Who was the Original Wrecking Crew?
Updated: Sep 18, 2018
We'd be doing a disservice to those who came before us and who we honor with our name and mission if we didn't tell you a little about them
The Band Behind the Bands
The Wrecking Crew was a loose collective of session musicians based in Los Angeles whose services were employed for thousands of studio recordings in the 1960s and early 1970s, including several hundred Top 40 hits. The musicians were not publicly recognized in their era, but were viewed prestigiously by industry insiders. They are now considered one of the most successful and prolific session recording units in music history.
Most of the players associated with the Wrecking Crew had formal backgrounds in jazz or classical music. The group had no official name in their active years, and it remains a subject of contention whether or not they were referred to as "The Wrecking Crew" at the time. Drummer Hal Blaine popularized the name in a 1990 memoir, attributing it to older musicians who felt that the group's embrace of rock and roll was going to "wreck" the music industry. Some of Blaine's colleagues corroborated his account, while guitarist and bassist Carol Kaye contends that "the Clique" was the name used. Another unofficial name was "The First Call Gang", sometimes used in the 1950s for an early version of the group headed by bassist Ray Pohlman which featured some of the same musicians.
The unit coalesced in the early 1960s as the de facto house band for Phil Spector, contributing to the development of his Wall of Sound production methods. They subsequently became the most requested session musicians in Los Angeles, playing behind many popular recording artists such as Jan & Dean, Sonny & Cher, the Mamas & the Papas, the 5th Dimension, Frank Sinatra, and Nancy Sinatra. The musicians were sometimes used as "ghost players" on recordings credited to rock groups, such as the Byrds' debut rendition of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" (1965), the first two albums by the Monkees, and the Beach Boys' 1966 album Pet Sounds.
The Wrecking Crew's contributions to so many hit recordings went largely unnoticed until the publication of Blaine's memoir and the attention that followed. Keyboardist Leon Russell and guitarist Glen Campbell were members who became popular solo acts, while Blaine is reputed to have played on more than 140 top-ten hits, including approximately 40 number-one hits. Other musicians who formed the unit's ranks were drummer Earl Palmer, saxophonist Steve Douglas, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and keyboardist Larry Knechtel, who became a member of Bread. Blaine and Palmer were among the inaugural "sidemen" inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and the entire Wrecking Crew was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2007. In 2008, they were the subject of the documentary The Wrecking Crew.
So. Why are WE Calling Ourselves That?
Great question! The original Wrecking Crew made waves in the industry by doing things that the typical, studio-supplied session musicians wouldn't do. Like: write music, collaborate with the artists, improvise, try several iterations of the same bars to see what worked and what didn't, bring unusual instruments and artists in to the mix (they famously supplied the actual pets on The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds") and as a result, the normal musicians said they were "wrecking everything."
Well, if you've heard "Good Vibrations" or "Mr. Tambourine Man" or any of the myriad of hits they contributed to, we'd think you'd agree that whatever they wrecked, they built something great in its place. We'd like to do the same thing.