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Most underappreciated session guitarists
January 11, 2012 9:28 AM   Subscribe

Who are the most underappreciated session guitarists in popular music?

Just to clarify, I'm looking for people who:

- were not in a well-known band (other than someone's backing band)
- have had little or no solo/frontman success (so no ry cooder or david lindley or marc ribot, for example)
- you wouldn't primarily associate with a single artist, like james burton (elvis) or steve vai (zappa)

So basically just people who have worked for various popular artists and played on a lot of famous recordings, but the average fan might not know who they are. Maybe someone like Waddy Wachtel or Robert Quine, or even a notch below that in terms of name recognition.

Thanks in advance for your suggestions...
posted by pete_22 to Media & Arts (29 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Tommy Tedesco
posted by timsteil at 9:32 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Marc Ford (I guess he misses the criteria because he was in The Black Crowes).
Lazy Brad Lewis.
posted by pazazygeek at 9:37 AM on January 11, 2012

If "guitar" includes "bass guitar", I think there's an argument to be made that James Jamerson is probably the most under-rated session musicion of the 20th century.

The guy practically invented the modern bassline, and any "Motown's greatest hits" album will have him on like 80% of the songs.
posted by gauche at 9:38 AM on January 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

i'm gonna go steve "the colonel" cropper for guitar. played on so many hit records its ridiculous.
posted by chasles at 9:39 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Cropper was in Booker T. & the M.G.'s and the Blues Brothers film/band, not to mention backing Otis Redding. I'd say he's pretty appreciated.
posted by Roman Graves at 9:42 AM on January 11, 2012

...and since i'm in a blues brothers mood, how about matt "guitar" murphy? although he was eventually pretty popular in blues circles i'd say (interpreting the spirit of your questions) that he's under appreciated as a session guy. he's got a huge repertoire of session creds.
posted by chasles at 9:44 AM on January 11, 2012

Mark Stewart, I think best known for playing with Paul Simon, and who I've also seen with the Bang on a Can All-Stars, is great.
posted by mlle valentine at 9:45 AM on January 11, 2012

Seconding James Jamerson, and adding a recommendation for the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown and the book it was based on.
posted by argonauta at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tom "T-Bone" Wolk. Given the time he spent playing in the SNL house band, he's a shoe-in for largest audience that doesn't know his name.
posted by penguinicity at 9:47 AM on January 11, 2012

"Underappreciated" is kind of a hard target to hit, but maybe Mabon "Teenie" Hodges?
posted by LionIndex at 9:57 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Glen Campbell, without a doubt, belongs at the top of that list.

Yes, that Glen Campbell, currently on a farewell tour as he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

One of the finest technicians of the instrument of his generation, too.
posted by spitbull at 10:00 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also a bass player: Herbie Flowers. He came up with the famous bass line for Walk on the Wild Side for Lou Reed. True to his session musician roots, he made it a twin interlocking bass line so he could get paid twice. He also played bass on Serge Gainsbourg's Histoire de Melody Nelson. His bass (and Jean-Claude Vannier's orchestration) really make the album.
posted by zsazsa at 10:01 AM on January 11, 2012

Dean Parks
Danny Kortchmar
posted by Clustercuss at 10:12 AM on January 11, 2012

Nels Cline? He's been playing with Wilco these last few years, but still far from a household name.
posted by mannequito at 10:19 AM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Buzz Feiten, listen to his playing on Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman"
posted by canoehead at 10:33 AM on January 11, 2012

In the UK, probably Big Jim Sullivan. You've probably heard of Little Jim. These two account for the guitar on a ridiculous amount of tracks from the Swingin' sixties...
posted by nicktf at 10:42 AM on January 11, 2012

And if we are including Bass, Carol Kaye
posted by nicktf at 10:47 AM on January 11, 2012

Here's a useful list from Carol Kaye's website...scroll down for her list of significant sessioneers, neatly divided by instrument
posted by nicktf at 10:51 AM on January 11, 2012

Also, if we are including bass, I will second James Jamerson as the king of the category.
posted by spitbull at 10:55 AM on January 11, 2012

Smokey Hormel?
posted by anthom at 11:18 AM on January 11, 2012

Elliott Randall, who played one of the most memorable guitar solos ever.
posted by essexjan at 11:21 AM on January 11, 2012

Although widely known for being a member of Bread, Larry Knechtel was a renowned LA session musician. He played bass on Mr Tambourine Man, and also with The Doors and was the pianist on Bridge Over Troubled Water.
posted by essexjan at 11:24 AM on January 11, 2012

If we allow for the definition of Steely Dan to be Donald Fagen + Walter Becker + highly-regarded session musicians, then I'd nominate Jon Herington, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter and Larry Carlton.
posted by emelenjr at 11:50 AM on January 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Steve Lukather might not belong on your list by virtue of the fact that he is a member of Toto. But I wouldn't say that he's exactly a household name outside of the sessions community. And he's known for being able to walk in, listen to the piece and nail a solo in one take, any style.
posted by slkinsey at 12:02 PM on January 11, 2012

If you're looking for anonymous musicians who played on a bunch of hits for various artists, I've got to think the Funk Brothers are going to blow everyone out of the water.
posted by Nahum Tate at 12:14 PM on January 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hank Garland
Grady Martin
Joe South
Delaney Bramlett
Bill Kirchen
Eric Johnson
Snowy White
Andy Fairweather-Low
posted by Herodios at 1:22 PM on January 11, 2012

Eric Gale
Cornell Dupree
posted by Herodios at 1:24 PM on January 11, 2012

Waddy Wachtel
posted by tdismukes at 3:14 PM on January 11, 2012

During his 50 years in show business, Glen Campbell has released more than 70 albums. He has sold 45 million records and racked up 12 RIAA Gold albums, 4 Platinum albums and 1 Double-Platinum album. Of his 74 trips up the country charts, 27 landed in the Top 10.

Hardly seems unappreciated, especially to an OP who considers Robert Quine too much of a household name!

The quintessential studio musicians of the 60s would indeed be people like the Funk Brothers (I particularly like Dennis Coffey) and Carol Kaye, but honestly, the latter has gone a bit batshit the last few years. Specifically, she has rather publicly made claim to several Detroit-era tracks that Jamerson MOST ASSUREDLY played on. If it weren't for the fact that their little band found some success, Jimmy Page, John Bonham and John Paul Jones would certainly qualify here.

I have to nominate my favorite guitarist- Ollie Halsall, while he was in a few bands like Patto, Tempest, and Timebox, and played on albums and tours by John Cale and Kevin Ayers, he is probably best known for playing guitar and singing the Lennon-inspired songs in The Rutles (he is also briefly depicted in a photograph as Leppo, the lost Rutle). He doesn't have a vast discography at all, but he was truly one of the greatest guitarists to ever live and is way obscure.
posted by tremspeed at 11:21 PM on February 15, 2012

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