The Wrecking Crew: You've heard them play but do not know their names.
September 11, 2020 3:54 AM   Subscribe

Music lovers will be astonished at the influence The Wrecking Crew wielded over rock and pop music in the 1960s and early 1970s. These unsung instrumentalists were the de-facto backing band on hit records by The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, Elvis, The Monkees and many more. These dedicated musicians brought the flair and musicianship that made the American “West Coast Sound” a dominant cultural force around the world.
posted by dancestoblue (31 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I had heard of this guy Glen Campbell long ago, but after reading the book and watching at least one movie, and reading stuff on MetaFilter, I could come up with Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, and Tommy Tedesco off the top of my head.
posted by MtDewd at 6:47 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Oh wow, I loved this documentary, and now it's on youtube and I can watch it over and over. That is so great, thank you!

My favorite part is when Carol Kaye talks about coming up with the bass line that opens Wichita Lineman, and I was all, you wrote that? You are a GENIUS!

In one of my many fantasy lives, I am a 1960s musician.
posted by JanetLand at 6:49 AM on September 11 [11 favorites]


The Beach Boys, Phil Spector, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra, Sonny & Cher, Elvis, The Monkees

Wow that was a swoop at the end of that sentence.

Is there a link to this available outside the US?
posted by mhoye at 6:55 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Watched this movie on Netflix a few years ago and loved it. I think at this point The Wrecking Crew has gotten to be pretty widely known, and I probably heard of them at least five years before this movie first came out, but it's still sometimes astonishing to realize that so much of the great pop music of the 1960s was the work of this group of musicians. Carol Kaye in particular deserves so much more attention for her work.
posted by briank at 6:57 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Carol Kaye in particular deserves so much more attention for her work.

Yeah, she's awesome. It's funny - I had listened to her playing probably more than any bass player except McCartney by the time I got a bass, because of her TV work (M*A*S*H*, Batman theme, Mission Impossible, to begin with) but I didn't learn who she was until much later. I mentioned in the recent Boogaloo thread that I had first heard the term from her bass method, and linked to her take on the style (although she perhaps uses the term more broadly than that context, to denote 60's R&B type lines in general).

It's interesting that a lot of Kaye's technique (pick, flat wound strings, mute) has come into fashion in recent years. There's still a lot of bass players who think that "real" bassists don't use a pick, but it just works really well for recording.
posted by thelonius at 7:16 AM on September 11 [6 favorites]


Wow that was a swoop at the end of that sentence.

Are you casting shade on the Monkees? Some of the songs really hold up (in no small part thanks to the Wrecking Crew).
posted by stopgap at 7:17 AM on September 11 [18 favorites]


Carol Kaye was back in the news earlier this year because of a character on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 7:48 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


The documentaries on the various house bands that provided the backing in the 1960-1980 period are all great. Motown, Stax, Wrecking Crew, Muscle Shoals ....

The only "house band" I can think of now that is similar in existence in the new millennium is the Dap Kings.

Plus it was great to read about how Vulfpeck was inspired by the Motown group.
posted by indianbadger1 at 8:12 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Carol Kaye visits Ocean Way

(I died a bit inside watching this)
posted by Kosmob0t at 8:51 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I've been waiting for a chance to drop this video of Carol Kaye giving Gene Simmons a bass lesson.
posted by suetanvil at 8:52 AM on September 11 [9 favorites]


So many of those great AM hits from the 60s through 1972 or so were largely due to just four bands: the Wrecking Crew, the Beatles, the Stones, and Motown's Funk Brothers. Musical genius, even at its poppiest, is a rare thing.
posted by morspin at 9:04 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Every year I go to the NAMM show which is the big convention where music instrument manufacturers show their goods to retailers. It's a huge deal and over 100k people attend every year. A couple of years ago one of the vendors had Carol Kaye doing a demo and at least a couple hundred people were packed around the booth she was performing in, taking it in with reverence. A guy with a 1 foot tall blue mohawk and a black denim vest with patches safety pinned to it looked at me and was like "OMG, it's Carol Fuckin' Kaye!"

