Review: Immediate Family Chronicles the Legendary Musicians Backing Some of the 1970s’ Best-Known Tracks

It’s rare that documentaries get sequels, but director Denny Tedesco follows up his remarkable 2008 music doc The Wrecking Crew!—about a sizable group of L.A.-based studio musicians who played on countless hit recordings throughout the 1960s and early 1970s—with Immediate Family, which tracks the iconic work of four session players who helped create the hits of the 1970s singer-songwriter era. Working with the likes of James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Carole King, Stevie Nicks, Neil Young and Don Henley, among others, these players created a sound that everybody at the time wanted to embrace, and their professionalism and adaptability made them the most sought after session players and touring bands of the time.

Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Russ Kunkel (drums), Leland Sklar (bass), and a late edition, Steve Postel (guitar), were partly brought together by producer Peter Asher, and they could play anything, with many of them going on to become successful music producers as well. The film is a fairly straightforward, chronological account of their beginnings and accomplishments as a unit and as soloists, working individually with the likes of Henley, Keith Richards, Phil Collins and Lyle Lovett. Each member of the group that frequently records together as The Immediate Family is given their own focus in the documentary, and as a result, we get to see what makes each of them special and what makes each of them such great collaborators.

The reason these musicians garnered so much attention is that it was a frequent practice with albums released at the time to list the names of everyone in the backing band for each track, so listeners could track specific players from album to album, unlike during the period of The Wrecking Crew when backing bands were often anonymous. The singer-songwriters who benefited from the sessions players’ expertise are all interviewed in The Immediate Family, and they are clearly not just grateful but lifelong friends of these men. Director Tedesco (also a musician) does a remarkable thing throughout the film as he lets the individual members play their part (like a bass line or guitar riff) of a song’s backing track and then fades in the whole song to reveal a beyond-well-known tune. I was also an admirer of how he allows the musicians to explain the difference in performance between recording a studio track to perfection versus being a part of a live band, with Sklar beautifully demonstrating how he never plays the same way twice in concert.

My only complaint abut The Immediate Family is that it feels too short, and I would have loved to hear more music, both original tunes from the band and examples of their studio work over the years. Their talent is undeniable, so why not give us more examples of it? It’s a minor complaint about a film that demonstrates not only fantastic artistry but lasting friendship, with most of these guys playing together for about 50 years. I recommend strapping on noise-canceling headphones, turning this one up more than you usually would, and enjoying the hell out of a catalog of music that is some of the best of its kind.

The film is now playing in a limited theatrical release.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by making a donation. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

Picture of the author
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.