Monday, December 11, 2023

Immediate Family: Trust Me, You’ve Heard Them Too

Denny Tedesco considers them the heirs to the Wrecking Crew’s studio legacy and he ought to know. His father was legendary studio guitarist Tommy Tedesco and he directed the 2015 documentary about his father’s revolving cast of session musicians. They had one advantage over the Wrecking Crew: they got credit on the albums they played on. As a result, they also shared in the successes they made possible. After years of playing together in a variety of circumstances, the seventy-something musicians look back on their lives and music in Tedesco’s Immediate Family, which has a special nationwide screening tomorrow, before opening this Friday at the Quad.

Danny “Kootch” Kortmar happened to grow up with a kid named James Taylor—the same. Having banged around in his own bands, he became a big part of Taylor’s early records, along with drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Leland Sklar, and fellow guitarist Waddy Wachtel. Eventually, guitarist Steve Postel also joined their group, becoming the Ronnie Wood of Immediate Family.

The original Fab Four worked together a lot, also playing a critical role in shaping the recordings of Carole King, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt. In fact, they became well-known for their particular sounds, because their friends gave them proper credit. As a result, they felt secure enough to leave the studio to go on tour with the artists whose hits they recorded.

Immediate Family had a much different career trajectory than the Wrecking Crew, which is encouraging for those of us who value musicianship. Maybe they never achieved the fame of the headliners they recorded with, but they truly made names for themselves. As “The Section,” they recorded three quite jazz-rock-fusion albums and they all have become successful producers.

Presumably because they are still good friends with the likes of Taylor, Ronstadt, Browne, King, and Phil Collins, all of whom sat for extended interviews with Tedesco, the musical licensing was easier this time around than on
The Wrecking Crew. (Indeed, it was licensing costs that delayed the release of Tedesco’s first film for many years.)

Immediate Family
is a fun documentary, but it cannot quite match The Wrecking Crew, in large part because nobody can equal the sly humor of Hal Blaine or Tedesco’s dad. It also does not have the drama of the Wrecking Crew’s belated recognition (again, that is good for Immediate Family, but it makes their latest reunion just another good get-together). This might sound argumentative, but the Wrecking Crew also played on better records (Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, The Righteous Brothers, The Beach Boys, The Monkees—they all best that kind of 1970s singer-songwriter rock).

To repeat, nobody begrudges Immediate Family their success. Many fans will just wish the Wrecking Crew and The Funk Brothers could have shared in some of it (like Booker T and the M.G.’s did at Stax). They obviously learned a lot about the business, so aspiring musicians would do well by listening to them. Although they made their names in the 1970s, it is worth noting they all recall the 1980s as a decade of opportunity, as indeed it was. For an example, Kortmar produced Don Henley’s solo recordings, including “Dirty Laundry” and “The Boys of Summer.”

There is a lot of nostalgia and cool musical camaraderie in
Immediate Family. It ought to make some viewers go back and look at the liner notes of their classic rock CDs. Tedesco’s docs are a reminder that there are a lot of musicians out there that you might be a fan of, but you don’t realize it. Highly recommended for 1970s rock fans, Immediate Family has a special screening this Tuesday (12/12) and then opens Friday (12/15) at the Quad.