Eulogies are pliable. They can take the form of a song, a poem, or an essay. For Denny Tedesco, his eulogy for his father has lasted 19 years, and he’s now finally ready to share it with the public: The Wrecking Crew!, a new documentary from Magnolia Pictures that’s earning rave reviews, takes you behind the curtain of the L.A. music scene from the ’60s to the ’80s. Back then, it wasn’t the big name pop stars striking the keys or strumming the strings on hits like “Mr. Tambourine Man”, “California Girls”, and “Good Vibrations,” it was the unsung studio musicians.
During these earlier decades, “The Wrecking Crew” was the gang of musicians who came into the studio and assumed all the working parts of a song, playing it to perfection until it was ready for radio. Tommy Tedesco was one of these heavy hitters — he held many of the guitar and string sections — but it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with cancer in 1996, when his son, Denny, began considering a film that would capture the essence of how important “The Wrecking Crew” was to popular music.
“What I realized growing up. I didn’t realize what he did,” Denny told Uproxx in an interview. “I knew he went to work and played guitar, and that was it. It wasn’t til much later that I realized the work that they were doing, as monumental as it was with these guys. It was hard to explain. It’s funny because you could explain it to someone, but until you hear it from their words and hear the music, you have no idea. So, for me, I realized that making the film was an easy way to explain that to people. When he was passing on, I thought, if I don’t jump on this, I’ll never be able to. If he goes, it’s over. I’ll never be able to tell this story. And that’s when I wanted to jump into it.”
The “Crew” are responsible for a gaggle of hits, including songs from Frank Sinatra, Cher, The Beach Boys, Sam Cooke, Elvis, and many more. Tommy, himself, has credits on the theme songs for M*A*S*H and the iconic 1966 Batman series. The magnitude of their contributions is almost unquantifiable, especially considering their work on classics like Pet Sounds, Smile, and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” went uncredited. As Denny was putting together The Wrecking Crew! documentary, he found that the music was not only the most powerful part of the film, it was also a bit of a hindrance.
“There was no way you could tell this story without the music, and we always knew that,” Denny said. “Everybody said at the beginning, you’re never going to be able to get the music because you’re not going to have people — the labels, the publishers — agree upon putting their music into the film. And the other thing was, you’re never going to get a price where it was affordable, where you could sell the film because it’s going to cost so much. So, we just had to, over the years, come up with a way of getting the music. No one helped us. We ended up doing it through donations.”
Denny, after spending years compiling interviews, footage, and music, began showing The Wrecking Crew! at film festivals and events in 2008. Because of the expensive music, and because producers and distributors considered the film “niche,” he had a tough time getting a distribution deal. He continued to show the film for several years, hoping to finally strike a deal with a studio.
“I said the other day, this came up in a Q&A, why didn’t you distribute the film? I understand that economics is always the reason why we don’t do things in this business. And I can’t fight that,” Denny explained. “If it’s going to cost this much to make this doc, it’s only going to cost this much. Why would anybody jump on that? I totally get that. But when a distributor says to us, ‘It’s a niche project,’ then that’s when I said, ‘Well, then you should maybe book a theatre anywhere in this country, but don’t book Chicago, New York, L.A., don’t book a big city. That would be way too easy. Give me a city, and I’ll show you it’s not a niche project, because it wasn’t.’ And I said to the audience, ‘If you’re a distributor in this room, you should really start watching films with an audience. Don’t watch it on a computer or a TV by yourself. Because you can’t judge things without seeing people’s reactions.'”
As for the reactions? They’re really good: Rotten Tomatoes has the film at 91 percent, with one critic calling it, “Inviting and informative, giving needed dimension to blockbuster singles and masterful performers. Utilizing a sensational soundtrack is merely icing on the cake.”
It’s a testament to the work that Denny has put into creating a narrative around these heroes of music’s yesteryear. “I knew the film would do well because it did well everywhere I showed it,” Denny said. “People love the musicians because they’re real. You know them, just like anyone else you know. They’re not stars, they’re real people. Like your mom or dad. So, the response, I knew that the people would love it. And I don’t mean that in an egotistical way. Because if it didn’t get the response in 2008, 2009, 2010, we would have given up along the way. But the response is the only reason it kept going.”
The Wrecking Crew! serves not only as a eulogy, but also a time capsule and a memorandum. For the son of the legendary Tommy Tedesco, though, it provides a much needed look into the majestic work his father bestowed upon the pop culture landscape.
“What I realized is that people don’t know. I forget that the rest of the world doesn’t know about this,” Denny said. “I got to a point where I forget that the world doesn’t know this. Even though I know this story. Especially working on it for so long. After a while you go, ‘Well, everybody knows this now.’ And now, this last two weeks with this opening around the country, and the reviews and people are emailing from all over the world. I realize, ‘Oh my God, it is fresh.’ People don’t know the story still.”
The Wrecking Crew! is available on iTunes. Here’s the trailer for the film…