April 20 – Steve The Southern Sessions Superstar

Happy birthday to an A-list musician who’s name somehow isn’t even B-list famous. Steve Nathan turns 71 today. The Buffalo keyboardist may be close to anonymous but the music he’s helped make is far from it, especially to country fans.

He left snowy Buffalo for the South in the mid-’70s, briefly working with LeBlanc & Carr (the one hit wonder known for their song “Falling.”) The duo both had ties to the famous Muscle Shoals “swampers”, so he followed them to Alabama. In 1977, he signed on to be a session musician at the Fame Studios there, run by Rick Hall. Hall was apparently so impressed the first time he heard Nathan he made him the top on-call keyboardist for their studios for the next 14 years. His ability and proficiency on instruments ranging from traditional piano through synthesizers made him very popular, as I would guess his seemingly low-key personality did. Nathan never made the records about him…but he sure did add to them, working on records by the likes of Dobie Gray, Bertie Higgins (including the hit “Key Largo”), Hank Williams Jr., Percy Sledge, Glenn Frey and Steve Earle (Guitar Town) there. In 1991, he moved a dash north, to Nashville and joined their famous “A Team” … the country music equivalent to L.A.’s Wrecking Crew. There over the next 20-odd years, he worked on albums by pretty much the who’s-who of country music artists – Vince Gill, George Strait, Lee Ann Rimes, the Dixie Chicks (playing on their diamond-selling Fly record), Reba McEntire as well as other stars like Olivia Newton John, Bon Jovi, Hootie and the Blowfish, Mark Knopfler and even the Atlanta Rhythm Section…a group who started out as a collection of studio musicians themselves. In 1995 alone, he had credits on 20 different albums recorded there. So respected was he that he’s been inducted into the Nashville Music Hall of Fame and was named Music Row magazine’s “Keyboardist of the Year” an unprecedented 13 times running.

Despite all that, there’s little to tell about Nathan from this end, because there’s surprisingly little info about him or his outside life posted anywhere, it would seem. He hasn’t been doing much session work in the past four years but his website does say he’s available to work as a producer. It’s one of the amazing quirks of music that millions remember the names of one-hit wonders like Tommy Tutone (Nathan worked on their hit album too) , yet there are people like Steve, Hal Blaine and Carol Kaye around who’ve played on literally dozens of hit records that are mere anonymous faces in the crowd to most fans.

February 24 – Nicky The Piano Player To The Stars

Making the best of a bad situation. That’s what the artist we look at today did… and Nicky Hopkin‘s best was pretty darn good! If it wasn’t he probably wouldn’t have played on 11 Rolling Stones albums. And records by each one of the Beatles. And seemingly more big British acts of the ’60s and ’70s than he didn’t. Hopkins was never a household name…unless you’re household was one of a rock star. Then, as Ultimate Classic Rock point out, it would be since “bands and producers wouldn’t ask for Hopkins. They’d demand him!” Hopkins was born on this day in 1944.

Hopkins learned to play piano by the age of three. He grew up in Middlesex, England and won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. A good situation for a young musician in swingin’ London early in the ’60s. The bad situation was Nicky’s health. He suffered from severe Crohn’s Disease all his life – a painful stomach problem – and that limited his ability to tour or plan ahead much. He did join one band as a teen, the fairly well-reviewed Screaming Lord Sutch’s Savages, but the premature death of the band leader Cyril Davies while Hopkins was bed-ridden after intestinal surgery pulled the plug on that quickly. So, Hopkins made the sensible decision to become strictly a session player. Studios had washrooms, and presumably it wouldn’t be too much an inconvenience if his illness kept him in bed and he had to miss a day or two.

His timing couldn’t have been better. The so-called British Invasion was about to kick in, and most British bands seemed to have talented guitarists, bassists, drummers…but not keyboard wizzes. Hopkins quickly got called to work with bands like the Kinks. He played on songs like “Sunny Afternoon” of theirs, but said that Ray Davies tried to take the credit. Davies, years later would admit “Nick and I were hardly bosom buddies,” but did compliment at length, saying “with his style, he should have been from New Orleans” (something the Who’s Pete Townshend would echo, saying “he didn’t look the part, but he played the blues!”) and “unlike lesser musicians, (Nicky) didn’t show off. He would play only when needed.” He played on several Who albums, and with the Jeff Beck Band, which also had Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood as members, and on the Beatles “Revolution.” And as viewers of Get Back found out, his name came up when they were throwing around ideas for a guest keyboardist for the rooftop concert; Billy Preston was picked instead, which was also a very good choice. But his biggest claim to fame was working with the Rolling Stones.

