That's My Jam: Secret Badass

At first the dream was the same as it probably is for every other kid that picks up a guitar. Get good, buy a pointy axe, shred faces, smash said guitar, get another one, crush your enemies, see them driven before you, then hear the lamentation of their women.
..And then do it again the very next night.
But then as you take the time to develop your skills and start playing in bands and the reality of the landscape begins to appear, and you realize that it's only a rare few who get to live that dream, if at all. It doesn't that mean you shouldn't try for it with everything you've got --
But when the path is narrow, it's the wise warrior who takes the road less traveled.
Early on in my guitar fandom I started taking note of session guys. Musical directors. The guys standing in the back who's faces you didn't always see but who could play any style at any time and could always be relied on to save the day. Guys like Steve Lukather, Greg Howe, Eddie Martinez, Doug Wimbish, or Carlos Alomar. Beyonce's current all-female backup band is made up completley of players like this -- and while her music isn't generally my cup of tea, when you hear a really fantastic band lay anthing down you've gotta respect it.

Every now and then one of these players will move on to bigger and better things, like Led Zepplin guitarist Jimmy Page, Elvis' guitar ace Scotty Moore, Journey guitarist Neil Schon, Me'Shell Ndegeocello, or even Luther Vandross (who started out as a session backup vocalist before striking out on his own) -- but the majority of them essentially hang around until needed, crafting relationships with songwriters and producers and keeping their skills fresh between supporting tours and high-dollar session work.
I wanted to be one of those guys.
One of the best of these is Stevie Salas. Handpicked by George Clinton to cover musical-direction and guitar duties for his solo records; he quickly became a go-to guy for people like Rod Stewart, Mick Jagger, Don Was, and Ronald Shannon Jackson.

You've probably heard Salas before and just didn't know it -- he was the guy actually playing the guitar in the scene at the end of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure when Rufus (George Carlin) asks to jam with Wyld Stallions (if you look carefully you can see the difference in skin color when they show the hands playing the solo). He also provided all those little guitar fills that played whenever B&T would do air guitar.

Salas has been doing solo records for years now, largely under the radar -- but he's as good as they come, and worth every penny to see live. Here's my current fave track of his -- a cover of the old Heatwave disco track Grooveline featuring fellow session ace TM Stevens on Bass and ex-Tackhead singer Bernard Fowler.
I could seriously listen to this on repeat all day long.
Guitar players are obviously my thing, but session players come in all shapes and sizes (Timbaland, The Dust Brothers, Fish-Stick lover Kanye West, and former NIN/Perfect Circle/Devo/Goo Goo Dolls/Lenny Kravitz/Liz Phair/Joe Walsh drummer Josh Freese [who rips, btw] come to mind as examples). Hell, there was a long period where the background music for every Motown record was supplied by a session band called "The Funk Brothers" -- I'm talking all the old Supremes records, Steve Wonder's early work, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, nearly all the Jackson 5 stuff -- the singers were obviously different but literally it was the same 3 guys doing drums, bass, and guitar for every single song.

So the question I have for you is this -- maybe not so much in the world of session players, but are there artists out there that you follow who maybe aren't the name that appears on the top of the album cover? A particular singer, DJ, or producer who's stuff you'll check out regardless of who they're backing up or guest starring with?
And if so, who are they?

[Listening to:  Ted Nugent - "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" ]


Heff said…
not really, no. Lol !
Hex said…
Heff -- Maybe I'm not phrasing the question right here, because I have to imagine that you did listen to Ozzy after he left Sabbath, and Black Label Society after Zakk Wylde left Ozzy, etc. etc.

No Vinnie Vincent Invasion or Ace Frehley's Guitar Army for you, eh?
wigsf said…
Even I don't know all those session guys you named. Only Lukather and Alomar. Obviously Alomar with me being a huge Bowie fan.

I don't think Neil Schon gets enough credit for his chops. He's more than just the guitar player in Journey. (If you get the chance, check out Betty Davis, not so much for Neil, but it's just some really cool 70s funk.)

You mean that wasn't Carlin playing guitar. My world is now spinning around me.


I started following producers for a little while. For some reason I can't explain, Rick Rubin does good work. Brendan O'Brian, doesn't. "Mutt" Lange has done some good stuff too, but he's also got his huge pile of crap.

