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When Overqualified Jazz Musicians Go Rocker

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When Overqualified Jazz Musicians Go Rocker

When Overqualified Jazz Musicians Go Rocker

When Overqualified Jazz Musicians Go Rocker

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Music reviewer David Was takes a look at a new documentary about the The Wrecking Crew. They were talented, but relatively unknown musicians responsible for hit songs from famous bands like The Beach Boys and the Monkees in 1960s and 1970s.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

OK. Every year, the International Documentary Association screens documentaries in order to qualify them for Oscar consideration. Most of those films, though, will never be seen in a theater again. Day to Day's David Was says one of them deserves better.

DAVID WAS: It's a downright shame that distinguished films like "The Wrecking Crew" might never see wider distribution. The documentary is an insider's history of the gifted L.A. studio musicians who anonymously played on hundreds of hit records for three decades.

(Soundbite of documentary "The Wrecking Crew")

Mr. BRIAN WILSON (Bassist, Vocalist, Producer): They were the stone-cold rock 'n' roll professionals, and there may never, ever be a group of rock 'n' roll musicians of that caliber again.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: The handsomely produced documentary is the brain child of Denny Tedesco, whose late guitar-virtuoso father, Tommy, was one of the stalwarts of the Hollywood studio scene. Denny began to film his dad when he was diagnosed with cancer some 13 years ago, then expanded the concept by digging up rare archival footage and doing interviews with the likes of Brian Wilson, Jimmy Webb, and Herb Alpert.

(Soundbite of documentary "The Wrecking Crew")

Mr. JIMMY WEBB (Songwriter): The signature moment in "Taste of Honey" is when the bass drum is knocking four to the floor and...

Mr. HERB ALPERT (Trumpeter, Vocalist, Producer): We didn't have a way to get back to the time without, you know, a count off, and Hal, you know, said let me just hit the drum, the bass drum. Everyone will know when to come in.

(Soundbite of music)

WAS: The surviving members of "The Wrecking Crew" are all on hand as well. What emerges is a touching portrait of overqualified jazz musicians who initially grumbled about having to play on crap rock 'n' roll records, but who eventually moved into big mansions and drove shiny Jaguars to their never-ending recording dates.

(Soundbite of documentary "The Wrecking Crew")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HAL BLAINE (Drummer): I didn't care for rock 'n' roll that much. I was basically a jazz drummer. But I realized that I'm making my living off it. If I'm going to continue to do that, I've got to play that like that's my favorite music. It's not beneath you if it's supporting you.

WAS: One of the clever production touches Tedesco employs is having the individual musicians play their instruments alone, then fading in the famous record that lick was a part of. Bass player Carol Kaye, the only woman to join ranks with the Crew, is recalled by Brian Wilson as being the greatest bass player in the world. Carol then plays the very notes Brian wrote for "Good Vibrations," returning the compliment by saying, you knew this kid was into something really, really great.

(Soundbite of documentary "The Wrecking Crew")

(Soundbite of bass line)

Ms. CAROL KAYE (Bassist): I'd have never played that.

(Soundbite of bass line of "Good Vibrations")

Ms. KAYE: I'd just go into this.

(Soundbite of bass line of "Good Vibrations")

(Soundbite of song "Good Vibrations")

Mr. WILSON: Very good.

WAS: There are over 100 music cues in the film, which could have been a fiscal nightmare for the filmmaker, had the various labels and publishers not bent over backwards to make this labor of love possible. Generally speaking, licensing big-hit records can cost upward of 50,000 dollars per song.

(Soundbite of song "Wichita Lineman")

WAS: "The Wrecking Crew" features a gaggle of such high-priced classics like "Wichita Lineman."

Mr. GLEN CAMPBELL: (Singing) I am a lineman for the county...

WAS: "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'."

(Soundbite of song "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'")

THE RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS: (Singing) You've lost that lovin' feelin'. Now it's gone, gone, gone...

WAS: And "California Dreamin'."

(Soundbite of song "California Dreamin'")

THE MAMAS & THE PAPAS: (Singing) All the leaves are brown (All the leaves are brown), And the sky is gray (And the sky is gray)...

WAS: By the end of the film, you'll be a believer. And yes, the Crew were the faceless wizards behind the Monkees as well.

(Soundbite of song "I'm a Believer")

Mr. MICKY DOLENZ: (Singing) I thought love was only true in fairy tales...

BRAND: Day to Day contributor David Was, half of the musical duo Was (Not Was).

Mr. DOLENZ: (Singing) Meant for someone else but not for me...

BRAND: Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Madeleine Brand.

ALEX CHADWICK, host:

And I'm Alex Chadwick.

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