Unheralded Sideman

There's a story from the first US tour of the original Jeff Beck Group that after a performance in Central Park's Wollman Skating Ring a PR type from the record label ran up to the group's vocalist, Rod Stewart, and said, "Great show Jeff, and your band has a really good guitarist too!" So much for the intelligence of PR reps, but there are occasions where I think the sidemen musicians are at least as interesting, if not more interesting, than the star performers. Some of my favorite sidemen are:

James Jamerson - bass, Motown house band
Jack Ashford - tambourine, Motown house band
Charlie Watts - drums, Rolling Stones
Jack Cassady - bass, Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna
Bruce Thomas - bass, EC & the Attraction

Anybody eles have their favorite sidemen?
I think it's fair to say that Margo Timmins is the "out front" star and voice of the Cowboy Junkies band. I don't know if he's considered a sideman or not, but her brother Michael Timmins is their lead guitar player and I think he's great-- some strange and wonderful chops. He also writes and produces much of their music.

The rest of band is excellent too-- so well integrated, but I especially like the guy that tours with them and plays five different instruments (he's not a Timmins) including mandolin and harp-- don't remember his name, but could probably find it in liner notes if needed. Cheers. Craig
Without a doubt the best sideman in the history of popular music was Jeff Porcaro.
Although I can't fault your picks, I don't really consider members of steady bands - whether operating under the name of their leader or not - to be sidemen. I mean, Keith Richards may write a lot of the songs, but he's on record as saying that if Charie Watts left the band, that would be the end of The Stones (whether that might actually be a good thing at this point is a different question!).

Even in a case like early Elvis Presley, where he was the only star of the show, I love the work of Scotty Moore, Bill Black, and D.J. Fontana, and consider them to have been integral members of a group, not mere sidemen. To me, to be a true sideman, you must play the field, working with a number of different lead artists. So the Motown guys (calling themselves The Funk Brothers), including the ones you mention plus Earl Van Dyke, Benny Benjamin, and many others, qualify handily.

Same with The Memphis Group (better known as The MG's, with Booker T. Jones, Steve Cropper, Al Jackson, and Duck Dunn or Lewis Steinberg) - the Stax house band with Otis Redding and Sam & Dave plus a ton more (and of course on their own), as well as the Muscle Shoals rhythm section over at Atlantic (Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham, Jimmy Johnson and others) on Aretha's and Wilson Pickett's records to name just a couple.

Getting back to Elvis, he had one of the best playing guitar in his Vegas years, James Burton, who also played for Ricky Nelson's band and many others from the 50's through the 70's (including on the original hit recording of "Suzy Q" by Dale Hawkins when he was about 17 years old). Similarly legendary on guitar is studio (and solo) ace Chet Atkins, who supported many other acts in his roles as producer, arranger, and sideman in between having hit records of his own.

The west coast equivalent of the above-mentioned soul studio bands was the loose L.A. group of studio cats known as "The Wrecking Crew", including the talents of Hal Blaine and Earl Palmer on drums, Carol Kaye on bass, Leon Russell on keys, Glen Campbell and Jerry Cole on guitars, and many others, who played a key part in the delevopment of the California pop sound of the 60's from the Beach Boys to The Mama's and The Papa's and a thousand other hit records in between.

All the cities with their own thriving music scene and recording indutry had their own side groups and players, from New Orleans' Dave Bartholomew group (Fats Domino plus many more) and The Meters (Lee Dorsey plus many more, and as a headlining group), to a bunch of New York jazz cats who made rent playing on rock & roll records during the days.

Probably the best known case of a group of sidemen becoming stars in their own right as a band is, apppropriately enough, The Band, who as we all know started off as the backing group for rockabilly Ronnie Hawkins before playing with Dylan in the mid-60's, and then going their own way with such landmark results.