It's not so much that I'm following the producer, it's more like it's something I take notice of when I get a new record. Seeing who produced it can take me from listening to the singles to listening to whole album. (Todd Rundgren producing The Pursuit of Happiness is a very recent example of this in my life.)

As for following session guys. It can be a heck of a lot of work to follow a session guy, especially when half of the time, the stuff they're playing is the same ol' same ol' pop crap. (I don't like anything Beyonce has ever done.) Without following them, I've certainly noticed them at times. Mickey Curry, a drummer who's played for The Cult, Bryan Adams and I think Alice Cooper.

Well, look at Alice Cooper. For a while it seemed that only G3-esque guitarists were playing for him. Pretty sure I've seen both Satch and Vai get guitar credits on some of Alice's stuff. Also some Slash, Chris Cornell and a bunch of other guys doing other things. Ozzy on BV for example.

Have you seen Standing in the Shadows of Motown? Some great performances.
Monster said…
So it's no real secret that this dude is a bad-ass, but John Paul Jones, as a producer, is Airwolf.

It's weird and inexplicable, but I've come to understand that if he's involved with something, I'll like it. It doesn't matter the genre or era, if he was behind the boards of an album, there is an inherent quality that really speaks to me... something like "raw polish". He walks that magical rope between the way a track does sound and the way it should sound... which always makes me feel like I can appreciate a track on the first pass as if I've heard it a dozen times.

Check out "Uncle Earl", and all-female bluegrass band that he works with. Fantastic stuffs.
Hex said…
WIGSF -- This is so crazy, I'm listening to Betty Davis right now, and one of the paths that originally led me to her music was reading that Neil Schon was her original guitar player (this was before he was in Santana). Betty is awesome -- I love these old records.

Along the same lines I've been listening to a number of people who formerly did backup vocals for James Brown. Lyn Collins is a particular favorite from that group.

I also followed producers, but not so much directly as much as I was reading liner notes one day and sorta realized I had a lot of albums in different styles produced by the same people.

Standing in the Shadows of Motown is a must see, and not just for music nerds. Great, great movie.

Monster -- I couldn't agree more. What's more, he was that way before Led Zepplin. I've been overloading on a solo album of his called "Zooma" lately where he just goes off. I posted a link to one of the songs in the most recent Hot Sheet.
JerseySjov said…
i love almost everything that timbaland does.
and when blink-182 broke up, i got into their other projects.

am i just over-proving my youth here?
Hex said…
Jersey -- Not at all. Same concept, different era -- I'm more of a Neptunes/Pharrell guy, but even I can't deny how good Timbaland is. Those early Missy Eliot records were incredible.

(I also bought that Boxcar Racer CD.. wasn't very good, though).
wigsf said…
Okay, I know I've asked you this before, but dude, are you my brother? I mean, it musta took a shit load of time to create such a backlog of posts, get other people to read and comment on the blog, develop this whole life thing going on in Florida with the kid and the appreciation for the sisters and that whole thing. But dude, you are so him.

But, if by some small chance you are not my brother and just some random guy, then dude, you so gotta meet me brother.

But then again, the two of you meeting might cause some freaky paradox type thing and destroy all of existence.
Hex said…
WIGSF -- I am adopted, so anything's possible. lol.
Werdna said…
Tony Levin.

which led to Trey Mastelotto.

um... producers?

RZA. Almost all money (Ghost Dog for sure).

And my main man:
Dan the Automator Nakamura. Who I love more than Prince Paul who I followed for an album or two and got tired of his shtick.

Everything that has Automator on the fader, I'm listening to...

I mean seriously:

# Dr. Octagon, Dr. Octagonecologyst (1996)
# Bombay the Hard Way: Guns, Cars and Sitars (with DJ Shadow) (1998)
# Handsome Boy Modeling School, So... How's Your Girl? (1999)
# Deltron 3030 (with Del tha Funkee Homosapien and Kid Koala) (2000)
# Gorillaz, Gorillaz (2001)
# Lovage, Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By (2001)

How can you not? Check his wikipedia. Enough.
Hex said…
Werdna -- The whole King Crimson extended family trees are a wealth of great music, as are the Zappa and Bowie backing bands.

Dan the Automator is great -- but have to admit I ran out of gas on the Gorillas pretty quickly.

I think the guy from Blur's powers of annoyance somehow interfere with my ability to enjoy the music effectively.

Dr. Octagon though, that is the shit.