Immediate Family…Music Documentary (Review)

Were you listening to albums by James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, or Crosby Stills & Nash in the 1970s?  If you were like me, you’d put on the album, and then read the information on the album covers to see what musicians helped the star.  If you did, the music documentary Immediate Family is for you.

The movie is about the studio musicians who recorded with singer-songwriters of the ‘70s and ‘80s.  As you can see on the above poster, the singer-songwriters who were interviewed still get the star billing.  Here’s a recent shot of the studio musicians who now go by the name Immediate Family:

Lee Sklar plays bass, Russ Kunkel drums, Waddy Wachtel guitar, and Danny Kortchmar guitar.

And this is Craig Doerge, who played Keyboards on a lot of recordings with the other guys.

The start of all these musicians getting together was because James Taylor and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar were teenage friends.  They played in the band Flying Machine, and when the band broke up, Danny Kortchmar did some work as a studio musician.  That’s how he met Peter Asher (of Peter & Gordon fame).  Kortchmar knew Asher was the head of A&R for The Beatles’ new Apple label.  He suggested James Taylor contact Peter Asher, and that’s how Taylor’s recording career started n 1968.

A year later, Taylor and Asher were working on the Sweet Baby James album in L.A., and put together a stellar line-up of musicians that included Danny Kortchmar, Carole King, and Russ Kunkel.  These musicians and James Taylor also worked their magic on Carole King’s Tapestry album.  Then Carole had to be replaced on future James Taylor albums by keyboardist, Craig Doerge (pronounced Dur-gee).  Also added was Lee Sklar on bass.  James Taylor gave them the nickname “The Section”.

If you’re familiar with the 1960s studio musicians, The Wrecking Crew, you know they played on hundreds of hit singles and classic albums.  However, it wasn’t until years later that these musicians became known to anyone but industry insiders.

Credit Peter Asher for the big change for studio musicians in the 1970s.  He included the names of the musicians, often right on the covers of the albums he produced, and that became the norm for the record industry.

Other recording artists saw the names and wanted those studio musicians too.  Guitarist Waddy Wachtel and lap-steel guitarist David Lindley were soon among this well known group of studio musicians.  Wachtel worked extensively with Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks, and Lindley with Jackson Browne and Neil Young.

Another big difference for the 1970s studio musicians was that their notariety allowed them to go out on tour without fear that they would be replaced.  When my wife and I saw James Taylor, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Crosby Stills & Nash in the ‘70s and ‘80s, those studio musicians were often there.  Almost all of them played on Jackson Browne’s Running On Empty Tour in 1978 (an absolutely great concert!).

L-R: Danny Kortchmar, Jackson Browne, Russ Kunkel, Lee Sklar, David Lindley, and Craig Doerge performing songs from Running On Empty.  And here they are in the studio:

A little closer up with Danny Kortchmar, Jackson Browne, David Lindley, Russ Kunkel, Waddy Wachtel, and Lee Sklar in their younger days.

The documentary gives you the inside story, featuring interviews with the Immediate Family and many of the stars they worked with.  The musicians didn’t just play on the albums, they added ideas to the arrangements, and sometimes Kortchmar and Doerge added to the songwriting.  The film is available to buy or rent (at reasonable prices).

Immediate Family in a recent performance.

We also learn that these musicians are like a lot of artists from the Classic Rock era…they still love to play in front of an audience.

Extra:  If you enjoy music documentaries, here are some recommendations.  The Wrecking Crew, Sound City, Standing In The Shadow Of Motown, Laurel Canyon, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice, The Making Of Sgt. Pepper, Get Back, Tom Petty Runnin’ Down A Dream, History of the Eagles, and whatever artists you like in the Classic Albums series.

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