Film focuses on role of session musicians

Denny Tedesco paid tribute to his late father the best way he knew how—by making a movie about him.

Denny’s father, Tommy Tedesco, was one of the most prolific session guitarists of the rock and roll era. Denny’s film “The Wrecking Crew,” is a fascinating look at the myriad roles that session musicians played in the 1960s and 1970s. The film was the centerpiece of the second night of the eighth annual Claremont Film Festival at Laemmle Theater.

The festival’s curator, Vince Turner, said the weekend-long event, which ran from May 5 to May 7, operates differently than most film festivals—they don’t take submissions.

“What we want to do is get the best stuff we could find,” he said.

Mr. Turner noted that he first saw Mr. Tedesco’s film two years ago, and he knew he had to get it on the festival’s line-up.

The film chronicles Denny’s father and the ragtag repertoire of session guitarists, piano players, drummers, trumpeters and saxophonists who became known as “The Wrecking Crew,” due to their casual nature of dress in an era when being a musician meant dressing to the nines. The Wrecking Crew was known for their tireless work, recording for musicians as diverse as The Ronettes and Claremont local Frank Zappa.

The crew, mainly comprised of Tommy Tedesco, bassist Carol Kaye, drummer Hal Blaine, saxophonist Plas Johnson and keyboardist Don Randi, were the unsung heroes of the session era, laying down tracks and creating albums multiple times a week. The Crew was featured on a number of classic albums, including the Beach Boys’ magnum opus “Pet Sounds.”

Mr. Tedesco said the film was nearly 20 years in the making, mostly due to paying for the licensing of the over 110 songs in the film.

He began filming when his father was diagnosed with cancer. Tommy Tedesco passed away in 1997, one year into making the film.

“I didn’t have much time when I knew he got sick,” he said. “We talked about ways to do a story about my dad and these guys. Not just about my dad, but about this group.”

One of the most striking parts of the film was shot before the elder Tedesco passed away. It features Tommy and his crew sitting on a roundtable and talking about their time in the music business, like old friends playing cards.

The film also features a laundry list of music legends, from Brian Wilson to Cher and even the late Dick Clark, who agreed to be in the film after initially declining.

“I sent [Dick Clark] a 14-minute piece on VHS, and I said, ‘Would you be kind enough to be in the film?’” Mr. Tedesco said. “He wrote a decline letter, but later he says, ‘I just saw the piece, give us a call, you can talk me through it because I loved it.’”

The crew was closely associated with Phil Spector’s Gold Star Recordings, which pioneered the famous “wall of sound’ that revolutionized the way music was produced.

Mr. Tedesco was joined at Laemmle by Mr. Randi, who has appeared on such tracks as “You Lost that Loving Feeling,” by the Righteous Brothers, “A Little Less Conversation,” by Elvis Presley and “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” by Nancy Sinatra.

Mr. Randi fondly remembered the first time he heard his work on the radio.

“The first record I heard was “He’s a Rebel” [by The Crystals] and I remember being in my car and I realized why [Phil Spector] mixed the way he did,” Mr. Randi said. “And I just pulled over and I had a big smile on my face because I loved it.”

Mr. Randi also played keyboards on one Frank Zappa album, “Lumpy Gravy,” after two other players waked out of the studio because it was too complicated.

“We did it in two takes,” he said.

“The Wrecking Crew” is available on Blu-Ray and DVD at

Matthew Bramlett


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