Teamwork and mutual respect

Denny Tedesco on the Kloster brothers, teamwork, mutual respect and Immediate Family

by Anne-Katrin Titze

Danny Kortchmar with Carole King in Denny Tedesco’s close-knit and illustrious Immediate Family states: “We got to meet and play with our heroes.”
Danny Kortchmar with Carole King in Denny Tedesco’s close-knit and illustrious Immediate Family states: “We got to meet and play with our heroes.” Photo: Denny Tedesco

Denny Tedesco’s close-knit and illustrious Immediate Family (a DOC NYC highlight which includes animation by Lewie Kloster and Noah Kloster), features on-camera in-person interviews with Stevie Nicks, Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Carole King, Phil Collins, David Crosby, Lyle Lovett, Keith Richards, Steve Jordan, Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon), Lou Adler, and Neil Young (on Zoom) on their seminal work with the masterful foursome of Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, and Waddy Wachtel (featured in Morgan Neville’s Keith Richards: Under The Influence) on some of the biggest hits of the Seventies and Eighties. The impact of The Beatles looms large (as it did for Don Letts in Bill Badgley’s Rebel Dread) and a peak at Immediate Family, the band (Kortchmar, Sklar, Kunkel, Wachtel, and Steve Postell), enters the picture.

Denny Tedesco with Anne-Katrin Titze on his father who performed on The Godfather, Jaws, and The French Connection soundtracks (252 uncredited credits in all): “In the film The Wrecking Crew, my dad Tommy Tedesco, he was one of the greatest session players that ever lived in L.A..”
Denny Tedesco with Anne-Katrin Titze on his father who performed on The Godfather, Jaws, and The French Connection soundtracks (252 uncredited credits in all): “In the film The Wrecking Crew, my dad Tommy Tedesco, he was one of the greatest session players that ever lived in L.A..”

James Taylor is the first of many threads connecting Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel, and Waddy Wachtel to the singer/songwriters we see and hear in Immediate Family. In a clip of Taylor with the band on tour in the Seventies he slyly and mischievously introduces them individually to the audience and to us as “The Section”: "One of the things about the camaraderie was the knowledge of what it's like to make music together and to collaborate on something like that. Like put down a tune and everybody work together as a sort of team or a community on this tune. It's a bond, it's such a special thing to be able to do."

Lyle Lovett on his boyhood musical memories: "Seeing those names on other recordings and thinking that, 'Wow, these are the guys!' And in a way these new independent players that were brought in by new artists like Carole King in those days, in a way the baton was handed to them and they became the new Wrecking Crew.”

David Crosby on his glowing admiration for the four musicians: “There's two universal languages that nobody needs to be taught and everybody gets them, music and math. It was unmistakable and it was one of the things that made everybody fall in love with those guys and that was they had respect for each other and, along with the talent, they had a gift for communicating with each other.”

Leland Sklar: “My earliest memories about music really were the Liberace show”
Leland Sklar: “My earliest memories about music really were the Liberace show” Photo: Denny Tedesco

Waddy Wachtel explains and performs his show-stopping guitar riff for Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen and Stevie notes: "Waddy and I sometimes, I think we're the same person, except from California and New York, because we are like two sides of a coin and that's why we have been working together for so long I think. Because I would never want anybody else to be my musical director, or my lead guitarist, because Waddy makes me feel safe and always has in any situation, no matter how frightening the situation, as long as he's standing next to me, I know I'm safe."

In the first instalment with Denny Tedesco we discuss his work with the Kloster brothers for Immediate Family and their short film Le Tour de Pants with Ali Selim, the Van Nuys Drive-In reference in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time ... In Hollywood and its connection to Leland Sklar and his bass named Frankenstein, Denny’s wrecking crew father Tommy Tedesco, Waddy Wachtel and his Noah-like preference to have animals come in twos, plus the impact of Covid on filming the interviews.

From Los Angeles, Denny Tedesco joined me on Zoom for an in-depth conversation on Immediate Family.

Anne-Katrin Titze: Hello!

Waddy Wachtel: “All this really amazing guitarist stuff started slappin’ me in the head and it was Duane Eddy and Carl Perkins”
Waddy Wachtel: “All this really amazing guitarist stuff started slappin’ me in the head and it was Duane Eddy and Carl Perkins” Photo: Denny Tedesco

Denny Tedesco: Hi, how are you?

AKT: I’m fine. Let’s begin with your beautiful opening credits, the tree, which I suppose you did with the Kloster brothers?

TD: Yeah, you know them?

AKT: We’ve been in touch [through Sara Driver] but I have never met them in person. How did you come up with the idea? Your five protagonists are introduced as roots!

TD: I’m really excited that you saw that and related to it. It’s funny, I don’t know how I came to it, I just knew I wanted to link it to family and family tree came up and I said this is it. It was easy enough to do that, it gave us the chance to show off the songs on the leaves.

I came across Noah, my wife actually did, because they did a short film about a director who’s a good friend of ours, Ali Selim, who is fabulous, man, fabulous director. It was something they did, I was like oh my god, I love this! They’re taking and mixing mediums, some real, some not. It also gave us a chance to show some humour.

AKT: Especially in the beginning about the childhoods you made some funny choices about what to illustrate. Cleaning the cymbals or carrying an instrument.

Russ Kunkel: “Hugely influenced by The Beatles because no one had ever heard anything like that before”
Russ Kunkel: “Hugely influenced by The Beatles because no one had ever heard anything like that before” Photo: Denny Tedesco

TD: Thank you, that’s so nice! I’m so excited that you noticed all that, because sometimes I think it just goes past people. Leland Sklar, when he is talking about going to junior high and he’d been a piano player his whole life and now they’ve given him an upright bass and he has to drag it home. The greatest thing about that is, I lived in the Valley, I live in the Valley, and I know exactly where he went.

