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The Immediate Family (from the film Immediate Family on Magnolia Pictures)
(by Lee Zimmerman)
The Immediate Family is a supergroup in the truest sense. Each of the players — guitarists Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel and Steve Postell, bassist Leland Sklar — have decades of experience backing the biggest artists of the modern era, among them such luminaries as Jackson Browne, Carole King, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Linda Rondstadt, Don Henley, James Taylor, Warren Zevon, Stevie Nicks, Phil Collins, and hundreds of other legends who literally set the standard for contemporary music.
Of course, supergroups can come and go, but often they’re fragile at best, unions that end prematurely as the result of conflicting egos or the desire to go in different directions. Consider Crosby, Stills, Nash (and sometimes Young) and Blind Faith, as examples of those that feel prey to those all-too-common conflicts.
Nevertheless, credit The Immediate Family for being able to avoid that curse. Most of its members have played and/or performed together for the better part of the past fifty years. The group, which consists of guitarists Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel, and Steve Postell, bassist Leland Sklar, and drummer Russ Kunkel, are no strangers to one another’s individual efforts. Kunkel and Sklar first played together in an instrumental ensemble called The Section some 30 years ago. Watchell was asked to join, but declined, citing his preference to record more straight-up songs. However, when Kortchmar was offered an opportunity to record a solo album for a Japanese label, he enlisted his colleagues, Postell included, thanks to the experience and expertise he possesses on his own.
That album, Honey Don’t Leave LA, and a subsequent live album were released only in Japan. That was followed by their initial American release — an EP titled Slippin’ and Slidin’ — and a newer EP called Can’t Stop Progress. A full length self-titled outing followed. So too, this coming February will usher in the release of a new album, the aptly titled Skin in the Game.
That said, it’s one thing to be labelled a supergroup but quite another to measure up to that hallowed stature by not only living up to expectations, but also providing a path forward towards the possibilities of achieving even greater glories. So, while The Immediate Family clearly deserve the kudos that come with recognition of their superstar status, they also make it clear they're not content to simply rest on their reputations. This is indeed one band whose credibility and accomplishment is as much a part of the present as their history affirmed early on.
What’s more, as this remarkable self-titled documentary affirms, each of these individuals — Kortchmar, Wachtel, Sklar, and Kunkel in particular — played a vital role in creating some of the most memorable music of the late ‘60s and mid to late ‘70s. Their names appeared on countless albums a first for session players at the time — and while they mostly played supporting roles to those in the spotlight, their efforts were as important to the creation of the music as those of anyone else’s, artists and producers included.
‘We didn’t sit around thinking we were going to be big stars’ Kortchmar insists. Yet clearly, as both as a studio band and ever-devoted road warriors, they became known as the best in the biz. As James Taylor puts it so succinctly early on, ‘the creative input of these guys cannot be overstated’. So too, as they themselves insist, they’re probably the best cover band alive, although the covers they do in concert are all hits they themselves originally help create.
‘When you get to play with James Taylor or Carole or Jackson Browne, you get spoiled’ Kortchner says. ‘We were called to be ourselves, to do what we already do’. It worked, and yet the feeling of gratitude and humility is evident throughout, owed to a combination of talent, luck and pure chance. In that regard, the film offers an intimate look at each of the musicians’ backstories, which, in turn, becomes a veritable history of popular music from past to present. It’s documented in an array of archival clips as well as the testimony of those that they’ve worked with, among them, Keith Richards, the late David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Linda Rondstadt, Stevie Nicks, Lyle Lovett, Phil Collins, Carole King, Don Henley, Billy Bob Thornton, and Peter Asher, each of whom testify to their passions and prowess. So too, it delineates early influences, some as incongruous as Liberace, Gene Krupa, Les Paul aside, of course, from the early pioneers of primal Rock’n’Roll.
Still it’s the affection they have for one another — bonds that go back over 50 years — and the joy they still possess in being able to share studios and stages with those they admire and adore. ‘I got to meet and play with my heroes’ Kortchmar says at one point. I’m still in shock that I get to do this’.
It’s all about the comradery, the mutual love and the mutual respect, Sklar insists, and not a moment passes over the course of Immediate Family’s one hour and 40 minutes running time where that isn’t obvious. The fact that each of these men come across as decidedly down-to-earth everyday individuals, albeit those who possess tremendous skill and savvy — can’t help but leave an indelible impression on the viewer. Indeed, in many ways, it’s hard not to envy the fact they’ve achieved so much and not only feel fulfilled, but genuinely happy to be doing what they’ve done. Likewise, who wouldn’t want to share the bonds of friendship and fellowship with those they’ve known and been involved personally and professionally for over half a century or so.
The members of The Immediate Family certainly set their own standard years ago, but now they have the luxury of basking in a reputation that’s currently at its crest. As this film points out, their’s is indeed a family affair and an auspicious one at that. (by Lee Zimmerman)
For more information, please visit the Immediate Family website
Immediate Family Trailer
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