I don't think I've seen anyone more excited to get an autograph than he was.
posted by mikesch at 9:04 AM on September 11 [14 favorites]


[Link is US-only according to some commenters/flaggers; if anyone finds a link that works outside the US let us know and we can add that.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:38 AM on September 11


There's a relatively ancient Interflib forum, TalkBass, which has been around since 1998 or so and has an extremely active set of forums where the posters are sometimes famous bassists, and where it's not uncommon for there to be a high degree of "famous-bassist-adjacent" traffic. People who have taken lessons from famous bassists, or are friends with them, and so forth. TalkBass, in some ways, is Old Internet in the same way as MetaFilter is Old Internet, with some of the same idealism about the world, and how people treat each other.

Carol Kaye has always had a decidedly mixed reputation on TalkBass, but what's interesting to me is how my perception of that mixed reputation changed after I started to really understand things like institutionalized and systemic misogyny. For a long time, I simply assumed that peoples' criticisms were valid on their face. After all, TalkBass was a meritocracy, and above that sort of thing. Right?

You can see where this is going.

It's striking, or maybe just depressing, how many TalkBass criticisms of Carol Kaye sound awfully, awfully familiar. Like that she's too demanding. Too strident in her opinions. Too combative about credit. How she's "mean", or "unreasonable" or full of herself. How even if she wasn't credited properly, well, that's just how the music industry works, she should just learn to live with it, and if she doesn't like it, well, maybe she should have done something else.

It's the same old, same old: Carol Kaye has the nerve to publically be a woman in a male-dominated industry, and to express her dissatisfaction with the status quo. And, therefore, she is all of these terrible things. It's sexist bullshit, and a screaming double standard, and it's glaringly obvious once you take the blinders off and really think about what you're reading.

The Wrecking Crew documentary goes quite a long way to dimensionalize Carol Kaye and place her in her proper context among her peers: she was an extraordinarily talented musician and songwriter. She was a multi-instrumentalist (definitely NOT just bass). She was a producer.

She's responsible for some of the most iconic basslines ever recorded, and should be regarded as every bit as influential as Motown's James Jamerson. And she was a pioneering female musician, quietly balancing a family and an amazingly demanding studio career as early as the late 1950's.

The entire Wrecking Crew (and there were a lot of them) were pretty amazing people, but Carol Kaye was more amazing than most. She's taken more than her fair share of undeserved flak, and is a case study in how you can never, ever take criticisms of women at face value, because there's almost always a subtext based on their gender rather than their skills or merits.
posted by scrump at 9:42 AM on September 11 [52 favorites]


This is great. Not just the music of my youth, but the look of the film credits! I actually checked to see if they were by Saul Bass.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 10:05 AM on September 11




How even if she wasn't credited properly, well, that's just how the music industry works, she should just learn to live with it, and if she doesn't like it, well, maybe she should have done something else.

re the notorious controversy over who played bass on "Bernadette", "I Was Made To Love Her" and several other Motown classics, I found this, which seems to be a legit piece of research. I'm not sure how much it clears up the issues, though.

"famous-bassist-adjacent"
fwiw, I once read a TalkBass post where an LA session bassist claimed that he got Ray Parker Jr. to ask Stevie Wonder about "I Was Made To Love Her"; and he said that Wonder affirmed that Jamerson played that part. But I'm sure there are other people on there, claiming to be insiders, and insisting on the opposite position.
posted by thelonius at 10:10 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


See also the Funk Brothers.

It's interesting that a lot of Kaye's technique (pick, flat wound strings, mute) has come into fashion in recent years.

I love the way this sounds on a fretless jazz bass, and have never understood why any musician wouldn't be open to trying different approaches to playing an instrument. I will confidently assert that learning to play bass with a pick has improved my technique (and more importantly, tone) without it, and vice-versa. Shoot, I'm now wondering why I've never tried travis picking on a bass, and I think tonight might be a good time to rectify that.
posted by aspersioncast at 10:30 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Dropped in to do my part to make sure this thread paid its due to Carol Kaye and I see this is already underway. Good work, people.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:55 AM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Ray Parker Jr. to ask Stevie Wonder about "I Was Made To Love Her";

Ray Parker Jr is currently making/financing a movie/documentary about his experience as a studio session musician, I think he interviewed Stevie Wonder as one of the guest for that. If I had read this comment 6 months ago, I possibly could have gotten them to clear up this question on film, or at least on audio, if it didn't make the final cut!

