About 50 years ago, a quartet of L.A. session musicians became so synonymous with the era-defining soft-rock scene — headlined by James Taylor, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Fleetwood Mac among others — that they were dubbed the Mellow Mafia.

Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Russ Kunkel (drums), Leland Sklar (bass) and Waddy Wachtel (guitar) made their way to Los Angeles through various sliding doors. By the early ’70s, they frequented the same studios, worked with the same engineers and played the same sessions. Championed by the English producer Peter Asher, the four became in-demand separately and in different configurations for their technical capabilities, inventiveness and gift for bringing live sound to the studio.

In 1971, Kortchmar and Kunkel appeared on King’s bestselling, Grammy-winning “Tapestry” and were joined by Sklar on Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.” Two years later, Wachtel played on Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham’s debut, “Buckingham Nicks,” and Wachtel and Kunkel helped shape Nicks’ 1981 solo debut, “Bella Donna.” All four have joined Ronstadt, Browne and Taylor on tour. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg: Individually and together, they’ve appeared on about 5,000 albums.

A new documentary about the group, “The Immediate Family,” will premiere Tuesday at Laemmle NoHo and debut in theaters and on streaming platforms Friday. Directed by Denny Tedesco (who made “The Wrecking Crew!,” about an earlier generation of renowned session musicians), the film chronicles the foursome’s decades-long work with musical icons through original interviews and archival footage. It’s named after the group’s current band with fifth member Steve Postell, which is set to release a new album, “Skin in the Game,” in February.

“We’ve been around such amazing people for so long that we’re sort of used to the attention, observing it and being a part of it,” Sklar explains of the film. “But seeing the movie is sort of a strange reality. We realize, ‘Oh my God, this is actually just about us. Wild.’ ”


One of the 13 songs featured in the article – I was at this show:

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