Tag Archives: Leon Russell

The Monkees, The Wrecking Crew (Studio Musicians) and Leon Russell

Remember the big hoopla about 1966 – 67 that the Monkees didn’t play their own instruments? Boy, I do. And it raged for years. The Rock and Roll snobs were really ugly about it.

The Monkees never pretended that their origins were anything other than a massive casting call at Screen Gems. I was a member of their fan club and lots of articles included the original ad that began “Madness: Wanted four ….”. The years have taken their toll. I used to could quote the whole ad.

They were the brainchild of Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider. Their idea was a television show about a loony rock and roll band, with music videos. Marketing began … at the beginning. According to Wikipedia (and if I remember correctly a pre-1968 article in TV guide) the story about the group using studio musicians broke when Mike Nesmith, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork put their collective foot down to be allowed to play their own instruments. Part of the reason they were hired was that they all actually were musicians, except possibly Jones. He was a professional singer, having played the Artful Dodger in the London stage production of Oliver! and had recorded a solo album.

Fast forward a few years to 2007. While looking through some old issues of American Heritage magazine, I saw a piece on the Wrecking Crew.  Up until then, the only Wrecking Crew I was familiar with was the movie with Dean Martin. One of his Matt Helm, pseudo James Bond type things.

The article had pictures of people playing instruments during recording sessions. I think the only one I recognized was Glen Campbell. And even though I’ve always liked Glen Campbell, I’m not really a fan so I just skimmed through it; a couple of years later I was looking through old magazines and sat down to actually read it rather than just looking at the pictures.

(Even though I love to read books and really love magazines, there’s this quirky thing about not reading articles in them. Like a kid, I look at the pictures. I have years worth of Victoria magazines that I’ve never read, just looked at. National Review is an exception. There are very few photos in it and I usually read it cover to cover, often on the day it arrives – except for tax and libertarian pieces.)

Well, lo and behold. The Wrecking Crew was a group of studio musicians in Los Angeles. And yeah, they played the instruments on the Monkee’s first 2 albums.

But they also played for The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, the Byrds and a whole lot more. They were Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. They played everything from jazz to rock and roll to jingles for television commercials. They were fantastic.

There was an interview posted online with Tommy Tedesco’s son Denny, which has been removed.  Tommy was a studio guitarist. Denny made a documentary titled “The Wrecking Crew”, here is a video interview with him. Wish the whole film was on youtube because it looks fascinating.

Glen Campbell and Leon Russell were the only names I recognized. A more complete list of Leon Russell’s keyboard backups is here at Tulsa TV Memories. (Leon Russell is a Tulsa native.)

The Funk Brothers backed up Motown.

For those of us who still like the Monkees:

Go here for a review of a Micky Dolenz concert. Nice article. Micky tells of being in the Abbey Road studio with the Beatles.

In this Wikipedia article on Davy Jones, it mentions that he was on Ed Sullivan the same night that the Beatles debuted, February 9, 1964.

Oh, my. Mike Nesmith is 68. Ouch. Here’s his bio on Wikipedia. My husband saw the current photo of Mike and said he looks like a senator.

And here’s the Wiki article on Peter.

Ah, memories.

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Filed under 1960's, Music, Oklahoma, Rock and Roll, Tulsa, YouTube