Sidemen

You know who they are, right? Those guys that play in a band that’s named after somebody else. Sure, you know their name and what they eat for lunch but that’s because you’re a big fan. To the great masses, it’s {name the artist} and a bunch of other guys and gals. So here are three sidemen who sometimes do their own thing. 

Benmont Montmorency Tench III (pictured above) was Tom Petty’s keyboardist starting in the early ’70’s when the Gainesville, FL band called itself Mudcrutch. He first saw Mudcrutch at a concert whose opening act was a band from Jacksonville named Lynyrd Skynyrd. Benmont stayed with Petty right into the Heartbreakers, playing on every studio album and all but Petty’s final solo album.

Tench is a pretty well-respected musician having worked with everyone from Johnny Cash to Fiona Apple to U2. He also wrote or co-wrote songs for Rosanne Cash and Carlene Carter.

In 2014 he released a solo album called You Should Be So Lucky. The album was produced by (is this word overused?) the legendary Glyn Johns. This song is called “Veronica Said.” I heard this on the radio and dug it. (Yes, it has that Springsteen “Fire” riff.)

Spotify link

On this next one, I’m cheating a little bit. Nils Lofgren was a solo star for some years before he became one of Bruce Springsteen’s gang of guitarists. But he’s been with El Bosso so long I wonder how many people are even aware of that fact.

As it happens, he’s been a member of the E Street Band since 1984 when he joined the Born in the USA tour. His first studio album with Springsteen aka Bad Scooter was 1987’s Tunnel of Love.

Like Tench, Nils is a well-respected musician who has been associated with Neil Young and was, for a while, a member of Crazy Horse. He has also done a couple of stints in Ringo Starr’s band and – as a member of the E Street Band – is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Oh, and he’s the best guitarist in that band as far as I’m concerned.

In 1979, Lofgren came out with an album called Nils. The first track on the album is called “No Mercy.” It’s a boxing tune but it’s hard to find any facts about it other than that Lofgren wrote it. The album was produced by Bob Ezrin, who has worked with so many artists I can’t name them all. Ezrin’s a member of the Canadian Hall of Fame. (Sound effects recorded at Madison Square Garden.)

Spotify link

Steve Hunter has been an ace guitarist for about as long as I can remember. Coincidentally he has a long association with Bob Ezrin. In fact, it was Ezrin’s production of Hunter’s version of “Rock and Roll,” that convinced Lou Reed to recruit him for his band. You can hear his fabulous interplay with the late Dick Wagner on Reed’s Rock ‘n Roll Animal. The duo also played for several years with Alice Cooper.

In fact, Hunter worked with Alice right up to 2012, finally opting to do his own solo work. In 2013, he released a nice album called The Manhattan Blues Project. Guests on the album include Tony Levin, Johnny Depp, Joe Satriani, and Joe Perry.

And so, might as well hear a couple of those guys, yes? This song is called “The Brooklyn Shuffle.” First solo Hunter, second Depp, third Joe Perry. Nothing groundbreaking, just a nice lazy shuffle:

Spotify link

31 thoughts on “Sidemen

  1. Great post. These guys are the unsung heroes for sure. After watching the documentary Hired Gun, the stories of all these hired hands are way more interesting sometimes than the artist they play for. So much talent.

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    1. Yeah, I saw that one and even blogged about it. And then forgot about it. 🙂 Senior moment. Yeah, a lot of these guys need more recognition. But many, many of them have no desire to be THE guy and are happy to be in the background.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. True. And if they’re in a pretty successful band, they still get the money and the women. And they’re free to have dinner somewhere, mostly unmolested, while the star has to fend off autograph-seekers.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Great theme for a post – I like all of the examples you highlighted.

    In fact, the first time I ever heard of Nils Lofgren was as a solo artist: “Shine Silently,” which is from the same album and got decent radio play in Germany, as did “No Mercy.”

    Speaking of the Boss, the big other sidekick that comes to mind is Little Steven. As I previously posted on my blog, I dig his last solo album “Soulfire” he recorded with The Disciples of Soul, a terrific band – in fact so much I went to see these guys last year. I really enjoyed that show!

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    1. Yeah, Van Zandt definitely came to mind. But he’s a little higher profile than Nils so I went deeper. I dug Soulfire too. I need to pay a visit to your station as CB calls it. I see some Gary Clark Jr. up there and I never – or rarely- met a blues I didn’t like. 😁

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      1. Ha, Clark Jr. did a fiery version of Maybellene in honor of Chuck Berry at the recent Grammys award ceremony, which I thought was the highlight of the night. I just wish it would have been longer! U2 performing in front of the Statue of Liberty and Sting weren’t bad either.

        Why the hell do I even bother watching the Grammys? I don’t have a particularly compelling answer. Sometimes they got good performances. In a way I’m also curious to see what’s currently in, though most of the times it frustrates me.

        I’m not saying the artists who are dominating the charts these days aren’t talented. For example, take Bruno Mars, the big winner of the night. I actually think he’s a pretty talented guy. I just don’t like his music in general.

