There’s a point in Denny Tedesco’s wonderful 2008 documentary The Wrecking Crew where you find your mouth hanging open slightly. A genuine, gawping, child-like social embarrassment. Caused, as it can only really be, by sheer wonder.
Behind the scenes in Los Angeles recording studios from the ’50s to the ’80s, a group of musicians whose names remain largely unknown to the general public, played individually or, more often, as a loose collective, on some of the most iconic and successful popular music tracks of the era. Not just within record label hit factories, but also on the theme tunes for some of the best-known films and TV shows on the planet.
They worked with everyone from Elvis Presley to the Beach Boys, from Phil Spector to Simon and Garfunkel, from Frank Sinatra to Sam Cooke. They were the go-to instrumentalists for producers and writers. The very best guitarists, drummers, saxophonists et al, not just there to follow the notes on the page, but in many cases acknowledged to be contributing so much more creatively to some of the best known and best-selling songs of our times.
There is a particularly insightful moment when one of the key members of the Wrecking Crew, the bass player, Carol Kaye, talks about the music they are individually making during one marathon recording session ‘leaking’ into each other’s microphones, to create a huge collective sound, somehow greater than the sum of their parts. Musical alchemy by any other name.
So once again, this got me thinking about the unsung heroes of book publishing, the editors, the designers, the professionals working below the radar, the individuals who may or may not get acknowledged on the cover or inside the books they work on. Who are there to read the words on the page and then tighten and tweak and interpret, to use their hard-earned knowledge and expertise to make something as good as it can be. To quote one of the Wrecking Crew, to be hired for their ‘spirit and know-how’.
One day, someone will make that equivalent programme or documentary about books, shining a spotlight on the facilitators of commercial and critical success. Instead of looking at the old vogue for manufactured bands who didn’t write their songs or play on their albums, but who looked good on stage and in studios on TV, the focus will be on ghostwriters and the role they play in the publishing process, where a talented freelancer is paid a fee to create content marketed under someone else’s name or brand.
Denny Tedesco’s documentary is really a love letter to his late father, Tommy: a brilliantly gifted guitarist so utterly ubiquitous in the canon of post-war popular music and yet, as his son points out, simultaneously so anonymous that his name was misspelt in numerous obituaries when he died in 1997.
whitefox will continue to try and raise the profile of some of the unsung heroes of publishing. If there is someone you think we should be aware of who isn’t getting the recognition they deserve, please let us know.