Kaye could play any­thing put in front of them per­fect­ly, in one take, with the style and per­fect tim­ing that char­ac­ter­ize the absolute best rock, folk, pop, and soul of the 1960s.

With some excep­tions, this group kept a low pro­file and have only become known in sub­se­quent ret­ro­spec­tives that reveal just how much they con­tributed to the music of the era. The answer is: more than any­one sure­ly sus­pect­ed at the time. But “the Wreck­ing Crew was not sup­posed to attract atten­tion. Groups like the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Mon­kees and many oth­ers didn’t care to point out why they sound­ed so much bet­ter on records than on the road.”

Not only did mem­bers of the Crew “work mir­a­cles,” play­ing a “first-take, no-glitch ver­sion of ‘The Lit­tle Old Lady From Pasade­na,’” for exam­ple, but in many cas­es, they com­posed icon­ic parts with­out which songs like “The Beat Goes On” or “These Boots Were Made For Walk­ing” would prob­a­bly not have become hits.

“Nine times out of ten the pro­duc­er or arranger would tell us to use the charts as a guide, that’s all,” Blaine remem­bered. “We were encour­aged to go for it, to go beyond what had been writ­ten. We had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to cre­ate, to be a team of arrangers.”

Though most­ly unknown to lis­ten­ers, the cou­ple dozen or so musi­cians in this group of excep­tion­al per­form­ers did pro­duce two major stars, Leon Rus­sell and Glen Camp­bell, who toured with the Beach Boys in the mid-60s until he became a major super­star with the Jim­my Webb-penned songs “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichi­ta Line­man,” both record­ed, of course, with mem­bers of the Crew. They played on jazz records and record­ed icon­ic TV theme songs like The Twi­light Zone, Green Acres, Bonan­za, M*A*S*H*, Bat­man, Mis­sion: Impos­si­ble, and Hawaii Five‑O.

The only female mem­ber of the Crew, Car­ol Kaye, was described as “the great­est bass play­er I’ve ever met,” by no less than Bri­an Wil­son. Report­ed to have played on some­thing like 10,000 ses­sions, she wrote basslines for songs from “Cal­i­for­nia Girls” to the “Theme from Shaft.”

You can learn much more about the once-hid­den work of some of the best stu­dio musi­cians in the coun­try, rivals of the best play­ers in Motown, Mem­phis, and Mus­cle Shoals, in the doc­u­men­tary above direct­ed by Dan­ny Tedesco, son of Wreck­ing Crew gui­tarist Tony Tedesco. Or Kent Hart­man’s book, The Wreck­ing Crew: The Inside Sto­ry of Rock and Rol­l’s Best-Kept Secret.

Lis­ten to a YouTube playlist of clas­sic Wreck­ing Crew tracks here. And see why when you thought you were lis­ten­ing to The Byrds, Beach Boys, Mamas and Papas, Mon­kees and even Simon & Gar­funkel, you were real­ly often lis­ten­ing to the Wreck­ing Crew.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Car­ol Kaye Became the Most Pro­lif­ic Ses­sion Musi­cian in His­to­ry

Meet Car­ol Kaye, the Unsung Bassist Behind Your Favorite 60s Hits

Visu­al­iz­ing the Bass Play­ing Style of Motown’s Icon­ic Bassist James Jamer­son: “Ain’t No Moun­tain High Enough,” “For Once in My Life” & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Stephen Kohl says:

    Nobody has any­thing on the Wreck­ing Crew. Not then, not now, not ever.
    A mir­a­cle? How bout a gift from heav­en? Maybe, all I know it was the best, the sto­ries where they came from are diverse.
    Thanks for the Wreck­ing Crew..the heart of rock and roll.

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