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        1. I don’t even bother with Grammys. Any award i might be interested to see is given before the show. I don’t care about most of those artists. It’s all Top 40 and much of it, frankly, sucks. I’d just as soon listen to Release Radar on Spotify for new stuff. As to Mars, I wouldn’t buy his stuff but I agree about his talent. He’s got some James Brown moves.

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        2. So true about awards being given in the afternoon prior to the broadcast ceremony. Two from this year I really dig: Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ for TajMo (Best Contemporary Blues Album) and Rolling Stones for Blue & Lonesome (Best Traditional Blues Album).

          Gregg Allman was nominated for Best Americana album, which Jason Isbell won. While I obviously would have liked to see Allman win the category, I have to say I’ve started taking a closer look at Isbell and kind of like his stuff.

          BTW, I just fixed the broken link to the Gary Clark and Jon Batiste tribute to Fats Domino and Chuck Berry – so annoying when they take down YouTube clips. Let’s see how long this one lasts!

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        3. In years past, the Grammys at least pretended to care about “other-than-Top-40” by having some blues, classical, folk, etc while the Kanye Wests of the world sat impatiently through that garbage for their due. Did they have any of those this year or just give up any pretense of giving a fuck?

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        4. Well, they did have Gary Clark Jr. and Jon Batiste perform a nice commemorative medley of “Ain’t That A Shame” and “Maybellene,” but it lasted less than 3 minutes! I think Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ also performed, but not during the main ceremony in the evening that got broadcast.

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  3. Heard of Benmont Tench’s name only, but the other two I know pretty well. Lofgren had a band called Grin, and I have one of their records (the one with “White Lies,” a great song). I love Hunter, and Dick Wagner, for their dual solos on Reed’s intro to the live “Sweet Jane.” I think Hunter also did a version of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” which got a little airplay.

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    1. I vaguely remember Grin but I confess I wasn’t a big follower of Lofgren. He kinda went onto and off of my radar over time. I really like “No Mercy.” I’ll have to give “White Lies” a spin. Hunter/Wagner were, for me, second only to Duane and Dickey. The two guys in Wishbone Ash are pretty good too.

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  4. Like the Tench cut reminds me of a lot of different folks. The Heartbreakers are a great band and he was a huge part. Never heard his solo. Will put this on my listening pile. Have lots of Nils. I wore out a few of his albums. I thought it was cool when he joined the E Street band. He hit the lottery (In a good way). Yeah Hunter on the ‘Animal’ record was good stuff. I also have him on others and a real good Jack Bruce LP (have to seek out the hunter cut, can’t play the link). So many good side men and women, cousins to great supporting actors. Good piece Doc. I have a feeling you have a deep respect for them. (Tony Levin I get, Depp?)

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    1. I put the Hunter cut up there on a Spotify link. That should work, no? As to Depp, his first love was music. He was playing (and I think singing) in bands from the time he was 12. He could easily be a band frontman today but went into acting. He is a gigantic Aerosmith fan. When he was filming Black Mass out this way he jammed with them on stage. And recall he’s in a band called Hollywood Vampires with Joe Perry. He’s not Clapton but his short solo on the Hunter tune is pretty good. He’s a serious rocker.

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    1. Yeah, and of course, neither Bruce nor Van Zandt are slouches either. I’ve always liked the way Bruce rips notes emotionally out of the guitar. And he and Steve did a duet on one song (Prove it All Night, maybe?) when I saw them last that was just scorching.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Always nice to see a bit of light in the sidemen; especially those with the chops these guys have. The only one here I’m not so familiar with is Hunter, so I’ll need to get exploring there…

    … and Johnny Depp is certainly getting around lately, huh? I’d personally like to see him do more musically, cause he’s clearly got the chops and the passion for music. I actually read a piece somewhere about a year or so ago about Hollywood Vampires and Joe Perry appears to rate Depp pretty highly from what it suggested.

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    1. Easy way to hear Hunter is to follow the trail over to my Lou Reed post. You’ll hear some blazing guitarwork. Yeah, Depp’s not too bad from what I hear in that tune. And it’s been a big sideline of his for a while. He can certainly hold his own with the pros.

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  6. I don’t know how I keep missing your posts, sir. This is another good one. Nils as the best guitar player on E Street? Yeah; hands down. For me Black Books is practically spine chilling

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    1. Hmm. You are definitely a follower in good standing. Are you not getting emails? Maybe unsubscribe/resubscribe? Your contributions are sorely missed. And yes, Nils is the man. That said, the scorching duet on (I think) “Saint in the City” between Bruce and Steve is worth the price of admission.

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      1. No – not getting the emails. I need to sort that out. I think Steve’s guitar abilities are kind of sidelined in his role on E Street. He seems there more as a foil than musician sometimes but there’s some real chops on his solo stuff.

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        1. You can always just visit every 3 – 4 days which is my posting cadence. As to Springsteen and crew, there may be too many guitarist sometimes. I think Van Zandt is a foil to Bruce but plays a key role in the background as well, possibly in arranging, etc. Interestingly, Rolling Stone puts Bruce on the list of 100 best guitarists but neither Nils nor Van Zandt make the cut.

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