Carol Kaye and the rest of the Wrecking Crew made '60s rock & pop amazing. Not much more to be said.
posted by The_Vegetables at 11:04 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


I'm a relatively new TalkBass'r and while it feels like the demographics* there are consistent with a certain amount of conscious or unconscious misogyny, Carol Kaye makes regular appearances on the lists of "top" or "favorite" bassists that frequently get posted.


*I'm in my early 50s and it often feels like I'm roughly at the median age of the posters there. It feels similar to the demographics of HomeBrewTalk (though the paternalism on TalkBass isn't quite as bad as what I remember from HomeBrewTalk).

posted by Slothrup at 11:15 AM on September 11 [1 favorite]


Another TalkBass member here -- yeah, it's got its share of ugly hot takes, racism and sexism (if you want to die inside, read any thread there about rap music), but it has a strict and strictly-enforced policy against political discussions and the mods are responsive to flags and messages. It's impossible to keep political and social biases entirely out though: people are there to talk about owning and playing bass, but musicians play at churches, fundraisers for all kinds of political and social events... in some ways it's actually kind of nice that gun-obsessed back-to-the-hills reactionaries can find something in common with urban intellectuals, peacefully trading instrument building tips there based on one's experience making gun stocks and the other's experience making bookcases.
posted by ardgedee at 11:46 AM on September 11 [2 favorites]


Carol Kaye's video lectures are fascinating, lots of insight into the art & science of Bass-isms. (some previously on YT but now mostly paywalled I think).

I also got the impression that if anyone wanted to give her attitude she could take care of herself just fine thank you.
posted by ovvl at 2:46 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


The headphones that Carol Kaye is wearing in a photo at 18:41 are 1971's Koss KRD 711 "Red Devil"s and now I want a pair.
posted by mikelieman at 3:57 PM on September 11


She's taken more than her fair share of undeserved flak, and is a case study in how you can never, ever take criticisms of women at face value, because there's almost always a subtext based on their gender rather than their skills or merits.

This whole comment is brilliant. Thank you.
posted by medusa at 4:19 PM on September 11 [3 favorites]


Wow that was a swoop at the end of that sentence.

Are you casting shade on the Monkees? Some of the songs really hold up (in no small part thanks to the Wrecking Crew).


Well, to be fair, the Wrecking Crew didn't play on too many of The Monkees' hits. Nesmith used them on his 1966 material, and later on the main Wrecking Crew members that were used were strings, percussion, and maybe some keyboards. Most of their hits were played by Boyce & Hart's band The Candy Store Prophets, or Kirshner's stable of NYC sessionmen, or, yes, The Monkees themselves (with the assist of a couple members of The Modern Folk Quintet.)
posted by frodisaur at 7:18 PM on September 11 [1 favorite]


My favorite scene was when the Wrecking Crew were at a session back in the day and Tommy Tedesco started playing some strange music, so one of the other musicians asked him what the heck he was doing, and it turned out he accidentally had his sheet music inverted and was playing it note perfect upside down and backwards.
posted by fairmettle at 11:26 PM on September 11 [8 favorites]


Thank you for the link, dancestoblue.

I know of the Wrecking Crew without really knowing about them before.

I think I remember seeing a Wrecking Crew credit on at least one album, as The Wrecking Crew - maybe a Bonnie Raitt record? I had a friend who likely would have been able to explain the reference.

At any rate, it was good to see the history and credit presented. The Wrecking Crew contributed to much of my life-soundtrack.
posted by jaruwaan at 4:45 AM on September 12


If you’re into this, also check out the great Muscle Shoals documentary which features another great session band, tons of drama, and the story of a young Duane Allman making his name there. Plus, Patches, the best worst song of all time.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:27 AM on September 12 [4 favorites]


Hey, that documentary and Muscle Shoals are in the US library system. Both are fantastic!
posted by Mesaverdian at 2:37 PM on September 12 [1 favorite]


oh yeah, Patches, that song is reallyy... something? I can't stand it, but it's strangely compelling.
posted by ovvl at 5:57 PM on September 12


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