Waddy Wachtel on the Immediate Family and Touring With Stevie Nicks

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The Immediate Family (L-R): Steve Postell, Danny Kortchmar, Waddy Wachtel, Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel

Guitarist Waddy Wachtel has been a first-call Los Angeles-based session and touring musician for many of the biggest artists of the era, such stars as Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor and Stevie Nicks, to name a few. His name often gets mentioned along with fellow session aces Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar, Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel, and for good reason: they’ve worked together for over five decades. Now the four, along with “newcomer” Steve Postell, are preparing the release of their second full-length album and upcoming tour as a unit, calling themselves The Immediate Family. (A first single arrived October 28, 2022; listen to it below.)

Their session work began roughly a decade after the famed Los Angeles collective known as The Wrecking Crew that performed on hundreds of hit studio recordings like the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’,” the Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” and The Byrds’ “Mr. Tambourine Man,” among them.

It wasn’t until The Wrecking Crew documentary was released in 2015 that many of its members, such as Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye and Joe Osborn, became more widely known to the public. And the logical choice has that acclaimed film’s director, Denny Tedesco, son of TWC guitarist Tommy Tedesco, once again at the helm for a new film, Immediate Family, which had its world premiere on Sept. 30, 2022, at the Woodstock Film Festival, and won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Wachtel watched an early cut of the film with his “brothers,” as he calls them. “We were like, gee, who are these f**king guys?”, he laughs about seeing archival footage of themselves from the ‘70s. “It was wild. It was amazing to see a movie about yourself and your brothers. Pretty damn impressive.”

Some of the best moments of The Wrecking Crew film come when several of its members reminisce about certain sessions. Tedesco has done the same thing with Immediate Family. “The interviews are really revealing,” says Wachtel. “Our opinions about things. The re-telling of situations. Explaining how things came about.”

“They give us the story,” Tedesco told Best Classic Bands. “I’m just a voyeur. They’ve been together so long, they bust each other’s chops. They’re hilarious.”

The documentary isn’t just about “Kootch,” Sklar, Kunkel and Wachtel. “It’s all the guys that we know from that era. There’s more than just the four of us. And we try to honor all those guys.” Director Tedesco was able to get new interviews with the classic rock stars whom these session musicians backed. Each is well known by their first name: Carole, James, Linda, Jackson, Phil, Keith, Neil, Don.

Related: Our interview with director Denny Tedesco about the movie

Watch the sneak peek for Immediate Family

Wachtel is asked if they were the natural progression from The Wrecking Crew. “Yeah, we became those guys. The guys who were on call all the time to do the records. It changed from guys who only did studio work like Tommy and Hal. They never left town. They stayed in the studio constantly.” Things changed in the ‘70s and Wachtel attributes it to one prominent producer. “It was basically Peter Asher who said, ‘I want you guys to play on the road [with the people you record with].’ For me, it was Linda… for the guys, they were playing with James.”

And they went out performing the songs they recorded. “Peter said, ‘The band has to be the same.’ It went from being just studio guys to going on the road as well. Tommy [Tedesco] and those guys were afraid if they left town that someone else would have their [studio] chair.

“Danny and Russell and Leland have been playing together for over 50 years and I’ve been playing with them for almost 50. At one point, they invited me to join the Section,” as the three were known in professional circles. “We played a little; it was great fun and stuff. But it was this instrumental, semi-rock ’n’ roll, jazz thing. And I was honored to be there but I said, ‘Guys, I gotta tell you. I really can’t do this. I’m into singing and you guys have played on more hit records than anybody I’ve ever met in this town. If you ever change your mind and want to do straight up rock ’n’ roll songs… I’m in.’”

Decades later, they’re in the process of putting final overdubs onto their second album. “We’re really, really proud of what we did,” he says. “So 45 years later, we’re finally doing what I asked,” he adds, laughing.

“The songs we’ve written and the performances we’ve gotten out of ourselves. I can’t wait for it to come out.”

The Immediate Family toured at the end of 2021 and they’ll be back on the road together beginning in November with a series of west coast dates, with the expectation that their tour will continue well into 2023.

Watch the Immediate Family perform a favorite written by Danny Kortchmar, in 2021

“We’re dying to play everywhere,” Wachtel says. Before then, the guitarist has a busy road schedule in his long-standing role as music director for Stevie Nicks. She returned to the concert stage in September for a fall tour that continues through October. (Tickets are available here.) Like most of his peers, Wachtel had been off the road for much of 2020 and 2021.

Waddy Wachtel and Stevie Nicks, Dec. 1981 (Photo © Henry Diltz; used with permission)

“I told Stevie that [the forced break due to the pandemic] was the first time I unpacked my suitcase. I come home and that thing lays open in my closet because any minute I’m going out on the road. If not with Stevie, I’m going somewhere to do a session. Then, all of a sudden, there was no travel. Finally… my suitcase was empty. (laughs) And usually I know how to pack for a gig because my stuff stays in it. I had to start from scratch. She cracked up.

“We were living in sweat pants for two years. It was culture shock to get back on the stage to do what we do. It was a far removed reality from how we were forced to start living. It was shocking. I had been sitting [at home], playing guitar for two-and-a-half years. My Les Pauls are heavy. (laughs) So I’m standing there with these giant lumber things around my neck again. It’s great. We live for it. But it was very strange to get back to it. But thank God we did.”

Watch Wachtel begin “Edge of Seventeen” with his familiar guitar intro on Oct. 3, 2022

“Everyone is trying to work as much as possible because no one was able to for so long,” he says. “It’s a really tricky environment. There’s no backstage anymore. You can have guests but you can’t see them! The bubble is severely enforced. The whole glamour of show biz is down to being on stage where you’re free to do what you do.”

He’s asked what aspects of the Immediate Family film he found to be most special. “There are these scenes of us sitting around the table reminding each other about ridiculous moments and great moments. Denny did quite a job. There’s parts where we’re playing along to the record that we made. Talking about it. It’s funny, interesting, and musically rewarding.

Wachtel turned 75 not long before this interview. “Kinda shocking, isn’t it? Kind of weird. ‘Kootch’ reminded me that when we were 30, one night, I said, ‘We’re old.’ And I said, ‘You know what, Danny? I was wrong. Now we’re old.’”

We’ll have more from our interview with Wachtel in the coming weeks including his thoughts on working with Keith Richards, Linda Ronstadt, Andrew Gold and Bob Seger. Tickets to see the Immediate Family band perform are available here.

Listen to the Immediate Family’s cover of Sparks’ “The Toughest Girl In Town,” from their 2023 album

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Greg Brodsky
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