As the story of modern rock music continues to evolve, a strong spotlight has been placed on those in the shadows. Documentaries like 20 Feet From Stardom and Squaring the Circle: The Story of Hipgnosis have highlighted these contributions. Immediate Family looks to do the same. Putting session musicians into the spotlight is not a new idea for a documentary. However, the collective experience of the four subjects of this film drastically altered popular music in America. Now together as their own band, Immediate Family allows them to tell their story of perseverance and art.
Growing up in the 1960s, each of the members of Immediate Family found their way into the music industry. The band consists of four musicians: guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel, drummer Russ Kunkel, and bassist Leland Sklar. They have each played with iconic pop stars, including Phil Collins, Keith Richards, James Taylor, and Carole King. Scored by tracks they recorded, director Denny Tedesco paints a sprawling portrait of the scene they helped to shape.
Most of Immediate Family does not feel like a revolutionary documentary. However, the low-key presentation fits the mood of its subjects. Each of the men found great success in their career but rarely found themselves center stage. The life of a session musician rarely creates personal glory. Yet their influence on music as a whole is undeniable. The admiration of music’s greatest artists proves their effect on popular culture.
Tedesco allows his subjects to speak their truths and tell raucous stories. They have plenty of anecdotes to entertain and delight in sharing. At the same time, Tedesco explores how one’s ego shifts and changes through this career. From Wachtel down to Sklar, each man shows enough talent to lead their own band. Yet, in service to other musicians, they created more art than their peers, and their influence transcends genre. By becoming team players, with limited acknowledgment of their contributions, they achieve immortality.
Anyone with a passing interest in rock throughout the 1970s and 1980s will hear some of their favorite songs on the soundtrack. Tedesco’s choice to have the musicians play live, with the sound mixing emphasizing their contribution, helps shine a light on their power. More than once, the hairs on your arms will stand up.
Immediate Family will undoubtedly have its fans and embodies the definition of the crowd pleaser. However, its reliance on talking head interviews and meandering style somewhat limits its power. Despite this, the story of these men and this band remains impactful. Having their stories captured on film, and spread to future audiences, will help highlight their legacy in the industry.