From 1967 through 1981, he played on 11 Stones studio albums, appearing on songs like “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Waiting on A Friend” and perhaps most notably, “She’s A Rainbow”, on which Ultimate Classic Rock point out, “he’s all but the lead player.” He apparently fit in well with Jagger and Co., not only was he a regular call-up for the studio, he did manage to accompany them and play on three tours before ill health forced him out of a 1973 tour and he once again decided to stick close to home. There he worked with artists like the Jefferson Starship, Nilsson and Peter Frampton in the early-’70s. And later with George Harrison, Ringo Starr, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Hopkins is one of the very few artists to have appeared on albums by each of the Beatles, including Harrison’s great Living in the Material World, Ringo’s hit singles “You’re Sixteen” and “Photograph” and Lennon’s “Jealous Guy.” “Nicky Hopkin’s playing on ‘Jealous Guy’ is so melodic, so beautiful, that it still makes people cry even now,” Yoko Ono commented not long ago.

Hopkins moved to the States at some point in the ’80s while doing film score work, which oddly enough, was taken to heart mainly by Japanese film-makers. But his Crohn’s Disease (worsened by years of drinking and other substance issues) caught up to him and he died from complications of surgery for it in Nashville when he was just 50. A show of the respect for him, a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in his name was set up shortly after his death…funded largely by Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman, Yoko Ono and Roger Daltrey.

January 29 – James, Basically Best Bassist No One Knew

Remembering the best bassist you’ve never heard of today. Or, even if you have heard of James Jamerson, probably the best bassist – at least according to Bass Player magazine and Rolling Stone. Jamerson was born this day in 1936. Although he was a session player, he managed to play on at least 23 #1 singles and, according to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, bring the bass “out of the shadows and to the forefront of music.”

Jamerson was born in rural South Carolina, with a musical family. His grandmother was a talented pianist and one aunt a singer. So, not surprisingly, he learned to play piano quite young, and was good at it. He even played a little trombone, perhaps not so well. But when they moved to Detroit in the early-’50s, he found the standup bass and took to it quickly. Soon he was playing in R&B and jazz combos in the clubs there, then touring with Jackie Wilson. About that time, he’d switched to a Fender electric bass. That helped him get his foot in the door at Motown, where by 1960, he was getting regular work as the go-to session bassist. Through the ’60s, he played on the majority of Motown records, often with friends who dubbed themselves the “Funk Brothers.” “Bernadette” by the Four Tops? “You Can’t Hurry Love” by the Supremes? “I Heard It through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye? All Jamerson on bass, as were countless others. “When they gave me that chord sheet,” he explained, “I’d look at it but I’d just start doing what I felt and what I thought would work.” Jamerson treated it like a day job, working through the day in the Hitsville Studio and often playing in jazz outfits in bars at night. Which he must have enjoyed, since by the late-’60s he was being paid $1000 a week by Motown, or about $8000 today. What he wasn’t getting though was public attention, since Motown would not list session musicians back in that era.

That only changed in 1971, and it started with Marvin. Gaye so wanted Jamerson to play on his “What’s Going On?” single that when he wasn’t in the studio, he sent crew out to look for him. They located James, very drunk, in a bar, and brought him back to Gaye. Unable to stand up, he played the track lying down! Gaye on that album was the first Motown act to list his backing players, putting Jamerson as “the incomparable James Jamerson.”

Things began to change when Motown moved west. Although he followed Berry Gordy & Co. to L.A., their sound was changing and he was less in demand. He quit the label in 1973, but kept quite busy through the decade working on albums by the likes of Tavares, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, and even Robert Palmer. The workload lessened more in the ’80s as his drinking escalated and he refused to alter his playing style to suit the times. Sadly he died in 1983 from a combination of cirrhosis and pneumonia. His son James Jamerson Jr. followed in dad’s footsteps, also being a well-received professional bassist, playing on records by the likes of Janet Jackson, Phillip Bailey and Aretha Franklin) and also died quite young, in 2016.

