Dick Wagner–who played stunning lead-guitar in the seventies for the likes of Aerosmith, Lou Reed, and Alice Cooper–died today in Phoenix at the age of 71. He had been hospitalized after contracting a lung infection following heart surgery in early July.
I was crazy about Wagner’s guitar playing before I even knew who he was. As a hired gun, he played on those awesome Alice Cooper albums like School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies, and Muscle of Love when Cooper’s lead-guitarist Glenn Buxton was too drug-addled to get it right.
When I was always picturing Buxton manning the frets on “Big Apple Dreamin'”, that was actually Wagner laying it down.
Another time Wagner secretly blew me away was with his uncredited playing on Aerosmith‘s “Train Kept a Rollin”, off the Get Your Wings album, one of my faves of ’74.
” ‘Train Kept’ A Rollin’ ” was one of the best-known secrets in classic rock history,” wrote Wagner on his website, “that I was playing on the live solo section along with Steve Hunter in one of the very first featured dueling guitar solos in mainstream rock.”
But the first time I heard Wagner and knew it was him–because I read the album’s liner notes–was when he shared the guitar duties with the equally gifted Steve Hunter on Lou Reed’s amazing Rock and Roll Animal album, also from the Year of Our Lord, 1974. He was also on the equally kick-ass Lou Reed Live album, which featured tracks taken from the same concert as R&RA.
“My guitar stylings came into prominence on this critically acclaimed album by Lou Reed,” wrote Wagner. “This was the beginning of a long lasting relationship with Steve Hunter and Bob Ezrin.” (Ezrin would also bring Wagner in to play acoustic guitar on the hit 1976 KISS ballad, “Beth”.)
As well as handling himself on the fretboard, Wagner excelled as a composer, cowriting such Cooper hits as “Only Women Bleed” and “Welcome to My Nightmare”.
But Wagner wasn’t a “hard-rock only” snob. He would go on to collaborate with everyone from Patty Austin to Tim Curry, from Hall & Oates to Etta James. If you’re a Peter Gabriel fan, you may be interested to know that he played the “searing” (Wagner’s words) guitar solo on “Slowburn” off Gabriel’s first solo album of 1977.