Studio Beach Wreck

/ Music&Art /

As a kid I was addicted to jazz. My missionary-like zeal on this sacred subject was not effective, at least not in high school. My friends didn’t mind jazz, so long as it was in the background, while we were drinking. I wanted everyone on a hard Puritan bench, with unrelenting discipline, until the least musical among us could recognize Lester Young’s sound from the first bar. Pres plays, we sing out, “Lester!” Ah, but in college that changed, magically: I was surrounded by guys who knew Brubeck as well as I and who, unlike untrained me, could themselves play, and damn well. I went to every dance, not to dance but to focus on my friends playing on the band stand. From week one the best of those friends, was David Levy. He played alto sax, was very knowledgable, came from a crazy artist family: he thought his father (Edgar Levy) should have been as famous as Braque! almost as famous as Picasso! (Funny thing was, a couple of famous cubists agreed!)

Anyway, I want to make a point, and I want to credit the point to Levy: so I had to introduce him. (Later I’ll tell in a different post what went wrong between us: by junior year he was behaving not at all like my friend, by senior year he was treating me like an enemy: it all boiled into insults the last time I saw him.) (I’ll add one detail here: when I tried to explain to him my offer of a public data base-based internet in 1970 he dismissed the whole deschooling philosophy as “naive”.) David Levy told me that as much as we might honor this or that musician, the very best musicians were likely unknown to us by name. They were the studio musicians. They were the guys that the networks would call when there was an empty chair in the band, or when a TV ad needed a jingle. They weren’t named, but they went home to the “suburbs” and ate, in David’s phrase, “roast beef”.

The Wrecking Crew
thanx newyorker

I just watched a video on the subject, The Wrecking Crew. The son of studio guitar player Tommy Tedesco made this documentary and he named names, showed their work: in Chicago, New York … LA … Fabulous. I’m going to watch it again today, write down some of the names. (A few of the names I already knew: Barney Kessel. Other names we’d all come to know: Glen Campbell.

I learned one extraordinary thing from this great doc I hadn’t known: those guys (and at least one gal) didn’t go home to the suburbs, they ate their roast beef in restaurants: there was no time to go home to any suburbs: they worked morning, noon, night, mid-night! They made union scale, three or four jobs a day, every day, every week, for a decade! Carol Kaye, Fender bass, the blond, just below: it’s estimated she played on at least 10,000 recording sessions! Brian Wilson (original Beach Boy, Beach Boy composer, creator) called her the greatest bass player in the world! And she said she made more money in those days than the president!

The Wrecking Crew
thanx juliettejagger

And we know every note they recorded, because everything they did, almost everything, became a hit.

The Beach Boys: you see them, you hear them, you see them playing their instruments. Maybe, but that’s not their instruments on the hit record. On the record the instruments are played, off-camera, by the Wrecking Crew.

The Pink Panther, that wonderful breathy tenor sax. That’s not Prez, not Getz, nor Bird, and not Paul Desmond either. It’s Plas Johnson! You didn’t likely see him at Birdland. He didn’t have time or occasion to play Birdland, he was playing studio gigs, one after the other, round the clock, working like a lawyer. Birdland was for guys who wanted fame (instead of money). (Though Miles played Birdland and made money.)

Plas Johnson said he wanted to play jazz. He started out playing bebop. But no one was paying him for bebop, or jazz in general. But he was booked all day everyday under this and that fiction – Henry Mancini orchestra – by this and that studio. Studios cast not by audience attendance but like Hollywood, corporate bureaucracies, executive decision: art as product.

In time a funny thing happened: some of the pop acts actually learned a little music, actually learned to play their own instuments, didn’t sit still for professional assistance. (Till then the music industry was cast, like a movie: with stunt doubles.)

Back in the 1950s I saw a girl on the subway as “Miss Rheingold”. In 1982 I met her and came to live with her. But in the ’50s Miss Rheingold was hired to be one of the two blonds Perry Como sang to on TV. Perry would sing, the blonds would sing … That is, Perry would sing, and the blonds would lip synch: and make sure no sound came out to interfere. The real back-up-singers were behind the curtain.
Of course Charles Van Doren was given the quiz show answers. He didn’t ask to see the answers, he didn’t know he was being rehearsed in the answers. That is, he didn’t know it, till he was in the booth, sweating, patting his brown with a neatly folded white hankie, as he’d been rehearsed, and they gave the question that had the answer he’d been told. This was TV! a quiz show! This is not Columbia: this is America! This is about money!

Who knew that the Beach Boys didn’t play their own instruments? on stage, yes, in the studio, no. It was them on the film, it was them on the stage; but it was not them on the record. No, the record was too important for these Beach Boys. Did any one really think the Monkeys could play those guitars? Maybe a G chord, maybe a D7: if the rhythm was simple enough.

2015 08 03 At one point the difference was quantified: the studio produced some tune, some group, maybe Windy, the Association, in three hours: in and out the door, on its way to a hit. Then they trained The Association to do it themselves, for on stage, for touring. It took fifty-five hours: for mediocre results. But at least the guys could tour. What did the audience know? It’s not for the audience either! it’s for the money.

Know Your Stars

You know how you watch a movie, say Bogart, Maltese Falcon: you’ve seen all those actors before, but this time Bogart stands out. Then you see him thirty more times: I know that guy! I like that guy. I love that guy!

Society is a network of missed chances.

On the other hand there are models, actors, teachers, politicians we see a zillion times: each time you hate the guy more, are more revolted by the girl. To me, society is a network of missed chances, a bolix summing all the wrong choices: we set Barabas free and execute Jesus.