Although not well-known to the listening public by name, other musicians took note, including Paul McCartney who cited James as a major influence on his bass-playing. In 2000, the Rock Hall inducted him, saying Jamerson “bestowed the funkiest, grooviest basslines in the Motown catalogue.” Since then, both Rolling Stone and Bass Player have listed him as the greatest bassist ever. The latter said he “wrote the bible on bassline construction and development.” Not bad for an anonymous player!

November 30 – Jeff, The Thriller Behind The Wall Of Drums

Two of the biggest albums of all-time came out on this day, three years apart – Pink Floyd’s The Wall, in 1979, then Michael Jackson’s Thriller in 1982. Both were huge. Thriller spent an incredible 37 weeks at #1 in the U.S. where it was the biggest album of both 1983 and ’84. It’s 34X platinum in the States and has moved an estimated 70 million copies worldwide. The Wall can’t match that, but was no slouch, being the top album of 1980 here, selling to 23X platinum and over 30 million copies worldwide. It topped the charts for 15-straight weeks. Mind you, it wasn’t even Pink Floyd’s biggest hit, commercially. Dark Side of the Moon takes that crown. Both November 30 records were released on Columbia Records in North America. Besides that though, they seem to have little in common.

Thriller after all was an incredibly well-played effort to make an album of dance and R&B tunes but make them mainstream enough to crossover into the regular pop and rock market. The Wall was a monolithic double-album, an art rock piece that rang full of one man (Roger Waters) dystopian view of the world. Thriller had pop hit after pop hit, The Wall has only one tune the everyday, casual listener would know by heart. However, if you look deeper, there is one more surprising common element in both. Jeff Porcaro. Known mainly as a member of Toto, Jeff in fact was one of the most impactful musicians of the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s…and would have probably continued to be that much longer had he not died sadly at age 38, in 1992. His death has widely been linked to a reaction to toxic pesticides he was spraying around his yard. No wonder no less a rock luminary than Eddie Van Halen called him “one of the best drummers in the world. The Groove Master.”

Porcaro played on a number of tracks from Thriller, including “Human Nature” that his brother Steve (also of Toto) co-wrote for Michael Jackson. His presence on the record may not be surprising. Porcaro was an L.A. man, and much of the record was being done there. Besides, Jackson was the singer and creator of the record, but not known for playing instruments himself, nor did he have a regular band behind him. He and producer Quincy Jones simply set out to find the best musicians around to make his songs come to life. The Wall is a bit more of a puzzler.

Unlike Jackson, Pink Floyd are British…and had a regular, full-time drummer in Nick Mason. They were making The Wall mainly in Europe, largely France. But they did visit California, thinking perhaps they’d involve the Beach Boys in the making of it, something which didn’t happen. However, it was likely during that visit they met Porcaro. Mason is a highly-regarded drummer. However, the song “Mother” is a challenge for drummers, with several time changes and unusual time signatures, like 9/8. Mason simply couldn’t get the hang of the song, and the band didn’t have weeks to wait for him to learn, so reinforcements were brought in to tackle it. Namely, Jeff.

It was a good call. If Hal Blaine was the session drummer of the ’60s out there, the crown had been passed on to Porcaro by the mid-’70s. He’d started his career as a teenager, drumming for Sonny & Cher on tour. He worked on the Seals & Crofts hit “Diamond Girl” in ’73; he became a de facto member of Steely Dan in 1974, working on their Pretzel Logic album…which wen t platinum. He’d work on their next album the following year, another platinum hit. By the bicentennial year, he’d be pounding the skins for platinum-selling hits by Leo Sayer, Jackson Browne and Boz Scaggs. And so it went. He worked on one more big album by Steely Dan (Gaucho) after he’d joined Toto by 1978. And besides Toto, a major hit machine in their own right, he drummed on albums which sold platinum or better annually from ’78 to ’86, then again from ’89-92, including five different 1991 albums!

By the time he passed away he’d been the drummer on over 30 albums that hit platinum status, from artists ranging from Warren Zevon and Jackson Browne to Lionel Richie and Michael Bolton. And let’s not forget Bruce Springsteen (Human Touch) or Eric Clapton (Behind the Sun). Of course, that was only the tip of the iceberg. He also played on well-respected but slightly lower-selling works from artists like Al Stewart, Paul McCartney and Aretha Franklin. The beat on Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” or Elton John’s “Empty Garden”? By now, you can probably guess who it was.

