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The Wrecking Crew
Just about all the records that came out of LA in the sixties were recorded with the assistance of a small group of session musicians who came to be known as The Wrecking Crew. The core was drummer Hal Blaine, but also one woman, Carol Kaye, saxophonist Steve Douglas and guitarist Tommy Tedesco. And some went on to become stars in their own right - Glen Campbell, Leo Russell and Larry Knechtel (later a member of Bread).
An LA backing guitarist named Billy Strange was listening to the radio one night with a friend and was particularly irritated by a boring song. "Man I could write a better song than that in 5 minutes." "You're on" said his mate and put a 100 dollar bill on the table. he quickly came up with a basic tune he called "Monotonous Melody." Then a few weeks later he was working in a studio when the producer said he was short of material and did anyone have anything he could use. So Billy spent an hour rehearsing the other musos and cut a demo disc, then forgot all about it. A few months later he got a call from manager of a Chicago band he'd never heard of, saying they wanted to use the song on an album but did he mind if they changed the title and some of the words. " Sure". Then a few months later he was sitting at breakfast table opening his mail,and found a cheque for $68,000 (this is 1962). So he calls up the royalty company to find out what the mistake was. "No mistake" the guy says "your song was recorded by the Champs and by Chubby Checker as "Limbo Rock" and both versions were a hit. The money's all yours."
The Champs were one of earliest examples of what became a system - record company would have one version of the band on the road, basically promoting the songs in concerts, and another 'band', this time skilled but anonymous session musicians, to record the music for broadcast and vinyl.
End of 1964 Glen Campbell got a promotion from session guitarist to taking the place of Brian Wilson in the (touring) Beach Boys. By this stage Brian was only using the BBs for vocals - studio musos such as Campbell provided all the studio skills. This was kept completely from the fans.
Brian called up Billy Strange's one Sunday, played him the rough cut of Sloop John B, and told him he needed an electric twelve string guitar solo in the middle of the track. "But Brian I don't even own a twelve string." "Ok let's get one." And Brian calls up the boss of Capital Records (Glenn Wallichs) who also owned Wallichs' Music City. Shortly after, a brand new Fender twelve string and a Fender Twin Reverb amplifier arrive - both from a shop closed on Sundays. Strange sat down and tuned the guitar to his liking, then made one quick pass at the bit Brian wanted. "That's it!" says Wilson, and the shortest ever recording session ended. Almost. Brian peels off five hundred dollar bills and hands them to Billy. "And don't forget your guitar and amp." - a set of equipment worth over two thousand dollars.
Richard Harris's MacArthur Park broke the rules - at over 7 minutes it was twice as long as a standard 45 - and the mainstream rock stations couldn't persuade the producer (Jimmy Webb) to edit it down, so refused to play it. But a bunch of underground FM stations jumped on it and it quickly built such a buzz that big radio had to play it. But this had an unexpected effect downstream. Longer songs were suddenly more acceptable, but this meant there was less playing time for other songs, and so eventually, less jobs for session musos such as the Wrecking Crew.
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