What do Duane Eddy, the Ronnettes, Elvis Presley, The Dixie Chicks, Elvis Costello, Neil Diamond, Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel and Bread all have in common? The musical genius of Larry Knechtel.
Knechtel was a member of the famed Wrecking Crew, a group of session players that played on hundreds of hit records primarily in the 1960s and 1970s. He often played the bass guitar and keyboards on sessions but was a piano player on a number of recordings for Simon and Garfunkel, including their Bridge Over Troubled Waters album. He is the one who plays piano on the title song, in fact, Paul Simon asked him to come up with the arrangement and to give it a gospel feel. He did, the song became a huge hit and won several Grammy Awards, including one for Knechtel for musical arrangement.
He played on Jan and Dean’s “Surf City”, Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction”, the Beach Boy’s classic Pet Sounds, The Mamas and the Papas debut album, several albums by The Monkees, albums by Richard Harris, Nancy Sinatra, The 5th Dimension, Randy Newman, Dave Mason, The Partridge Family, Barbra Streisand (“Stoney End”), Billy Joel, The Byrds (“Mr. Tambourine Man”, Johnny Rivers, Harry Nilsson, Kenny Rankin, The Doors (their debut album), Seals & Croft, Tim Weisberg, Art Garkunkel, Lobo, Sammy Johns (“Chevy Van”), Joan Baez, Thelma Houston, Tom Scott, Jimmy Webb, Paul Simon, Stephen Bishop, Hank Williams Jr., and Dolly Parton. These were the most well-known sessions through 1979. Larry Knechtel was a busy guy.
In 1971, he received an offer he couldn’t refuse, not from Vito Corleone, but from David Gates to join the soft-rock group Bread. He played on four of their albums, as a bass player on the road, and played several other instruments in the recording studio, in addition to helping arrange their songs. On the “Guitar Man”, he is one playing the guitar solo. “We needed somebody to play bass and keyboards and provide a strong instrumental element that we had been lacking, Gates said.
Bread broke up over internal conflict and lawsuits froze record royalties, so Knechtel returned to session work. Bread regrouped and released another album, but the soft-rock sound was fading in popularity. Knechtel would continue to work with Gates
through the years as a solo artist and when Bread toured.
Knechtel continued to work as a session player and also as a producer. He relocated to Nashville where he lived and recorded before he eventually returning to Los Angeles where the work was, and then moved to the quiet of Washington State where he spent his last years. He was inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame along with members of the Wrecking Crew.
Knechtel was also a composer, writing the songs for two New Age albums he released in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mountain Moods and Urban Gypsy.
Knechtel passed away in 2009 at the age of 69. He may be gone but his music lives on. If your radio is on right now, there’s a good chance you’ll run across a song he played on.