• Film

Denny Tedesco “The Real Boys in the Band”

Sometimes, the apple does fall far from the tree. Tommy Tedesco, one of the most prominent and prolific studio session musicians ever, was named by Guitar Player magazine as the most recorded guitarist in history. He played on records with such artists as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, the Fifth Dimension, Ella Fitzgerald, The Beach Boys and Frank Zappa. He also played TV themes as Bonanza, The Twilight Zone, Green Acres and M*A*S*H.

But his son Denny?

“I can’t play a note,” laughs the 63-year-old LA Native during a zoom interview with the HFPA. “I don’t play an instrument, not because I don’t want to, I think it’s because I don’t like to practice.  But I have always loved musicians, I love their banter and they are special to me obviously.”

That love for musicians is on display in his latest documentary, Immediate Family, which shines a spotlight on Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Leland Sklar (bass), and Russ Kunkel (drums), who helped define not only the California southern rock sound of the 1970’s but pretty much music of the last half century.

When hearing the melodic refrains of such rock n roll classics as Edge of Seventeen, Heat Wave, Running on Empty, The Boys of Summer, Short People and You’ve Got a Friend, evokes the faces of the individual artists who sang those tunes, respectively Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Randy Newman and James Taylor. But the common thread that connects these classics is that each used the incomparable talents of those aforementioned session men.

Denny Tedesco, who previously helmed the 2008 release The Wrecking Crew, takes another look at the talents and lives of these often-over-looked musicians and the journey they went on to create some of rock’s greatest anthems.

Most people focus their attention on the lead singer, but you pull the lens back further to incorporate the contributions of these noted session men and their incredible versatility.

Versatility is a great word. I was talking about this yesterday with someone. I said musicians are like comedians because they have to listen, they are constantly listening to each other.  If a player is going this way, he has to follow or decide to go a different way.  And it’s just something that they do.  My father wasn’t a studied musician, he didn’t study, he just learned on his own.  But they appreciate all kinds of music, Classical, Jazz, Country, studio musicians I am saying.  They really had to understand what it was about.  Their job is to make sure that they give the artist what they need to create a hit.  It doesn’t matter if it’s a Bar Mitzvah or Sinatra, you are going in there 110 percent, you must, you give it your all. Same thing in the 70s, all these studio musicians, the song comes first. What you play is what you think the song needs. 

While you present this roundtable of the guy’s reminiscing, you also bring forward the artists they played for. We hear from Carole King, James Taylor, Keith Richards and Linda Ronstadt. How important was it to get their viewpoint?

 You have to. I mean when you are doing these projects like The Wrecking Crew, and in that one I had Brian Wilson, Herb Alpert, Nancy Sinatra and Cher, you need the stories from the other side or it’s just an ego trip of the people you are talking about.  So, for me, this was probably the easiest job in terms of ‘hey, can Carole King, can James Taylor, can Jackson Browne, can Linda Ronstadt, can Don Henley, can Keith Richards and so on, do an interview’? Oh my God, it was so fast, it was almost too fast, because after The Band said yes to the pitch, within three weeks I had Carole King come in. I went ‘oh my God, I don’t know if I am ready for this.’  You think you know the story, but you really don’t, you have to really start researching it and then you learn as you go along.

Why do you think they said yes so fast?

Everybody said yes so quickly because they love these musicians.  And there’s a big difference in these musicians and let’s say my father in the Wrecking Crew.  These musicians were young when they start working with these folks and they are really not, Peter Asher was the one, who is in the movie, said to me, I said something to him about legendary musicians and he looked at me and said they weren’t legendary musicians, they were our friends. I realized in 1970, they hadn’t done much, in 1970 these guys were just starting out in the studios, they hadn’t really gone on the road with major acts.

And these became some big acts.

I will give an example, three albums that Russ Kunkel did in 1970. He worked on Joni Mitchell’s Blue, Tapestry by Carole King and Sweet Baby James.  I mean those are three, you could quit your career.  But that is the start of his career. And these guys become such good friends with the artists, because don’t forget, the artists, they are all the same age in a sense, they are all within your early 20s.  And they hadn’t made it yet.  Don’t forget, Carole is the only one who had a successful writing career, but no one had at that point when they were starting out, no one had a real career as an artist yet, other than Don Henley.

How challenging was it to make this documentary?

You know it’s weird, because again, I am comparing myself to two different projects.  The first one, I only had stills, because the guys never left the studios.  The Wrecking Crew never went on the road.  These guys at least went on the road so we could find concert footage of them. And luckily there were more photographs of these guys. 

I can’t imagine not having some of this footage, like the BBC, there is footage of the Sweet Baby James tour with James and the guys and Carole is there too.  I mean that’s precious.  I guess I am lucky in a lot of ways, you just hope that you find stuff.