Confession time, not only am I a music junkie, I am also addicted to liner notes. As a kid I started combing through the fine print on album jackets and loved it when record companies moved away from the plain white inner sleeves to include more tidbits of info about the band, the producer, the studio and so on.
I have also been fascinated by books written about the inner workings of bands and recording sessions. Even tough I wasn’t a big Beatles fan, Mark Lewisohn’s book “The Beatles Recording Sessions” was a slice of nirvana, detailing the tiniest details of life inside Abbey Road Studios.
So, Kent Hartman’s new book The Wrecking Crew: The Inside Story of Rock and Roll’s Best Kept Secret, was right up my alley. Motown had the legendary Funk Brothers. In Nashville the go to studio musicians were The A Team and Atlantic Soul had Booker T and the MGs to lay down the musical bedrock on which so many classic songs were built.
Hartman’s book lays out the left coast version things with the rolling group of great players who worked on a steady stream of hits from artists like the Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, The Monkees, Mamas and Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, the Byrds, a pile of Phil Specter productions, and many more.
Hartman really details what amounts to the birth of Rock and Roll, not as a musical form, but as a recording industry. Prior to the early 60s, record labels were all about finding great songs for their artists to record. That attitude carried over in the early days of rock music, where the producers were the stars and the “artists” were the interchangeable parts that got plugged into the formula when it came time to market the product.
The Wrecking Crew were a lose collection of players that more often than not got the call when it came time to make records. Players like drummer Hal Blaine, guitarist Glenn Campbell, keyboardist Leon Russell, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, bassist Carol Kaye, and a few dozen more played on literally hundreds of hit records and racked up dozens of Grammy awards along the way.
Hartman puts Campbell’s transition from side man, to Beach Boy to session star to hit-maker in his own right in focus through out the book. Campbell was one of a small number of these extremely skilled players who made the leap into stardom. Hartman begins the thread with Campbell’s rough and tumble childhood and completes the circle with Campbell building not only a wildly successful career in music, but a 16,500 square foot mansion at its peak.
Hartman profiles with insider details, the stories of the prolific, creative and musically gifted cats, who not only played the hits, but often added the musical missing piece. Carol Kaye playing around on her bass dropped the memorable dum dum dum da dum da d um rift that kicked off “The Beat Goes On” and gave Sonny and Cher an over due hit. Blaine was famous for coming up with just the right beat at the right time. He provided the thunderous explosions during Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer” during the lie la lie lie lie crescendo of the song by recording a drum beat from the bottom of an elevator shaft.
Liner note fans will love Hartman’s Timeline, source notes and bibliography which lays out the finite details of the Wrecking Crew. This story is a fascinating look at the inner workings of the early days of rock and roll.