The “sideman” is not a member of the band. He is the faceless hired gun who willingly accepts the lesser piece of the action despite often making a vital contribution the sound. Some great musicians ultimately emerged from these behind-the-scene roles to become stars in their own right but many more did not. This is a labor day salute to some of my favorite obscure records that were fronted by great sidemen who did not quite make stardom.
James Burton: The Guitar Sounds of James Burton 
Burton is the ultimate session guitar player. He is probably best known for his excellent guitar work with Elvis Presley in the 70s Vegas era but he also worked with Elvis Costello, Buffalo Springfield, Gram Parsons, Ricky Nelson and Joni Mitchell among others. His signature axe is a blonde Telecaster. This record was not a big commercial success has got some really nice playing on it. There is a great Burton video where he talks about his various picking styles and influences:
Melvin “Wah Wah Watson”: Elementary 
I first became aware of Wah Wah Watson from his ultra funky guitar work on the 70s Herbie Hancock records but then his name started to pop up everywhere. The funky bluesy stuff on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get it On? Wah Wah. The groovy licks on Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall? Wah Wah. He has also done work for Blondie, Stevie Wonder, you name it. This record is really fun to listen to when you are looking to hear something in that late 70s funky fusion pocket without heavy foreground.
Dennis Coffey : Hair and Thangs 
Coffey is a true Detroit Soul session guitar superstar. He laid down countless gritty Motown tracks including Diana Ross, The Temptations and Edwin Starr. His agility in many styles from Rock to Jazz to Funk and his innovative use of the wah-wah pedal enabled him to introduce many subtle genre cross pollinations in his session work. Coffey was the first white artist to be invited to perform on Soul Train. His first solo record is a classic.
Nicky Hopkins : The Tin Man Was a Dreamer 
Nicky Hopkins performed session work for the Beatles, Kinks, Who, Jeff Beck Group, Steve Miller Band, Jefferson Airplane and all of the Rolling Stones records from 1967-76. It is almost impossible to listen to a “Classic Rock” playlist for even a few minutes without encountering his nimble playing. His first solo effort of three is an underrated gem.
The music that you hear when you are growing up can form the foundation of your sonic aesthetic. I am often relieved that my parents had eclectic taste and exposed me to some of the music I still enjoy today. I came cross Funk For First-Time Fathers recently and thought that this kid was pretty lucky too.
Nate Chinen recently wrote an article on NYTimes.com that is one of the best surveys of solo jazz piano I have read. I have been checking out pretty much everyone mentioned in this piece lately in an attempt to improve my solo playing. Three lesser known solo piano albums I also really like are:
I was listening to Jonathan Schwartz while making lunch in the kitchen this afternoon as I often do on a Sunday and he suggested that in order to insure that the cannon of 20th century song is passed into the 20th century and beyond, it is best for children to be exposed to this great music at an early age so that means something to them. It got me thinking about what I might consider to be a short list of records for such a mission. Here it is:
I love old sheet music. I love the artwork and the odd long-forgotten sentiments. Sometimes you find a timeless classic that still completely resonates but more often you find yourself laughing and trying to figure out what on earth is going on. In another life I would be Jean Cunningham, Paramount Theatre music librarian.
A friend of mine has a rustic summer cottage on a private island pm a river. There is no electricity. This lack of everything modern is one of the main charms of the place except when it comes down to music listening: You can go through dozens of batteries in a week just powering a portable stereo which is both environmentally suspect and expensive. If only i knew this thing was available.
I have been watching music mobile apps that harness accelerometer and gyroscope for a while. Many of these implementations have been pretty clumsy and toylike rather than offering a serious expression alternative that a serious musician/DJ might be tempted to use. This new $20 AirJ is looking really powerful. You can see it in use with Ableton Live here: Sonic State – News (Video Item) BPM10: AirJ App Transmits Native MIDI Over Wifi