So I actually went and took pictures of where he lived, the house and the street and I showed to Lewie and Noah a picture of his house, so they went off on that. If you saw the Quentin Tarantino movie about Hollywood, that drive-in [cinema] was what we were going to. It’s no longer there. So I looked up the time period Leland would have been in school and he would have had to go past the drive-in, and I was able to check, yeah, it would have been Beach Blanket Bingo [directed by William Asher], so we put that in. Now you got me going!

AKT: Go ahead!

TD: Then the car - I went “Lee, what kind of car did your parents drive?” So I found the green Oldsmobile or whatever it was and told Louis and Noah to put that in there somewhere. I introduce the players with animation and the other Leland story - only bass players would know this: The studio is where they did all this work and he drives up in his car, which is his real car, it was a hot rod.

James Taylor: “It all just seemed like the natural thing the people who play the music for the record should play it on the road”
James Taylor: “It all just seemed like the natural thing the people who play the music for the record should play it on the road” Photo: Denny Tedesco

Inside I make it look like Frankenstein with the lightning and this base is coming down and drops from the ceiling. The reason I did this is because he used to call and still does call his bass Frankenstein, the famous bass that he created. It’s like an inside joke to bass players.

AKT: And the real car shows up in the end when you open up the film to nature.

TD: That’s right! Wow!

AKT: In the beginning you have the animation and in the end nature comes in. It’s lovely to see Waddy with two horses, two dogs, two chickens and two eggs.

TD: That Waddy, it’s hilarious. It’s true, I forgot about that. I hadn’t shot that yet, but you’re right, I didn’t think about that.

AKT: It circles around nicely, also the basset hounds in nature. We are craving after all this studio time to be in nature. It feels good to be released into the world.

TD: It’s funny, because when we did those interviews during Covid we had to be really careful. I had all the stars in the film done before Covid, not all, but a good majority. Then Covid hit and we had none of the guys in the film. We slowly got them and it was scary.

Keith Richards on putting together his X-Pensive Winos band: “Waddy Wachtel, I mean, that’s who I want to play with”
Keith Richards on putting together his X-Pensive Winos band: “Waddy Wachtel, I mean, that’s who I want to play with” Photo: Denny Tedesco

AKT: There’s a moment near the end when you have them all walking across the street in New York. Because The Beatles loom so large in all their biographies it makes you think of Abbey Road. It is also near the Brill Building, isn’t it?

TD: Yes, they were doing a gig pre-Covid. They were doing a concert in New York and we said we’re going to cover that. So we flew there and got the guys in a club. It was fun, there’s a shot, I saw it yesterday when we screened it to an audience - there’s a shot of Leland and the guys on the street and he is taking pictures for a bunch of tourists. It’s exactly what they are, these guys are just guys on the street. These tourists have no idea who Leland is or why I’m even filming them. It’s so sweet because that’s how they are.

AKT: The whole theme of the film is so much about teamwork and mutual respect and connection instead of competition.

DT: Gotcha, amazing, yeah!

AKT: That was at the core of what you were trying to accomplish?

TD: Yes, and it is something connected to how I grew up. In the film The Wrecking Crew, my dad Tommy Tedesco, he was one of the greatest session players that ever lived in L.A..

AKT: And we also know him from The Godfather and Jaws and The French Connection and the Bonanza theme song.

Immediate Family poster
Immediate Family poster

TD: Right! And the thing was that I grew up with musicians loving musicians. They have to play each other. They all collaborate and respect - well, they have to respect each other.

AKT: Most of the time?

TD: Exactly. And that’s why they have a sense of humour about it most of the time and they can make fun of each other and themselves. My father would hear a guitar player on the radio and go “Boy, that guy’s a bitch!” That sounds awful to someone that doesn’t know that that’s the greatest compliment ever.

They have such joy of hearing great players. I had a screening in Phoenix at Cinema Society just a couple of days ago and someone said that what comes out is the work ethic. Exactly, these folks worked really hard at their craft. My father used to say “You don’t get lucky playing the guitar.” It’s not like playing golf. You can hit a ball to go go 300 hundred yards but you have to work at your craft.

AKT: I just recently did an interview with the director of a documentary of Robert Fripp [Toby Amies’s In The Court Of The Crimson King: King Crimson At 50] and at the core is the same idea of work ethic. You have to practice and then comes the enjoyment.

TD: People that do not understand musicians assume they should just do it for free. Well you know what? No, they have families, our dad put us through school, we had a home, we had healthcare. If you took all the music out of your society it would be a very tough day without music. People today assume it’s for free because they’re getting it off Spotify or whatever.

TD: I’ve got to say, your interview is extraordinary! You made me think about things in the film.

AKT: Glad to hear!

Coming up - Denny Tedesco on his father Tommy Tedesco and The Wrecking Crew, a connection to Singin’ In The Rain, every parent’s dream or nightmare, and his upcoming project.

DOC NYC Immediate Family screenings are on Tuesday, November 15 at 9:30pm, followed by a Q&A with Denny Tedesco, Leland Sklar, Danny Kortchmar, Russ Kunkel, Waddy Wachtel, and Steve Postell - IFC Center; Wednesday, November 16 at 1:45pm - Cinépolis Chelsea; Thursday, November 17 at 12:00pm - Cinépolis Chelsea. Immediate Family will be available for online screening starting Wednesday, November 16 through Sunday, November 27.

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