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The Wrecking Crew, and Other Unsung Heroes

March 30, 2015

Wrecking Crew DocumentaryAfter being tied up in music rights issues for seven years, The Wrecking Crew is now being released. This documentary tells the story of one of the most important session musician groups in pop history. Here’s a bit more about the Crew, and other backing bands.

The Wrecking Crew

That’s the nickname these musicians from the 1960s gave themselves after the old line studio players, who hated rock, complained that they were “wrecking the business.” The band, which included Hal Blaine (drums), Joe Osborne (bass), Larry Knechtel (keyboards), Glen Campbell (guitar), and Leon Russell (piano), were producer Phil Spector’s “go-to” guys. The Wrecking Crew played on six consecutive Record of the Year Grammy winners: “A Taste of Honey” by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (1966), “Strangers in the Night” by Frank Sinatra (1967), “Up, Up and Away” by the Fifth Dimension (1968), “Mrs. Robinson” by Simon and Garfunkel (1969), “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In” by the Fifth Dimension (1970), and “Bridge Over Troubled Water” by Simon and Garfunkel (1971). Blaine played a set of fire chains on that last one.

Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section

Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Roger Hawkins (drums), David Hood (bass), Barry Beckett (keyboards), and Donny Short (lead guitar) are known as the “Swampers” by the music legends who’ve come down to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, to record with them since 1967. The musicians were given the nickname “Swampers” during a recording session with Mick Jagger because of the swampy land in Muscle Shoals. They were referenced by name in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.” The Muscle Shoals Sound Studios were founded in 1969 in an old casket warehouse. Their first client was Cher. Selected recordings: “Old Time Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Bob Seger, “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge,” “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones,” and “Land of a Thousand Dances” by Wilson Pickett.

The Memphis Sound

In 1958 the Royal Spades were a band of white kids from Memphis who loved black music. When sax player Packy Axton’s mother opened a studio called Satellite Records (later Stax-Volt) to record local talent, they changed their name to the Mar-Keys and became the house band. Local black musicians soon joined, led by keyboard player Booker T. Jones, drummer Al Jackson Jr., and sax man Andrew Love. In 1962 guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn split off from the Mar-Keys to join Jones and Jackson as Booker T. and the MGs (“Memphis Group”), and Love and trumpeter Wayne Jackson still play as the Memphis Horns. But together this assembly of black and white musicians wrote the book on what came to be called classic Southern soul. Among the songs they’ve played on: “Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding, “Soul Man” by Sam and Dave, “Son of a Preacher Man” by Dusty Springfield, and “I’ll Take You There” by the Staples Singers.

For more on this and hundreds of other subjects, check out the book where this piece came from, Uncle John’s Fast-Acting Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.

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