The arrival of The Beatles as the model for the self-contained rock group made being a sideman an increasingly endangered occupation by the late 60's, though the singer/songwriter proliferation of the 70's brought them a return to demand. After the punk explosion of the later 70's, self-contained groups have again become the norm in the rock industry to date, though there will always be unheralded behind-the-scenes players.
Zaikesman, thanks for you thoughtful reply. You make the distinction between band members and session players while I purposely glossed over the difference. I'm lumping everybody into a single group because I want to give credit to as wide a group of musicians as possible. Sure my naming of Charlie Watts is something of a strecth. He's a band member and he really isn't unheralded, but for better or worse Jagger & Richards are the frontmen. And if they are the frontmen, then I guess by definition everybody else are sidemen. It's just that in any particular song I find what Watts is doing on the drums more interesting than anything anybody else in the band is doing. I just want to give the man his props. Your pick of James Burton with Elvis is an excellent example of this phenomena. Could the Stones go on without Watts? I'll answer it with another question, could The Who go on without Keith Moon?
There's this really dorky-looking guy (big black glasses and ratty longish brown hair in his eyes) who plays KILLER lead guitar for Lucinda Williams, and I think for Buddy and Julie Miller recently too. I just can't remember his name right now. But he is a genius and has absolutely MADE some of Lucinda's songs the gems they are.
ZaIkesman nailed it. Prior to his post I was considering nominating THE GREAT Mr."Donald Duck" Dunn with Brooker T. & The MG's in the capacity of that band playing with Neil Young on a few of his records and most importantly LIVE.

Are you thinking of Kenny Vaughan, who toured with Lucinda when Car Wheels on a Gravel Road came out? He's sort of a dorky Buddy Holly lookalike, but plays mean guitar. A lot of fun to watch, too, as he sometimes plays with his elbows thrust out like a lanky basketball player boxing out for a rebound.

As for sidemen, how about this "pick-up" band from The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions:

Eric Clapton
Steve Winwood
Bill Wyman
Charlie Watts

Not too shabby, as back-up bands go. Wolf sounds pretty good, too.
Sc53: The dorky looking guy is Kenny Vaughn. He also plays with Kim Richey and a few other "Austin City Limits" types. He is indeed a MONSTER guitar player.

My vote goes to Robbie McIntosh. Check him out with the Pretenders, Talk Talk, Paul McCartney, Daryl Hall, and on his solo stuff. The guy is light years ahead of most guitarists out there.
Carol Kaye,

Kasper and Walter--yes, it's Kenny Vaughn! Thanks for refreshing my memory. He says absolutely nothing onstage, looks very shy, but just blows everyone away with his well-placed licks. I think he may also play with the super-group (so to speak), Lambchop.
Thanks for the help, guys.
Venetta Fields for "side" female vocals
Zaikesman really nailed this one-- good post. Others that come to mind for me are Jim Keltner on Drums, and Ry Cooder on guitar-- especially slide guitar. I don't know if they're "sidemen" in the conventional sense as both have become somewhat musically famous in their own right. Cheers. Craig
Yeah, they're sidemen, absolutely, even though they've done work under their own names as leaders. I like 'em better as sidemen.
Some of Steely Dan's guitar collaborators, like Denny Diaz, Larry Carlton (not so unheralded), Dean Parks. I love Jesse Edwin Davis (guitar) -- wish I heard him a lot more. I think Procol Harum's B J Wilson was one of the best rock drummers ever.
two piano players:

Chuck leavell played piano for eric clapton, the rolling stones, the allman brothers (who do you think played the piano solo in jessica?), black crowes, etc...

Johnnie Johnson started a small band that was joined by a guitar player named Chuck Berry. Chuck took all the credit but no Johnnie is suing for songwriting credit and money I am sure. He has done a couple of great solo albums but his piano playing with chuck berry is awesome.
Waddy Wachtel may be the quintessential sideman. He is an LA guitarist who played with Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Melissa Etheridge and too many others to count. Think of the guitar on Stevie's "Edge of Seventeen" -- that's him.

Mike Campbell is another great sideman -- Tom Petty's guitarist for the last twenty years or so. And Kenny Aronoff, John Mellencamp's drummer.

