The Wrecking Crew

The Wrecking Crew was a loose collective of Los Angeles-based session musicians whose services were employed for a great number of studio recordings in the 1960s and 1970s, including hundreds of Top 40 hits. The musicians were not publicly recognized in their era, but were viewed with reverence by industry insiders. They are now considered one of the most successful and prolific session recording units in music history.

Most of the players associated with the Wrecking Crew had formal backgrounds in jazz or classical music. The group had no official name in its active years, and it remains a subject of contention whether or not they were referred to as “the Wrecking Crew” at the time. Drummer Hal Blaine popularized the name in his 1990 memoir, attributing it to older musicians who felt that the group’s embrace of rock and roll was going to “wreck” the music industry. Some of Blaine’s colleagues corroborated his account, while guitarist/bassist Carol Kaye contended that they were called “the Clique”. Another unofficial name was “the First Call Gang”, sometimes used in the 1950s for an early version of the group headed by bassist Ray Pohlman which featured some of the same musicians.

The unit coalesced in the early 1960s as the de facto house band for Phil Spector and helped realize his Wall of Sound production style. They subsequently became the most requested session musicians in Los Angeles, playing behind many popular recording artists including Jan and Dean, Sonny & Cher, the Mamas and the Papas, the 5th Dimension, Frank Sinatra, and Nancy Sinatra. The musicians were sometimes used as “ghost players” on recordings credited to rock groups, such as the Byrds’ debut rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” (1965), the first two albums by the Monkees, and the Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds.

The Wrecking Crew’s contributions to so many hit recordings went largely unnoticed until the publication of Blaine’s memoir and the attention that followed. Keyboardist Leon Russell and guitarist Glen Campbell were members who became popular solo acts, while Blaine is reputed to have played on more than 140 top-ten hits, including approximately 40 number-one hits. Other musicians who formed the unit’s ranks were drummer Earl Palmer, saxophonist Steve Douglas, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and keyboardist Larry Knechtel, who became a member of Bread. Blaine and Palmer were among the inaugural “sidemen” inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, and the entire Wrecking Crew was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2007. In 2008, they were the subject of the documentary The Wrecking Crew.


Sources: Kent Hartman (The Wrecking Crew) and Robert Lloyd (“Time of the Session”; LA Weekly)

Electric bass: Max Bennett, Carol Kaye, Larry Knechtel, Joe Osborn, Bill Pitman, Ray Pohlman, Bob West
Double bass (upright bass): Chuck Berghofer, Jimmy Bond, Red Callender, Lyle Ritz
Drums: Hal Blaine, John Clauder, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner, Earl Palmer, Joe Porcaro
Guitar: Bill Aken, Doug Bartenfeld, Ben Benay, Vinnie Bell, Dennis Budimir, James Burton, Glen Campbell, Al Casey, David Cohen, Jerry Cole, Mike Deasy, John Goldthwaite, Carol Kaye, Barney Kessel, Lou Morrell, Frank Marshall, Don Peake, Bill Pitman, Ray Pohlman, Howard Roberts, Irv Rubins, Louie Shelton, P.F. Sloan, Billy Strange, Tommy Tedesco, Al Vescovo
Keyboards: Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), Al De Lory, Larry Knechtel, Mike Melvoin, Don Randi, Mike (Michel) Rubini, Leon Russell
Percussion: Larry Bunker, Frank Capp, Gary Coleman, Gene Estes, Victor Feldman, Milt Holland, Joe Porcaro.
Vibraphone & Marimba:Julius Wechter, Terry Gibbs.
Other Percussion: “Jingle Bells” and “Tambourine” Sonny Bono.
Max Weinberg in his book “The Big Beat” does include Bono in a list of members of the Wrecking Crew as “percussion” and Bono appears in the photograph labeled, “The Wrecking Crew” on p. 79 of the book.

Saxophone: Allan Buetler, Gene Cipriano, Steve Douglas, Bill Green, Jim Horn, Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso, John Lowe, Jay Migliori, Nino Tempo
Trombone: Richard “Slyde” Hyde, Lew McCreary, Dick Nash, Lou Blackburn
Trumpet: Bud Brisbois, Roy Caton, Chuck Findley, Ollie Mitchell, Tony Terran
Flute: Jim Horn
Harmonica: Tommy Morgan
Vocals: Ron Hicklin Singers often performed backup vocals on many of the same songs on which the Wrecking Crew had played instrumental tracks.
Conductor and arranger: Jack Nitzsche