This post is about some unknown musicians that you have heard thousands, maybe even millions, of times. They are what is known as studio or session musicians. A little secret of the music business is that many of your favorite popular (rock, country, etc.) musicians are — how to put this tactfully — not very good musicians. In fact, some of them became famous long before they could actually play their instrument.
How could that be?
Well, that is where studio musicians like L.A.’s Wrecking Crew and Nashville’s A-Team came in. In the sixties and seventies, Record Producers, the creative money men behind the pop group, would hire professional studio musicians who would actually play the group’s songs during the recording session.
A book review in Monday’s New York Times provides some interesting insights into how this process worked: “Rockers with Low Profiles and Perfect Timing”. The book, with the easy to remember title The Wrecking Crew mentions some of my favorite groups like The Byrds:
…Wrecking Crew regulars made their mark in an era when Top 40 singles really mattered, and rock acts sometimes became famous before they could actually play. “The Wrecking Crew” cites a Byrds recording session for “Mr. Tambourine Man” when every Byrd except one — Roger McGuinn, then still known as Jim — was kicked out of the studio so that better musicians could fill in.
Did this disclosure shatter my view of one of my favorite groups? No, since I never idolized the groups or players, just their music. “Mr. Tambourine Man” is still a great song no matter who recorded it.
Of course, in those days pop groups rarely performed “live” on television. They simply lip-synced their — excuse me, the Wrecking Crew’s — recording. Roger McGuinn, the only Byrd who knew what he was doing musically, is the lead singer playing that lovely Rickenbacker 12-string guitar in this performance. I’m happy to report that Roger McGuinn is still very much alive and strumming some pretty good music.
These boys all have a few miles on them now but they still sound great. Every time they played a song it was like being transported back about fifty years in a time machine to the days of Elvis, Roy Orbison, etc.
If you want to learn more about the Wrecking Crew “secret”, Denny Tedesco, whose father Tommy was a member of the Wrecking Crew, has put together what looks like a great movie about this important part of pop-music history: