Film Fest’s ‘Wrecking Crew’ A 19-Year Love Song

The real obstacle was getting rights to the 110 songs in the film at a cost of about $700,000.

Elvis loved his mama. But Denny Tedesco loved his dad. And The Wrecking Crew proves it.

It took Tedesco 19 years to finish this documentary about his father Tommy Tedesco who was the faceless guitarist for a group of uncredited studio musicians, numbering in the dozens, who played on virtually every record produced on the West Coast in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tommy Tedesco and friends were “members” of the Mamas and the Papas, Jan & Dean, the Righteous Brothers, the Tijuana Brass, the Fifth Dimension, the Association, the Monkees and the Beach Boys.

He played Spanish guitar on Up Up and Away and on Elvis Presley’s Memories and appeared in the singer’s 1968 comeback special. He played on the theme for TV’s Batman, Green Acres and Bonanza” and has over 200 movie and TV credits on IMDB.

As Tommy Tedesco grew ill – he died in 1997 – his son began interviewing him and other members of The Wrecking Crew, eight of whom have since died.

The filmmaker and producer talks to two more well known members, Glen Campbell and Leon Russell along with Brian Wilson, Cher, Jimmy Webb, Mickey Dolenz, Nancy Sinatra, Herb Albert, Roger MczGuinn, Gary Lewis and Peter Tork and many who worked with the group in the studio.

Denny Tedesco will appear at the film’s showing 7 p.m.Tuesday at the Downer Theater as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival’s Sound Vision series.

Watching Joe Osborne recreate the bass riff that was the backbone of Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine In and Carole Kaye play the bass riff she invented for Mission: Impossible are among its countless memorable scenes.

A uncanny recreation of the group working on Pet Sounds with Brian Wilson was recreated in the film Love & Mercy. And Wilson wrote the liner notes for the book Sound Explosion: The Inside world of the Wrecking Crew, shaped like an LP cover, which uses transcripts of interviews Tedesco collected.

“The photographs are gorgeous and the interviews are with the people who were there, from engineers to producers to artists,” said Tedesco.

Collecting the interviews for the film was the easy part, said a sleepy sounding Tedesco early Tuesday.

The real obstacle was getting rights to the 110 songs in the film at a cost of about $700,000. Festival rights are substantially less and in 2008 the film began showing at festivals and winning awards.

“We basically went into debt” to show it. In 2010 the International Documentary Association became a fiscal sponsor and Tedesco began “barnstorming” the film around the country, collecting donations and email addresses.

“I was basically able to knock another song off the list every time,” he said.

A Kickstarter campaign raised enough to pay the musicians union. The Wrecking Crew is also available for streaming on Netflix. A DVD release features six hours of bonus materials including interviews with Bill Medley, Petula Clark, Richard Carpenter, Barry McGuire” and others that never made it into the film.

“That,” said Tedesco, “is really the most important part, historically.”



Duane Dudek is a Milwaukee native. For more than 30 years, he was film critic and television columnist at the Milwaukee Sentinel and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He continues to apply his expertise at