So when you pull out your copy of The Wall or rock out with “Beat It”, give a moment of thought to the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame guy who helped them become the icons they are.

September 23 – Blend Rock, Jazz, Blues, Stage…That’s A Tight Rope To Walk

Musically, he had friends in high places and on this day in 1972, Leon Russell had the spotlight on himself for once. As tightrope walkers often do. He hit the U.S. top 40 with his biggest hit, “Tight Rope.” The swirling single went to #11 in the US and #5 in Canada and propelled his Carney album up to #2 on Billboard best of any of the pianist/songwriter’s albums.

The intriguing song which compares a relationship to a circus highwire act and seems to merge psychedelia with folk music, was one of the few solo ventures onto radio for the respected Oklahoman player who’d grown up with David Gates of Bread and started his career, briefly, there in a band with him.

Russell had a later hit with “Lady Blue” and a country smash with Willie Nelson (“Heartbreak Hotel”), plus he wrote the songs “Superstar” by the Carpenters and “This Masquerade”. That was the B-side to “Tight Rope” but later a hit for George Benson. Earlier on and behind the scenes, Russell played on George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, and was a highly in-demand session musician working with Herb Albert,  the Beach Boys, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Rolling Stones and others. His career took a turn upwards again in 2010, when he recorded The Union, an album of collaborations with his old friend Elton John.

Sadly he passed away in 2016 at age 74.

September 8 – Daughtry The Dean Of Southern Rock Keyboards

Happy birthday to one of Southern Rock’s longest-standing and under-rated musicians, Dean Daughtry. The Alabaman keyboardist turns 75 today. Daughtry is the only original member of the Atlanta Rhythm Section still playing. What’s more, he was a member of both bands that essentially merged to form ARS – the Candymen and Classics IV.

He grew up in a household that listened to a lot of Gospel music and that influenced his piano playing, which was good enough as a youth to earn him a music scholarship to college. By then he was listening to, and admiring Ray Charles both for his playing and his songwriting skills. Sometime not long after finishing school, back in his hometown of Dothan, he joined the Candymen, a band which recorded a few of their own songs but were best known for backing Roy Orbison on tour. Doing that, they ran into quite a few other stars of course, one such occurrence leading to Dean playing with the Yardbirds on an Australian TV performance in the ’60s. The Candymen never became a household name… except in their Alabama city, which has a large mural downtown featuring Dean playing his beloved Wurlitzer.

Along the way he also joined Classics IV who had a couple of big soft-rock hits in the late ’60s like “Traces” and “Stormy.” After both of those bands disintegrated, the main players operated Studio One in metro Atlanta, being both the house band and the operators at the studio that was a second home to Lynyrd Skynyrd, and also hosted Starbuck, 38 Special and other southern stars during the ’70s. He became friends with many, including Gregg Allman. He told an interviewer recently he and Gregg were “pretty good friends. When he left Cher, he came and stayed with me for a couple of weeks. He’d be up drinking at eight o’clock in the morning…he’d bring me up some and I’d say ‘Gregg, I can’t drink Jack Daniels and water this early!’”.

Of course, Daughtry along with the likes of Buddy Buie, Robert Nix, and J.R. Cobb were talented enough to not want to be constrained by recording other people’s music, so they formed Atlanta Rhythm Section at their studio in 1972. As their biographer William Moseley points out, “they succeeded with a new concept, of exceptional studio musicians forming their own band, writing and recording their own songs.” Toto did it on the West coast later in the decade, but ARS set the blueprint. Being studio musicians made them something of perfectionists with their own records, which Daughtry says sometimes had them nicknamed “the Steely Dan of the South. It’s quite a compliment.” So too was being called to play at the White House for Jimmy Carter, whose daughter was a big fan. Daughtry’s keyboards set them apart from many of their contemporaries and he further shaped their sound by co-writing a number of their songs including hits like “So Into You”, “I’m Not Gonna Let It Bother Me Tonight” and “Imaginary Lover.”

Daughtry is still with the Atlanta Rhythm Section, who report “the band is extremely eager to get back to performing regularly and one again spending time with all our friends on the road.”

