Greatest Living Sideman In Rock? Why Waddy Wachtel, Of Course!

Let's face facts: most musicians get into music in the first place to be stars. I mean, who doesn't pick up a guitar who doesn't dream of seeing their name up in lights and be adored by millions? But not everyone can be so lucky. For every ten rock stars playing to sold-out arenas, there are literally thousands upon thousands whose dreams of being stars in their own right goes largely unfulfilled.

But what about the musicians behind the stars? That's right, behind every rock superstar is at least one valued side-musician whose musical contributions and overall dependability are worth their weight in gold. These musicians help create the solid musical backbone that gives the star (the one with their name on the marquee) the confidence upon which to reach the appropriate musical heights night in and night out.

So, whose name is often the first to be mentioned when the subject of great rock sidemen is discussed?


For good reason, the first name that comes to most folks' minds when discussing great sidemen in rock is one Waddy Wachtel. Chances are that, if you don't know him by name,you very well may know him by sight. His long, flowing and dare we say Farrah Faucett-like blonde hair, Lennon wire specs, and ever-present Les Paul guitar were ubiquitous in the '70s as he toured with the likes of Stevie Nicks, Linda Rondstadt, Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne, among others.



If that weren't enough, in the late '80s, when Mick Jagger couldn't be bothered to record a new Stones record, he became yin to Keith Richards' yang as a member of the X-Pensive Winos, who, as it turns out, are still going strong. Wachtel and fellow Winos Steve Jordan and Ivan Neville can be heard on Richards' latest solo disc, Crosseyed Heart. It is also worth mentioning that the album includes some of the last recorded performances by another legendary rock sideman, Bobby Keys.

Like many aspiring rock stars, Wachtel fronted his own bands and brought one of them, Twice Nightly, out to Los Angeles to be where the action was. After two years of slugging nit out in the trenches and having very little to show for it, Wachtel immediately decided a change of direction was in order.



His first break came when, The Cowsills made his song "On My Side" the title cut to their 1971 album and, yes, that's him seen in the legendary 1972 film "The Poseidon Adventure", playing one of the members of the band that is performing onstage when the ship goes down.  That same year, he also played guitar on the Everly Brothers' album Stories We Could Tell.



In 1973, he played guitar on Elton John's breakthrough album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, leading to an offer to perform guitar duties on the inaugural album by a reconstituted Fleetwood Mac line-up that now included Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, with whom Wachtel continues to tour and record to this day.

The resulting album, Fleetwood Mac, included three Top 20 smashes, "Over My Head", Rhiannon" and "Say You Love Me" and rocketed to #1 on the Billboard Top 200 album charts. Wachtel's association with such a huge hit led to gigs and sessions for the likes of Linda Rondstadt, James Taylor, and Arlo Guthrie, among others.



Proving he wasn't just a great player, but a songwriter of note too, he played on and co-wrote the hit "Werewolves of London" with Warren Zevon in 1978.

While he came to be known as "that SoCal rock guy" his quick learning curve and musical versatility led to appearances on albums by a wide array of artists, from Randy Newman and Warren Zevon to Roxy Music's Bryan Ferry and the Pointer Sisters.

These days, while so much about the industry and the way music is recorded has changed in the digital age, Wachtel keeps busy by doing music for TV and film, such as the Jimi Hendrix biopic "All Is By My Side", and any number of sessions for longtime associates like Stevie Nicks and Keith Richards as well as promising acts like Jessie Baylin and Judith Owen.


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