Saturday, April 13, 2024

Review: “Immediate Family” The Musicians Who Made Carole King, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt’s Records Sing


If you grew up in the 70s and read album notes, you knew the names of Leland Sklar, Waddy Wachtel, Danny Kortchmar, and Russ Kunkel. They played on every James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt album, among others. They were to the 70s what Phil Spector’s Wrecking Crew had been to the 60s.

Denny Tedesco, who made the very complex and rewarding documentary about the Wrecking Crew, has done the same with these guys. They call themselves Immediate Family now, and previously were named The Section by James Taylor.

We do learn in this film that Peter Asher, who’s the center of all things in classic rock, was the first to list their names on albums, making them famous to those paying attention. Other musicians were indeed paying attention and many are interviewed here including Carole, James, Linda, Phil Collins, (now Rolling Stones) drummer Steve Jordan, Jackson Browne, Neil Young, Don Henley, and so on.

There are also interviews with the main guys, as well as other players in their circle including Val Garay and Craig Doerge.

“Immediate Family” is a nice companion piece to Alison Ellwood’s two part “Laurel Canyon” doc that played on Netflix that focused more on Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills & Nash. This film is more about the mechanics of how hits like “Fire & Rain” and “I Feel the Earth Move” were made, and why this particular quartet became ubiquitous because of their exceptional talents.

One thing you don’t get much of it anything personal about the Immediate Family — like whether they have families. Only toward the end is their an anecdote from the very articulate Wachtel about his mother. There’s nothing gossipy here either. For example, drummer Kunkel was married to singer Nicolette Larson (“Lotta Love”), engaged once to Carly Simon (who is strangely omitted from the film), and his original sister-in-law was Cass Elliott.

The most startling personal note come from Leland Sklar, the legendary bassist with a ZZ Top beard, who’s revered by the music world. Despite his huge successes, Sklar admits to a terrible lack of confidence, and maybe a desire to hide behind the beard. (He hasn’t seen his face since 1965.) Sklar says he hates it when people praise him in person, which is too bad.

Magnolia is screening “Immediate Family” on December 12th in theaters, and then releasing to streaming on December 15th.

Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman
Roger Friedman began his Showbiz411 column in April 2009 after 10 years with Fox News, where he created the Fox411 column. His movie reviews are carried by Rotten Tomatoes, and he is a member of both the movie and TV branches of the Critics Choice Awards. His articles have appeared in dozens of publications over the years including New York Magazine, where he wrote the Intelligencer column in the mid 90s and covered the OJ Simpson trial, and Fox News (when it wasn't so crazy) where he covered Michael Jackson. He is also the writer and co-producer of "Only the Strong Survive," a selection of the Cannes, Sundance, and Telluride Film festivals, directed by DA Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus.

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