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'Immediate Family' Chronicles Musicians’ Close Bonds

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Courtesy Denny Tedesco
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Director of "Immediate Family," Denny Tedesco.

Immediate Family is the new film from Denny Tedesco. The documentary film chronicles the bonds between four musicians, bassist Leland Sklar, guitarists Waddy Wachtel and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, and drummer Russ Kunkel and their friendships and work dating back to the late 1960s.

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Courtesy Denny Tedesco
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Poster for "Immediate Family"

Whereas Tedesco’s previous film, The Wrecking Crew, focused on his late father, guitarist Tommy Tedesco, and the work he did as part of a sprawling collective of studio musicians in Los Angeles in the 1960s and ‘70s, the new work focuses on a small collective of musicians who not only performed on studio recordings but also toured, wrote, and became friends with artists such as Stevie Nicks, Jackson Browne, Carole King, Don Henley, and James Taylor.

In the ‘70s that core of musicians recorded under the name The Section and, more recently, have united, along with guitarist Steve Postell, for a series of recordings as The Immediate Family..

Denny Tedesco recently spoke with KMUW about some of the highlights of the film, which screens this weekend at the Tallgrass Film Festival. The film will screen Saturday night at Temple Live with Tedesco and Sklar on hand for the screening.

Interview Highlights

How did you get involved with this film?

In 2019, the producers approached me and said, “Would you be interested in this documentary about The Section?” I knew about the guys who had played on James Taylor’s and Jackson Browne’s stuff. They were legendary session guys. The producers said, “They have a band called Immediate Family.” That’s where my ears perked up because there was a spin right there. That’s what the Wrecking Crew was, a family. I had a hook in a sense. I could concentrate on these four guys. Any guy in this town is a monster player.

I could have done so many documentaries about L.A. players but this was contained. I talked to the guys and said that the difference between the Wrecking Crew and these guys was that my dad would go in and do three-hour sessions, like a factory. Then the singer-songwriter era came in and Carole King brings in James Taylor and Danny Kortchmar as her band. They were all friends. Then they went on the road together. My dad never left town because the second you left there were eight guitar players waiting to jump into that seat.

Some of these relationships go back over 50 years. Carole King and Jackson Browne are still friends with these guys from their bands. That’s almost unheard of. 

It is. Waddy is still on the road with Stevie Nicks. They’re still close. These guys mix so well. My dad never hung out with Frank Sinatra or Brian Wilson. That was work. In the late ‘60s he was 30-years-old and just breaking into that session thing. But he was also a jazzer but once he got into the rock world and the guys he was playing with were, other than Frank Sinatra, were all kids. They were 19 or 18. They weren’t players. He wasn’t bonding with them. Danny and Waddy and Leland and Russ were hanging out on projects, then going out on the road. That’s when they bonded.

Jackson Browne had a chance to bond with these guys. He took them on the road to make Running On Empty and they were recording in hotel rooms and busses. They were making music where they lived. And he kind of came away with a record that stands as a movie of the road, though it’s all audio. 

The saddest part of that whole thing is that there’s no video. Joel Brillstein, the photographer, was supposed to be on the gig as a singer but Jackson went in a different direction. But Joel went out and shot all those amazing photos.

I’m struck by Waddy’s recollection of recording Steve Perry’s “Oh Sherry.” He recorded the guitar part and then the producer says, “OK, you’re done.” Waddy says, “What about the guitar solo?” The producer says, “That’s going to be a sax solo” and Waddy says… 

“No it’s not!” [Laughs.]

I wonder if your dad could have spoken to a producer like that and persuaded them to do something different. 

My dad used to pull things off in a wild way. As a musician that’s what Waddy did. My dad was working with Ray Charles and they were doing “It’s Not Easy Being Green.” In the opening of the song there’s supposed to be strings but when you hear it there’s no strings there. Ray was playing his piano and singing and my dad starts playing behind it where it’s not supposed to be but he’s doing that because it sounded good. When you get to that level that’s what you have to do. Ray stopped playing his piano and said, “What’s that? That sounds great!” They cut the whole string section as a result. At a certain level, that’s what you’re supposed to do.

Jedd Beaudoin is host/producer of the nationally syndicated program Strange Currency. He has also served as an arts reporter, a producer of A Musical Life and a founding member of the KMUW Movie Club. As a music journalist, his work has appeared in Pop Matters, Vox, No Depression and Keyboard Magazine.