Twilight Zone. Rocky Horror Picture Show. Batman TV show. Godfather. Wayne Newton’ s Danke Schoen. Enter the Dragon. Cincinnati Kid. Recognize any of those tunes? Then you have heard the work of Niagara Falls, NY born Tommy Tedesco with the Wrecking Crew.
When I first heard that the movie “Wrecking Crew” was coming to the Market Arcade in downtown Buffalo, I thought of quarterback Paul “Wrecking” Crewe of the Mean Machine football team, the inmates’ team in the movie “The Longest Yard”. Instead it was about the 50s and 60s LA-dominated music scene, where the same 20 studio musicians “helped” fix hundreds of songs into gangbuster hits, and “wrecked” rock and roll forever with their incredible improvisations. You get to view Phil Spector’s “wall of sound” which actually was just a pretty small room but with great wall-to-wall musicians. This documentary is their story as told by Denny Tedesco, son of guitarist Tommy Tedesco (one of the 20 regular studio musicians). Denny shared his experiences with us after the viewing. He had traveled from California to be here in Buffalo with us.
Why this is important to aspiring Buffalo musicians?
There is so much you can learn from the Wrecking Crew about making it in the music business. In the movie, you hear examples of how a great studio musician takes something ordinary, and improvises it into something special that really works. We saw this fabulous lady bass player, on how she took an ordinary bass line from the Sonny and Cher hit, “The Beat Goes On”, and changed it to liven it up and added body to the song. You will recognize it when you see the movie.
Their sessions reminded me of some of my Buffalo musician friends that can play so many different genres. For them, a typical week might be gigs filling in with different bands at Sportsmens Tavern, Pausa Art House, DBGBs, and the Waiting Room.
Studio hit men
In the movie a drummer talked about his love for jazz, but his having to play rock and roll to pay the bills. So for the Buffalo musician to make it in the music business, it might be a great idea to learn to play in as many musical styles that you can learn, even though they may not all be your favorites. Also, learning to play multiple instruments will help you play at more venues. Tommy Tedesco played more than 30 musical instruments. Finally, learn to write and read music, and not just play by ear. If you have flexibility, you might find yourself playing guitar some evening at Silo City, and then later that night playing percussion during Bluegrass at Hardware.
My favorite lines from the Wrecking Crew:
What do you call a trombone player with a beeper? An optimist. (pagers were big before the cell phone age and during the payphone age)
You never say no until you’re too busy to say yes. (love this one)
I studied common sense more than I studied guitar. (great advice)
Give more than you can take.
– Question: How did it affect your personal lives?
Hal Blaine: “I went through six wives.”
Tommy Tedesco: “That was because of your personality.” (followed by group laughter)
When he was engaged to Carmie Alongi from Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls, NY. Carmie once got jealous of Tommy’s guitar.
Tommy: “The guitar doesn’t have legs, but you do.”
Carmie threw her ring at Tommy.
But she still married him.
For 48 years until he died.
“He helped me”
When musicians talk about him, that was the quote heard most often about Tommy. And Tommy had a lot of guitar heroes (this was before that video game came out). Also, Tommy felt musicians were special because of how they banter. Not just with the spoken word. But also bantering with music, which is called improvising. They would “bounce” off each other’s music back and forth. At a session, a recording device would be turned on only after the three hour mark. So the final product only happened after musicians were warmed up and relaxed, and so a much better sound resulted. And sometimes they recorded four songs in just three hours.
Watch the documentary at home, and how to view outtakes
The Wrecking Crew may be back next for another viewing in Niagara Falls or possibly Rochester. If you love music, I highly recommend you go see it, even if you aren’t a musician. In the meantime, when the DVD breaks, you will be able to purchase it. Just sign up to get an email from Denny here. On this page you can also view outtakes from the movies. And even sponsor a chapter of the upcoming DVD. Yes, this is old school movie marketing at its best. About a great chapter in music history.
Buffalo Rising reader, please share any stories you have from Buffalo’s rich recording music history.