But Jesus is just a symbol for the right choice, the missed choice: any real Jesus is likely to be one of the wrong choices, the water that couldn’t boil.

So: me: I loved jazz as a kid; the world was choosing rock ‘n roll. I said Listen to Muddy! The world listened to Elvis. Now I look at this “history” of pop music, featuring the Wrecking Crew. (Carole Kaye said she didn’t like that name: she called the group of which she was a core member The Clique.) The doc is full of music I ignored, music I was outright hostile to: Christians following Peter, when they should have been following Mary: when they should have followed Jesus when there was a chance of success. So: here’s the Beach Boys: yawn! hostility! (But now I see / hear part of what they did: pretty good actually, some of it. And in the mix is Cher, with Sonny.
And I think: I know that girl! Look at the deadpan, like a model! I like that girl. I love that girl!
Actually I had softened toward Cher once, decades ago, when I saw Moonstruck, long after it had disappeared from popularity.
(Cher was saying how people asked her if she ever played with the Wrecking Crew: only every day, all day, for years.

Surry Down
The movie cascades moments from hits of the 1960s, songs I did not listen to then, but loved hearing quoted. Had I heard them then, had I listened with attention, would I have understood the lyrics?

Surry Down
to a stone cold picnic.

Now I’m marveling: It’s not Engish. It’s not intelligible. But it compels us as though it were an actual language, using actual words, words with meaning.
Typically pop gibberish refreences sex and drugs. Stone is certainly a stoner’s word: what’s surry? Well, it reminds us of this and that.
It’s macroinformation. In this case it’s information conveying no information, but lots of associations.

Studio Art
2015 08 04 Maybe I should start over again, reorganize my points from second and third sight. It’s a scrapbook, much of my posting is scrapbook: the seat-of-my-pants writing has way out-bulked my digested-scholar writing. (Of course my my digested-scholar writing got sabotaged and re-sabotaged, so that shouldn’t surprise anybody but Pollyanna.) I go on, blurting:

The world was ancient before humans were born. Everything wove from well-established antecedants. When I was born Life Magazine already existed, and “magazines” existed before Life existed. Advertising existed, and markets, economies. Now 2015 07 31 ff. I watch this doc on often used studio musicians. They could spit out recordings much faster than garage bands, much better: professional from the first vibe. This movie shows the Association singing Windy. When was that? Let’s establish time lines, trace chronologies: 1967. The Beatles Hard Days Night came out in 1964: Richard Lester. The Beatles interacted together, well, I don’t doubt that they improvised behaviors as well as songs … but: Richard Lester was there too: a one-man pop media Wrecking Crew: he could work with, he could capture, John Lennon goofing around, he’d already worked with, captured Peter Sellers goofing around. Back in 1964 I was indignat at media ignorance when Hard Days Night was credited with “originality”: I’d seen The Running Jumping Standing Still Film!

Do you see what I’m saying? The Beatles built a big new wave but the previous waves were also something. Babe Ruth’s 400 foot home run was 5 feet longer than his 395 foot home run: but he’d already transformed baseball before he hit either! Then along comes a studio: they concoct publicity packages for home run hitting … And long before that lizards crawled onto the beach and stayed on dry land for awhile. This and that cell already knew how to divide: doubling populations. There was already a recorded music economy, a set of businesses, before The Wrecking Crew was first assembled. There were studios, echo chambers … special effects.
Ike Turned knew what to do with Tina Turner, made records, made money; but Phil Specter came along and did things coke head Ike couldn’t dream of no matter how much he snorted.

So. check out that Association Windy video: it’s “produced” within an inch of its life. The kids in the band didn’t invent any of it any more than Shirley Temple invented the camera. They were cast, rehearsed: drilled in a dead masque of spontaneity.

Meantime I, pk, the pop music hater, have a head full of ear-worms from The Wrecking Crew.

I Know That Guy

I repeat, I didn’t know Cher when the world was meeting her; but now that I have met her, I love her. And ditto Nancy Sinatra. The doc used Nancy Sinatra as one of its talking heads, experts, as though she were peer to the Wrecking Crew. Well, hell, she’s been around, had a privileged view of the music business, all her life. And I realized: I love her too!

I enjoyed what she said about her hit Boots. Dad, she said, sang it: she said he shouldn’t have: I agree. She said it was harsh, abrasive, disrespectful; Ah, she said, but it’s perfect for a “little girl”. Hmm. She may have something there.

Best Bass

In the 1950s I duplicated the jazz world’s opinion that Charlie Mingus was the best bass player. He got recorded lots no matter how crazy his behavior. He got classical calls now and then too: on occasion he’d join the Philharmonic, read Brahms or whatever. By the time Brian Wilson was hailing Carol Kaye, I joined those hailing Stanley Clark: he was the best bass I ever saw apart from Mingus. Stanley Clark became best known on Fender bass, but I saw him play upright acoustic bass as easily and naturally as someone else might play the fiddle.

Rewatching Wrecking Crew shows me that I got details of who did what mixed up. A rewrite would bring it step closer to responsible journalism: meanwhile it is responsible blab.

2015 08 06 Netfix has fed me opportunities to see other behind the pop scenes docs. I’m now watching and rewatching such. Marvelous.

Twenty Feet From Stardom

A year or so ago I saw a marvelous doc updating us on the gals who sang in the Cotton Club oh so many decades ago. Still swinging, still sassy. Beautiful.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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