June 6 – Crescent City Was Right Place For The Doctor

Not a lot of guys make it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with a mere one hit song. Then again, not many one hit wonders had careers spanning nearly six decades, rubbed shoulders with greats from Sonny & Cher to Frank Zappa to the Neville Brothers. And won Grammys in four different music genres. Oh, and did we say, inspired a muppet too? Today we remember Dr. John, who passed away two years ago today.

You can call him Dr. John, or you can call him “Mac” or you can call him the Night Tripper. Or, you could try Malcolm Rebennack, which is what his parents called him, when he was born in the early-’40s. Probably 1941, but appropriate for such a mysterious and unusual type, even the year of his birth generates a little debate.

The musical King of New Orleans grew up in a musical, but non-performing family. From all accounts they listened to a lot of music and sang at home, but never took their talents to the stage. His dad ran a shop which sold radios and records and that helped the little “Dr.” be exposed to all sorts of music. As a lad he preferred jazz, but as he got a bit older and pop tastes changed, he shifted a bit to early rock, especially when his dad introduced him to Little Richard.

He began playing guitar when young, and irked Jesuit priests enough to be kicked out of their school by age 13, at which time he devoted himself to music full-time. With a little study of voodoo on the side, since it was after all, New Orleans. He worked in various bands in the late-’50s and at age 16 was already beginning to produce records for other local artists. It should be noted in a story that is now 60 years old, but seems timely still, that Rebennack is White, with German and Brit ancestry. But he liked all people and was fond of Black music, which didn’t go down well all the time in the Deep South. One time in 1960 at a gig in Jacksonville, a member of the crowd attacked his band’s singer and began pistol-whipping him. Dr. John intervened (he recalls that the young singer’s mom had told him to get her son home safe or she’d cut his cajones off and he believed her!). His left ring finger got blown off in the altercation, which is doubtless painful but also got him to put down his guitar and take a go at the piano, which turned out to be his real forte.

The young Dr John had an adventurous life which practically begs for a movie to be made. Among his follies was running a bordello in The Big Easy and liking a lot of illicit substances at the time. That earned him a couple of years in federal prison, and when he got out, he briefly relocated to the west coast, where he quickly became an in-demand session player, often working with the famous Wrecking Crew on records from the likes of Sonny & Cher, and even Frank Zappa. By 1968,he began recording his own stuff, an eclectic mix of “boogie woogie, blues and rock” and headed back home to the mouth of the Mississippi.

Continue reading “June 6 – Crescent City Was Right Place For The Doctor”

May 31 – Did Fans Get ‘Scam’med With This One? Probably Not…

For fans it wasn’t really being “scammed”, but it wasn’t necessarily Steely Dan‘s finest moment either. They released their fifth album, The Royal Scam, this day in 1976.

By then, they were down to the core pair of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, although they as always wanted to surround themselves with talent in the studio. They enlisted their favorite producer, Gary Katz, once more and brought in 21 studio musicians to complete the record, including Elliott Randall (who’d played the memorable solo on “Reeling in the Years” awhile earlier) on guitar, Rick Marotta on drums and backing vocalists including Michael McDonald (who’d go on to help them on their later hit “Peg”) and Timothy B. Schmit, soon to join the Eagles.

They took their time recording this, as was their trademark, but unlike their previous records (not to mention the follow-up, Aja) this one lacked a standout hit. It wasn’t from a lack of trying. The compositions were well-written, the studio help top-notch, and as usual, the lyrics poetic and reflective of their varied tastes and obscure interests. There was a “Haitian Divorce”, and “The Fez” as well as a song inspired by some caves with hieroglyphics, and the not-quite-a-best-seller novel written about them. “Caves of Altamira.” And the closest thing the album had to a hit single, “Kid Charlemagne”, loosely inspired by Owlsley Stanley, a San Francisco hippie musician/producer of LSD. Which perhaps fit the album, as they would later say they made The Royal Scam “under the influence of a seemingly inexhaustible supply of ‘whatever’”. Of course, not all the references in their songs were obscure; “Everything You Did” was about a couple having their problems and name-dropped The Eagles being played loud by neighbors. Glenn Frey (of the Eagles) would later say “apparently Walter Becker’s girlfriend loved the Eagles and she played them all the time. I think it drove him nuts!”

