Seeking out the

5000 greatest films

in a century of cinema

Immediate Family

Directed by Denny Tedesco
Produced by Jack Piatt, Greg Richling, and Jonathan Sheldon
With: Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel, Russ Kunkel, Steve Postell, Peter Asher, James Taylor, Carole King, Don Henley, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, Stevie Nicks, Phil Collins, Keith Richards, Neil Young, Linda Ronstadt, Lou Adler, Mike Post, Steve Jordan, Lenny Waronker, Val Garay, Niko Bolas, and Russ Titelman
Cinematography: Jake Macpherson and Matthew Wozniak
Editing: Ryan Nunnerley, Chris A. Peterson, and Justin Williams
Runtime: 102 min
Release Date: 12 December 2023
Aspect Ratio: 1.85 : 1
Color: Color

The latest of many recent biographical music docs about the unsung musicians and vocalists who appeared on the great albums of rock 'n' roll, pop, folk, funk, and soul—films like 20 Feet from Stardom, Muscle Shoals, and The Wrecking Crew—comes Immediate Family. The film is a kind of sequel to 2008's The Wrecking Crew, helmed by the same director, Denny Tedesco. In his first film, Tedesco paid tribute to his late father and the group of largely anonymous session musicians who played on some of the biggest hit records of the 1960s and '70s. Immediate Family picks up in the early '70s with the first group of studio musicians who were credited on the myriad iconic albums on which they appeared. The film tells the story of five talented dudes—Danny Kortchmar, Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel, Russ Kunkel, and Steve Postell—who knew from a young age they wanted to be in bands but never dreamed of becoming solo artists or stars themselves. Instead, they enjoyed decades of success as studio session players, touring musicians, songwriters, and producers, working for, and more often with, collaborators like James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Lyle Lovett, Phil Collins, Stevie Nicks, Keith Richards, Steve Jordan, and dozens more.

The film does not break any new ground as a music documentary, but it doesn't need to. We see talking head interviews with the guys and the various music industry legends they worked with, archival footage of the guys playing with those legendary performers, scenes of the guys sitting around a table reminiscing for the cameras, animated sequences to tie things together, and, best of all, footage of the guys playing their various parts of iconic songs mixed in such a way that we can really focus on what the bass or drums or guitars are doing within the track. The film feels a bit less like a home movie than The Wrecking Crew does, and it's just how good these 70+-year-old rock 'n' roll lifers look and how great they can still play.

The film provides wonderful anecdotes and behind-the-scenes stories about the songs that shaped an entire era of popular music. It's great that Peter Asher, the producer who first felt it was important to put the names of session players on the backs of album covers, is interviewed here; and it's fun to hear people like Phil Collins talk, not only about what it was like to work with these guys, but what it was like to be a kid following their careers simply by buying records, reading their names, and learning their unique playing styles. Also fascinating, especially for those of us who came of age in the 1980s, to learn how responsible some of these guys were for not only playing on but also writing, co-writing, and producing some of the biggest hits by '70s stars like Don Henley, Stevie Nicks, and Keith Richards who went solo in the '80s after their bands broke up or went on a hiatus. It's also cool to see how well these old-school rockers adapted and embraced new technologies. The last chunk of the film feels a tad overlong, with one too many final thoughts from each band member, but I'm pretty forgiving of that with this type of tribute doc.

Twitter Capsule:

Denny Tedesco follows up his The Wrecking Crew doc, about the unsung session musicians who played on hits of the '60s & '70s, with this sequel of sorts about the first group of studio backing musicians who were given their due credit.