I like classic rock. I like the stuff with a good beat, fun lyrics and makes me want to move. I also like the stuff with a deeper message which reflects the turbulent sixties. It’s all great. And the bands whose names are attached to these songs are all well known, or at least passingly familiar, and never fail to bring a wave of nostalgia whenever one of the tunes shows up on the radio or in my iTunes shuffle.
Except for one thing… It wasn’t always the band in question playing the instruments you’re hearing. In fact, if the song was recorded in Southern California between 1964 and 1975 or so, odds are the music instead was supplied by members of the Wrecking Crew, a group of 2 dozen or so studio musicians who were called in to lay down tracks.
This book is exhaustive in its research, name checking everyone who played on the various records and is an interesting snapshot of the inside world of the recording industry back in the day… but even with that, it’s still a fairly shallow look. Kent Hartman, who has spent a good deal of his professional life in the biz, but more behind the scenes, loves the music he’s writing about and feels thrilled to death to be able to share in the party, no matter how late he is or how vicarious his connection (the idea came from a ride with Bread keyboardist Larry Knechtel while Hartman was producing the band’s tour merchandise).
Hartman has the research to back up the stories he’s telling, but this book, which started as a much shorter article, should be more than just stories and Hartman himself isn’t really up to the task. He structures the book in a series of chronological vignettes, each based around a specific person during a seminal recording session. There’s no through line, though. He’ll introduce figures and then come back and touch on them, but in the end, we never understand anything more about them than they can play really well (with a couple of small exception like Glenn Campbell, but even he isn’t really given much heft). Hal Blaine, the guy who actually named the Wrecking Crew, is given the most book time, but it’s mostly just anecdotes.
So really, what he does is fine, but it merely whets the appetite, leaving a lot of unanswered questions. I wanted to know why these amazing players were never put together as an actual band. It would have been interesting to understand the mindset of wanting to be the person in the studio and not the person getting the accolades (none of the Crew were credited on the albums they played on).
Now, as I listened to this book as opposed to reading it, there are some audio specific comments to make, the first of which is, I know the clearance of rights would have been a nightmare, but getting the audio of just the riffs and beats which are talked about would have been amazing. When Hartman is talking about guitarist Carol Kaye (one of, if not the only, female member of the group) adding the groove which took The Beat Goes On by Sonny & Cher to the next level (or any of the other famous bits of music he references) it would have been cool to actually hear them. Also, a special shout out to Dan John Miller who does an excellent job on the narration.