DEAR JERRY: While visiting relatives in Yakima, Washington last month, I read an obituary in their paper about a local musician named Larry Knechtel. Rural Yakima is somewhat isolated and not exactly the entertainment capital of the world, so I'm not sure Larry's passing made the news outside south-central Washington.
I bring this up because the obit made reference to Larry being a Grammy-winning artist, with hundreds of recordings to his credit, and his being associated with many big-name acts.
I don't have a computer but I have since asked dee jays and record collectors, and not a one knows this man.
Can you tell me more about Mr. Knechtel, and the singers he's worked with?
John Russell, Racine, Wisc.
DEAR JOHN: You are right about the limited coverage of Larry Knechtel's death. I find no mention of Larry at all in CNN's archives, and only brief Associated Press notes on other leading news sites. There is so much more to be known about Knechtel.
Primarily a keyboardist and electric bass player, Larry could play many instruments and any style of music, from classical to country and jazz to rock. It also didn't hurt that he was gifted with perfect pitch.
Larry's big break came in 1959 when Duane Eddy, the nation's top instrumentalist, asked Knechtel to join his band, the Rebels. There he became friends with Steve Douglas, Duane Eddy's saxophonist.
Douglas then took a job in Los Angeles with Phil Spector and a flock of musicians who would later be known as the Wrecking Crew. In 1963, Larry Knechtel joined the Crew.
Not until about 20 years after their glory days did anyone even refer to them as the Wrecking Crew, but it was Hal Blaine's 2003 book, “Hal Blaine and the Wrecking Crew: The Story of the World's Most Recorded Musician” is that cemented the name in musical history. Best known for their sessions at Gold Star Studios, and in particular Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, Larry and other Wrecking Crewmen can be heard on, as the Yakima obituary stated, “hundreds of recordings.”
In 1971, Knechtel joined the group Bread, founded by David Gates. Larry's guitar artistry is featured on their hit albums “Baby I'm-a Want You” and “Guitar Man,” both issued in 1972.
Fittingly, the guitar man playing those distinctively hot licks on the Top 10 hit, “The Guitar Man” (Elektra 45803), is Larry Knechtel.
Besides his work on tracks by Duane Eddy, Bread, and numerous Phil Spector hits, here are just A FEW more whose recordings feature or include Larry Knechtel: Association; Chet Atkins; Hoyt Axton; Joan Baez; Beach Boys; Byrds; Ray Charles; Elvis Costello; Spencer Davis Group; John Denver; Jackie DeShannon; Neil Diamond; Dixie Chicks; Fats Domino; Doors; Everly Brothers; 5th Dimension; England Dan & John Ford Coley; Connie Francis; Jerry Garcia; Art Garfunkel; David Gates; Dale Hawkins; Jan & Dean; Billy Joel; Phil Keaggy; Al Kooper; Mamas and the Papas; Henry Mancini; Dave Mason; Monkees; Randy Newman; Harry Nilsson; Roy Orbison; Dolly Parton; Partridge Family; Poco; Mike Post; Perez Prado; Elvis Presley; Righteous Brothers; Johnny Rivers; Tommy Roe; Diana Ross; Seals & Crofts; Paul Simon; Simon & Garfunkel; Nancy Sinatra; Steppenwolf; John Stewart; Barbra Streisand; Tina Turner; Turtles; Conway Twitty; Tim Weisberg; Hank Williams Jr.; and Mason Williams. Knechtel's lone Grammy Award is for Best Arrangement, rewarding his work on what turned out to be the 1970 Record of the Year: Simon and Garfunkel's “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
In a surprising development, MCA-Universal in Nashville signed Larry as a solo artist in 1989. His debut album, “Mountain Moods” (MCA 6279), includes 11 of his jazz-based originals.
The following year, Larry's second and last solo album, “Urban Gypsy” (Capitol CDP 7 94382 2) came out.
The Musician's Hall of Fame inducted Larry, and other Wrecking Crewmen, in November 2007.
Knechtel, 69, died August 20th at Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital. The cause of death is given as “an apparent undetermined illness.”
IZ ZAT SO? How many players did Phil Spector use to create all those Wall of Sound hits?
In his book “Phil Spector - Back to Mono (1958-1969),” included with the boxed set of the same name, Phil credits 182 musicians, some of whom are household names in the music world: Herb Alpert; King Curtis; Plas Johnson; Sandy Nelson; Billy Preston; Ike Turner; and Brian Wilson.
Credited separately in the book are “Phil's Regulars” the nucleus of the Wrecking Crew. Among those are: Hal Blaine (drums); Sonny Bono (percussion); Red Callendar (bass); Glen Campbell (guitar); Al Casey (guitar); Steve Douglas (sax); Jim Horn (sax); Carol Kaye (Fender bass); Barney Kessel (guitar); Larry Knechtel (keyboard); Jack Nitzsche (arranger, percussion); Leon Russell (keyboard); Billy Strange (guitar); Tommy Tedesco (guitar); and Nino Tempo (sax, keyboard).