Whether too few lyrical references the public could relate to or just not a terribly great set of songs, the album stagnated commercially. It didn’t flop by any means – it became their fourth platinum one in the U.S. – and hit #15, #24 in Canada, those were less impressive numbers than their previous two records, or the one to follow-up, Aja. That might well be because they failed to lob even one song into the top 40 in North America. However, Brit ears pricked up for The Royal Scam (it was “royal” after all) and it got to #11 there and scored them their first top 30 song there, “Haitian Divorce.”

Reviews at the time were lukewarm, which rather continues to this day. Rolling Stone for example, later graded it 5-stars, but mostly praised “the rarefied capabilities of the hired studio help” who could “rock and swing all at the same time,” without particularly appreciating any of the nine songs. Allmusic give it 3.5-stars but point out it was “the first Steely Dan record that doesn’t exhibit significant progress from its predecessor” and calling it “their weakest set of songs” to that point although there was still “nothing particularly bad” on it.

Some might suggest it was their weakest cover art as well – the band themselves for instance. Becker & Fagen called it “the most hideous album cover of the ’70s”…but it nearly wasn’t their hideous cover! The work based on a Charles Ganse photo was commissioned for a Van Morrison album. But when the Irish bard shelved that particular project, Steely Dan swooped it up. No word if they were under the influence of “whatever” at the time!

May 24 – L.A.’s Sideman Without Peer

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 74th 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 (with Jackson it was a family affair – Waddy’s brother Jimmy designed several of Browne’s album covers) 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-spensive 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 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.

April 22 – Carr Drove Sound Of Many A ’70s Hit

The South had two great “rhythm sections”. Unsung heroes in the music world, session musicians and music producers who worked in the background to make other musicians work shine. While the most famous such outfit anywhere was likely L.A.’s Wrecking Crew (with the likes of Glen Campbell, Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine), in Georgia there was the fine Atlanta Rhythm Section, musical aces from a studio in Doraville who eventually put out their own hit records. Less widely known but equally talented, across the border in Alabama was Muscle Shoals. A studio used by R&B, rock and country stars through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Nicknamed “the Swampers”, they got a nice shout out in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s anthem “Sweet Home Alabama.” Today we remember one of the finest Swampers, Pete Carr. Pete was born on this day in 1950.

Carr was perhaps the guitarist in the Muscle Shoals set. Born in Florida, like so many others of his generation, he decided on a career in music after seeing and hearing the Stones and the Beatles. He began playing guitar at 13; at 15 he met the Allman Brothers at a concert. He and Duane became friends and in 1968 the two of them (as well as Gregg Allman) were in the short-lived band Hourglass together. Duane was a particularly big influence on Pete’s playing, but he admired a range of other guitarists from Clapton to Chet Atkins.

After Hourglass, he moved to Alabama to take a job at Muscle Shoals as a session musician. There was no shortage of work for him! Soon after getting there, he was playing on and producing Sailcat’s hit “Motorcycle Mama.” It was nowhere but up for him through the decade, with him playing on almost every recording done at Muscle Shoals in the ’70s (he did at least 500) including Skynyrd, Joan Baez, Cat Stevens, Paul Anka, and Mary McGregor. He played the guitar on Rod Stewart’s sexy smash “Tonight’s the Night,” but was especially close to a couple of other superstars – Bob Seger and Paul Simon. He worked on some seven Seger albums, including the standout guitar work on his hit “Main Street.” But Simon was his fave.

“I always thought Paul Simon was fantastic – in the same league as the Beatles. So when he walked in the studio, it was an awe-inspiring moment for me.” He played on several Simon records including the hit “Kodachrome” and apparently made an impact on Paul. When Simon & Garfunkel reunited in 1981 for the massive Central Park concert, they brought Carr in to play behind them.

Unlike Atlanta’s Rhythm Section, Muscle Shoals didn’t do much recording of their own, but Pete was a brief exception. He paired up with Lenny LeBlanc in 1978 for the album Midnight Light, which gave them the top 20 soft rock hit “Falling”, a song which has remained popular enough to win a BMI Award for radio airplay in 2005.

Carr’s work slowed down in the 21st Century and sadly he passed away last year at age 70 after an undisclosed but lengthy illness. Curiously, Carr wasn’t even the most famous guitarist named “Pete” born on April 22, 1950. Because, we wish a happy 71st birthday today to Peter Frampton!