We’ve frequently talked about the “Wrecking Crew” here before, an elite informal group of L.A.-based session musicians like Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine who were incredibly talented and incredibly in demand in the ’60s. A list of their credits might make one think they played on half of all the American hits of that decade. They weren’t as much utilized in the ’70s, but there still were some great, popular studio musicians in the City of Angels that formed a sort of second generation Wrecking Crew who made many of the hits of the ’70s and ’80s happen. Guys like guitarist Danny Kortchmar, drummer Russ Kunkel and today’s birthday boy – Waddy Wachtel. We wish the talented guitarist/producer a happy 76th today.
Waddell Wachtel was born in New York City and learned guitar by age nine. Impressive, especially considering he’s left-handed but learned to play the conventional, right-handed way. By his high school years he was beginning to write songs and started his first band, which eventually became popular as a bar band in the city and Connecticut in the mid-’60s. But his big break came when he moved to the West Coast in 1968, soon finding some work doing a bit of session playing for The Cowsills. From there he met the incredibly talented and successful burgeoning crowd of L.A. soft rock stars in the making. “I have been very lucky,” he told the L.A. Times recently. “It’s been an incredible ride. Los Angeles was such an open, creative place then. It was an amazing time to be here. I was playing with Linda Ronstadt, then James Taylor. I met Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham…”
And playing on their records. Indeed, his idea of playing guitar as “a counter-point – providing something to catch your ear within the song when the singing leaves off,” won him big fans among his friends. He played on the Buckingham Nicks album that led to them getting recruited by Fleetwood Mac, then added a few licks to that band’s 1975 breakthrough. No doubt through them he met their one-time roommate, Warren Zevon, and helped him write his smash hit “Werewolves of London” and playing on his Excitable Boy album. Around the same time he began working with Jackson Browne periodically and Linda Ronstadt regularly, being her guitarist of choice on albums like Hasten Down the Wind, Simple Dreams and Living in the USA. His heavy workload continued into the ’80s, playing on Stevie Nicks first couple of solo records, including songs like “Leather and Lace” and “Stand Back”, playing on Steve Perry’s solo hit “Oh Sherrie” and joining a side-project band of Keith Richards, The X-pensive Winos. And when Australian new wavers The Church came to town, Waddy got the call to co-produce Starfish, the album that made them a hit on this side of the Pacific. In the past decade when Taylor Swift played the Grammys and Stevie Nicks got inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, it was Waddy behind them with that old Gibson. Add in credits on guitar and writing with artists as varied as Dolly Parton, Don Henley, Feargal Sharkey and Colin James and you begin to get the idea – Waddy’s one of rock’s most important “invisible men.” Or as his hometown newspaper dubs him, “a sideman without peer.”
These days Wachtel still does some session work (for instance he was the main guitarist on Susanna Hoffs’ new album, The Deep End which we reviewed recently) and from time to time appears in a rather impromptu club band called The Immediate Family, usually with fellow session stars Kunkel and Kortchmar. Likely playing an old guitar. He once said a 1964 Fender Stratocaster was the newest instrument he owned! But if you want to try to duplicate
his sound, Gibson would be happy to help you. They offer a Waddy Wachtel model based on an old one Steven Stills once gave him.