The Invisible Musicians Who Played On All The Sixties Hits


It’s one of the best kept secrets in the music business: in the sixties most Pop and Rock musicians didn’t play on their records. The Beach Boys, The Monkees, The Byrds (except for Roger McGuinn), The Turtles, The Mamas and the Papas, and many more didn’t play any instruments in the studio, they only sang.

Back in the sixties there were no computer and synthesizers and there were limited tracks on the tape machines. So a lot of things had to be recorded live. A mistake was a mistake, you couldn’t easily edit it. In the studio musicians had not only to play perfect and with the right feeling, but they also had to record fast, because time was money. Only professional studio musicians could do it. The average Pop or Rock musician didn’t have the chops. On AmericanHeritage there’s fine article about the musician who created the classic sound of hundreds of hits in the sixties. The article concentrates on the studio musicians in Los Angeles, such as drummers Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer, electric bass player Carol Kaye, guitarists Billy Strange, Tommy Tedesco and Glen Campbell, piano players Larry Knechtel and Don Randi and many more.

Thanks to Tony Borgosano, webmaster of the Duane Eddy Tribute Page for calling attention to this article.

See also: The «Wrecking Crew» Movie – Documentary About L.A. Studio Musicians Of The Sixties

9 thoughts on “The Invisible Musicians Who Played On All The Sixties Hits

  1. I wonder how the Beatles were viewed in the light of this? They were a triple threat – studio control (with the help of George Martin who encouraged them), played all their own instruments, and wrote their own songs. As their success skyrocketed, it must have seemed like the beginning of the end. Although, Carole King, Bacharach/David, and many of the other session people you mentioned found new life later on as performers themselves, and in television as musicians for theme songs ans soundtracks, their bread-and-butter was being threatened by the new trend.

  2. I wouldn’t consider Carole King and Burt Bacharach as typical studio musicians. Unlike studio musicians the weren’t known for their instrumental skills in the first place. King was a professional songwriter before she started as a singer. Bacharach mainly focused on composing, arranging and songwriting. George Martin by the way is a trained classical musician. He not only encouraged The Beatles but also had a lot to do with writing arrangements, writing out the scores, conducting and so on. Sometimes he also played keyboards for the Beatles. The real threat to the studio musicians were synthesizers and computers. They made musicians redundant because they work cheaper and they started taking over in the eighties.

  3. It’s hard to believe that the great Howard Roberts is not mentioned.
    Truly one of the best studio guitarist of all time. He was a great teacher as well.

  4. my recollection is much like that of Rob’s. The Beatles were a definate game changer. I can clearly remember hearing I Want to Hold Your Hand for the first time, and being amazed by the drastic difference in the style and production as opposed to everything that came before. The Beatles honest musical simplicity, combined with those droaning harmonies were such a stark contrast, and we were instantly taken in. As big of the fab four as I was, and still am, my true musical heros were those nameless musicians behind the Crystals, Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, Beach Boys, the Association, Sonny and Cher. Hal Blaine, a man unknown to me by name in 1963, was my inspiration to be a drummer. Tommy Tedesco, Carole Kaye, Leon Russell, and all the other members of the “wrecking Crew”,played ( no pun intended ) an important role in my formative years. I thank them all. I thank Denny Tedesco (son of Tommy), for the film he made, entitled “the Wrecking Crew”, giving the overdue credit these magnificent musicians deserve.

  5. Hi Bill

    Thank you very much for your comment. Regarding the Beatles we shouldn’t forget that there was a very important person behind them: producer and arranger George Martin, an educated classical musician who had the talent to give a certain edge to the Beatles musical simplicity. So although the Beatles played their instruments themselves, the were not alone: they had the very professionel ears of George Martin.


  6. Speaking of George Martin of the Beatles, Martin also produced Mat Monroe. He was Englands answer to Frank Sinatra. A fine singer with great orchestras backing him up. My point is there were some excellent studio musicians in London too. As good or better than the California stuff.

  7. The Beatles did indeed shake up the professional songwriters…,from that point on, many “amatuer” groups formed, and some went pro by getting record deals and hits…those who did started a trend, in that the members of the group started writing their own material….This is not to say that the pro songwriters were totally out – some had their songs placed with these groups…but it indeed dwindled the market down.

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