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The Wrecking Crew: The Most Famous Band You Didn't Know You Love

Music | October 1, 2019

Left: Hal Blaine and Glen Campbell at a Wrecking Crew session. Right: Leon Russell in the studio. Source: IMDB

You've heard, and probably love, the music of The Wrecking Crew. The studio musicians whose chops bolstered hits by The Beach Boys, The Mamas And The Papas, The Monkees, Simon & Garfunkel, Frank Sinatra, and more, The Wrecking Crew were so famously effective in the music industry that they were even known outside the industry. And some members became stars in their own right, notably Glen Campbell and Leon Russell. 

The Studio Crew To End All Studio Crews

George Harrison and Hal Blaine. Source: IMDB

For those who don’t know, studio crews are hired to perform in recording sessions and live performances with an artist. They might even play on a band's records, but they aren’t considered part of the actual band. Due to the competition for studio time in the Los Angeles music industry, producers needed reliable musicians who could show up and master a song quickly. The Wrecking Crew excelled at it, cutting hit records with a vast range of performers in just about every style of pop.

During one stretch, the Grammy Award for Record Of The Year went to songs performed by said Wrecking Crew for six consecutive years -- the official winners were Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass in 1966 for "A Taste of Honey;" Frank Sinatra in 1967 for "Strangers in the Night;" The 5th Dimension in 1968 for "Up, Up and Away;" Simon & Garfunkel in 1969 "Mrs. Robinson;" The 5th Dimension in 1970 for "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In;" Simon & Garfunkel in 1971 for "Bridge over Troubled Water."

The Life Of A Studio Crew

Left:Tommy Tedesco in 1996. Center: Tedesco, Center, and Carol Kaye. Michelle Phillips (above) and Brian Wilson with Bill Pitman (argonautnews.com)

Denny Tedesco, son of Tommy Tedesco, who played guitar in the Wrecking Crew, describes the life of a studio musician best:

Someone once suggested to me that being a studio player was kind of like doing factory work. One day you'd be making a Rolls-Royce and the next day you were making a Pinto. The thing about my father and the rest of these guys was that they didn't know they were recording hits, they were just recording. There were arguably times when they didn't like the music, but it didn't bother them because they were happy to be making a living and putting their kids through school doing what they loved — playing.

The Wrecking Crew Family

Members of The Wrecking Crew warm up during the Phil Spector-produced session of Darlene Love’s “Wait ‘Til My Bobby Gets Home.” Courtesy Jeff Marcus collection. (goldminemag.com)

The group came together in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s under producer Phil Spector, whose orchestral pop arrangements -- an approach dubbed the "Wall of Sound" -- required trained musicians of great skill. The group comprised of a rotating cast of nearly 30 musicians. However, the nucleus of the Wrecking Crew was storied drummer Hal Blaine, guitarists Glen Campbell and Tommy Tedesco; bassists Carol Kaye and Ray Pohlman; along with Don Randi and Leon Russell on the keyboard.

Together, along with various other musicians like James Burton, Al Casey, Barney Kessel, Larry Knechtel, Plas Johnson, and Earl Palmer, they formed the most successful pop band that never played live.

Wrecking Crew leader Hal Blaine is said to have played on 6,000 singles, including 150 Top Ten hits and 40 chart-toppers. A very small sampling of The Wrecking Crew's most memorable tracks would include "Surfin' U.S.A." by The Beach Boys, "Da Doo Ron Ron (When He Walked Me Home)" by The Crystals, "Surf City" by Jan and Dean, "Be My Baby" by The Ronettes, "I Get Around" by The Beach Boys, "Everybody Loves Somebody" by Dean Martin, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," by The Righteous Brothers, "Mr. Tambourine Man" by The Byrds, "California Dreamin'" by The Mamas And the Papas, "I Got You Babe" by Sonny & Cher, "River Deep – Mountain High" by Ike and Tina Turner, "Strangers in the Night" by Frank Sinatra, "These Boots Are Made for Walkin'" by Nancy Sinatra, "Never My Love" by The Association, "Up, Up and Away" by The 5th Dimension, "The Beat Goes On" by Sonny & Cher, "Wichita Lineman" by Glen Campbell, "MacArthur Park" by Richard Harris, "Mrs. Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel, "Tiptoe Through the Tulips" by Tiny Tim, "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" by The 5th Dimension, "The Boxer" by Simon & Garfunkel, "(They Long to Be) Close to You" by The Carpenters, "Cracklin' Rosie" by Neil Diamond, "Bridge over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel, "Don't Pull Your Love" by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, "Indian Reservation" by Paul Revere & the Raiders, "Half-Breed" by Cher, "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" by Vicki Lawrence, "Rhinestone Cowboy" by Glen Campbell, and "Love Will Keep Us Together" by Captain & Tennille.

The Hardest Working Band In Show Biz

Carol Kaye and Bill Pitman (entertainmenttoday.net)

The Wrecking Crew worked like dogs to make their living. As guitarist Bill Pittman put it, “You leave the house at seven o’clock in the morning, and you’re at Universal at nine till noon; now you’re at Capitol Records at one, you just got time to get there, then you got a jingle at four, then we’re on a date with somebody at eight, then the Beach Boys at midnight, and you do that five days a week…jeez, man, you get burned out.”

According to the Huffington Post, these talented musicians put in well over 10,000 hours in the studio during the ‘60s. Yet, somehow, this close-knit crew never quite wore down. They continued playing into the early ‘70s. They worked on such hits as Cher’s “Gypsies, Tramps, and Thieves,” the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You,” and 5th Dimension’s “One Less Bell To Answer.” Their bond may have helped keep these servants to music going. 

For The Love Of The Game, And Money

The Wrecking Crew in the studio. Glen Campbell is second from left.

The Wrecking Crew got their foot in the door by playing rock 'n roll, something the older generation of studio players found distasteful. That, according to Hal Blaine was also where their door-busting name came from:

As far as they were concerned, Rock And Roll was a dirty, filthy, nasty word. The older generation of studio musicians were highly educated players, but what they didn't realize at the time was that we were highly educated too. We could read anything and we knew all about the music business, so when we showed up in our Levis and t-shirts, smoking cigarettes, they started saying, 'These kids are going to wreck the business' — hence the name The Wrecking Crew.

Hell Of A Ride

Hal Blaine (left), Beach Boy Brian Wilson and Ray Pohlman Wrecking Crew (goldminemag.com)

Clearly, they loved their music but they also wanted to own a few dollars to their names as well. Hal Blaine explains their motto:

We used to have a saying around the studio. 'TTMAR,' which basically stood for take the money and run. But, we always did it respectfully; we weren't trying to pull anybody's leg. If anybody ever did, they were out of our clan. We were just like a family. None of us knew how long it was going to last, we were just in the right place at the right time with the right stuff. We all fell into this big vat of chocolate and it really seemed like we could do no wrong. It was a really incredible ride.

Obviously, this cast of colorful characters owned the decade and their lives in ways few do. Their engineer and producer, Bones Howe put it best in the documentary, “We Got Good At It,” about the band, “You know what? You take the ramp up and eventually you get to the top. But it's not about staying at the top, it's about taking that ramp down as long as possible.”

Tags: A Brief History Of... | Glen Campbell | Hal Blaine | Leon Russell | Rare Facts And Stories About History | The Wrecking Crew

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Kellar Ellsworth

Writer

Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!