John Fischer
Body and Soul

The Unsung Musicians

In the music industry, like many businesses, there are often unsung and even uncredited musicians that lie behind great success. In the 1960s, probably the most creative period in popular music in the United States and Great Britain, that was ceretainly the case. For example, how many people know that not a single Beach Boy played on their seminal album, Pet Sounds? Or that the Mamas and the Papas 1966 release, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears ("Monday, Monday" and "California Dreamin'"), regarded as a pop classic, had narry a "Mama" nor a "Papa" in its rhythm section? The Monkees? Never played an instrument on their records. The Association's Insight Out ("Windy" and "Never My Love")? Voices only. That's how it so often went in the Sixties.

As a recent article in American Heritage Magazine points out, all of these albums were anchored by a group of Session musicians in Los Angeles --- Hal Blaine (shown here), Larry Knechtel, Leon Russell, Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye, and Jim Gordon, among others, collectively dubbed "The Wrecking Crew." Hal Blaine helped make 40 #1 hit records during his career. No one else can say that. That crashing drum solo at the end of Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water?" Hal Blaine. (He also slammed tire chains on the floor during the song.) And studio execs made sure, though, that with most releases only the bands or artists themselves received credit.

I can't blame the studios. While these studio musicians were paid very well for their often six day a week work, on union scale, they were professionals. They could lay down a track much quicker than the artists often could, and were far more predicatble and had much less ego to worry about. Brian Wilson -- then producing at the age of 22 -- greatly appreciated their knowledge and flexibility. He could tell them what he wanted, and they could do it. Doubtless working with the Beach Boys themselves would have been far more troublesome.

It was only in the Seventies that record companies started signing artists who insisted on playing their own instruments under the slogan of "authenticity." What happened? More studio time, more cost, and more ego. I'm not sure this is better.

So, here's to the unsung musicians, the guys just doing their jobs in the background. Aren't those folks the kind who really do most of the work in the world? Not many of us get to be stars. Do many of us really want to be? As bassist Carol Keye said: "We were in the business of making stars. We didn't want to be stars ourselves." Would that we all had that much sense.