I like Zaikesman's distinction between sidemen and band members, but it's harder to apply when you start thinking about jazz. Would that rule out Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, who played with Bill Evans? Jack DeJohnette and Gary Peacock, who make up Keith Jarrett's trio? Or how about Johnny Hodges and Cat Anderson with Duke Ellington's band?
I only know Jesse Edwin Davis from his Taj Mahal days. He had that twangy country blues sound going. He was so talented.
Swingman, you are correct: The "sideman" distinction is all but meaningless when talking about jazz, where shifting collaborations and pick-up groups are not only the norm, but an essential component of the music's development. In jazz, regular groups not formed as the backing unit for a leader, like the Modern Jazz Quartet, are the exception, not the rule.
Onhwy, the only records I have Jesse Davis on are Taj Mahal's (and one other place, I think, but I can't remember whose album or where in my collection to find it). He had a few of his own, which this thread may prompt me to try and find, and played on many others, so once in a long while I would hear his playing on the radio or at a friend's. He played with remarkable depth, spaciousness, restraint and soul -- a beautiful sound. Full-blooded American Indian, I believe. Sadly, dead now. On one early Taj album on which Jesse played lead, rhythm guitar was played by one "Ryland Cooder." Glad you remember him.
Waddy Wachtel...nice job Swingman. Here is my list...I know I am leaving many out.

DRUMS: Jeff Porcaro (RIP), Vinnie Colaiuta, Steve Ferrone, Gregg Bissonette, Jim Keltner, Steve Gadd, Peter Erskine, Carlos Vega (RIP), Kenny Aronoff, John "JR" Robinson, Steve DiStanislao, Steve Jordon, Abe Laboriel Jr., Tris Imboden, Ralph Humphrey, Richie Hayward, John Ferraro, Dave Weckl, Denny Fongheiser, Bernard Purdie, Simon Philips, Paul Liem, John Keane, Praire Prince, Anton Fig, Steve Smith, Manu Katche, John Guerin.

GUITAR: Michael Landau, Steve Lukuather, Paul Jackson Jr., Waddy Wachtel, Tim Pierce, Bruce Gaitsch, Neal Schon, David Rhodes, Warren Cuccurulo, Larry Carlton, Jeff Pevar.

BASS: Lee Sklar, Jimmy Johnson, Will Lee, David Hungate, Nathan East, Jimmy Haslip, John Pena, Randy Jackson, Jason Scheff, Neil Stubenhaus, Tim Landers, Mike Porcaro, Freddy Washington, Bunny Brunell, Abe Laboriel Sr., John Pierce.

KEYBOARDS: James Newton Howard, David Garfield, James Raymond, Bill Meyers, Gregg Mathieson, Randy Waldman, Tom Coster, John Beasley, Michael McDonald, Steve Porcaro, Greg Phillinganes, Mike Finnigan, Mike Boddicker, Michael Ruff, Alan Pasqua.
Gee Jla, you a Toto fan? ;^)
The Experience...Jimi was Jimi...but Noel and Mitch were a world class rhythm section...the weakest link in the Jimi Hendrix Experience was Jimi Hendrix! (Just kidding)
Sure am Zaikesman...what about you?
Phase: M.M. still doesn't get his just propers to my mind - one of the five most valuable drummers in rock to have ever picked up the stix.

Jla: Nah - I was just joshing you a little...In fact, I suspect the two of us would have fairly diametrically opposed tastes, FWIW. No harm meant, or taken I hope. Cheers, Z.
Zaikesman...don't think I am the President of the Toto fan club. I just really like Jeff Porcaro and appreciate the musicianship. Jeff has played on so many recordings from Springsteen, Madonna, Dire Straits, Steely Dan, Ricky Lee Jones, Elton John, Paul Simon, Michael McDonald, Joni Mitchell, Roben Ford, Bonnie Raitt, Al Stewart, Boz Skaggs, Don Henley, Michael Jackson to name a few...believe me there are tons more. Actually, I am really a huge Jazz fan, but my tastes are all over the place. Last night I was listening to Wilco, Guster and Gomez....this morning I have had Peter Gabriel going and am now listening to Charles Lloyd. Certainly no harm taken...