Most people agree that John Lennon and Paul McCartney formed the heart of The Beatles, and that Pete Townshend was the "genius" leader of The Who. However, most bands have one of more unsung heroes who are absolutely essential to their band's success. In the following list, Goldmine magazine presents 25 such "secret weapons" behind some of rock 'n' roll's elite artists:
Gene Clark/Chris Hillman (The Byrds) - Roger McGuinn's jangly Rickenbacker guitar and David Crosby's ethereal harmony vocals may have defined the band's sound, but early on Gene Clark was their best songwriter by far, penning classics such as "Feel A Whole Lot Better" and "Eight Miles High." When Clark and later Crosby left the band Hillman picked up the slack, writing 5 of the 11 songs on Younger Than Yesterday and being a major contributor to The Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. After The Byrds these guys further proved themselves, Clark going onto a commercially unsuccessful but artistically triumphant solo career, and Hillman joining two more important bands, being the right hand man of Gram Parsons and Stephen Stills, respectively, in the Flying Burrito Brothers and Manassas.
Brian Jones/Mick Taylor (The Rolling Stones) - There's nothing secret about the talents of Mick Jagger or Keith Richards, and Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts formed one of rock's most precise rhythm sections. But Brian Jones was the secret weapon of the first incarnation of the Rolling Stones. Richards still speaks in awe of how Jones could pick up any stringed instrument and be comfortable with it almost immediately, and Jones lent an exotic flair to many a Rolling Stones recording (such as "Paint It Black"). When his excessive lifestyle forced his ouster from the band he was replaced by Mick Taylor, and a golden era ensued, in part because Taylor was the most technically gifted guitarist the band ever had. When Taylor later left for a career of obscurity he was replaced by the talented Ron Wood, but the band never scaled the heights of albums such as Sticky Fingers or Exile On Main Street again.
Bobby Whitlock (Derek & The Dominoes) - Everyone knows that this was Eric Clapton's band, and that the presence of Duane Allman prodded Clapton to a career peak called Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. However, once heard, it is all but impossible to forget the soulful keyboards and haunting, impassioned backing vocals of Bobby Whitlock. Without him, songs such as "Bell Bottom Blues" and their inspired reading of Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" wouldn't be nearly as special. Plus, he also co-wrote several of the album's songs, occasionally duets with Clapton (most notably on "Anyday"), and sings lead on "Thorn Tree In The Garden."
Jimmy Chamberlin (Smashing Pumpkins) - The Smashing Pumpkins were always dominated by Billy Corgan, but Chamberlin's incredible drumming provided a powerful punch to mid-90s masterpieces such as Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. When he was booted from the band due to drug use his presence was sorely missed on 1998's still-good Adore, but he brought the band's boom back on 2000's Machina/The Machines Of God. Corgan has since disbanded the Pumpkins, but he wisely brought Chamberlin along for his new project, Zwan.
John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) - So overlooked that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant didn't even invite him to participate on their Unplugged reunion concert (or its subsequent tour), John Paul Jones was more than merely one of rock's best bass players. His beautiful Hammond organ playing was essential to songs such as "Your Time Is Gonna Come" and "Thank You," and his knack for string arrangements gave songs such as "Kashmir" their otherworldly power.
Al Kooper (Bob Dylan/ Blood, Sweat, & Tears/The Zombies/Super Session/Lynyrd Skynyrd) - His career having taken off after his magical organ cameo on "Like A Rolling Stone," Al Kooper subsequently served as the "musical director" for Bob Dylan, most notably on Blonde on Blonde. He also was the main man behind Blood, Sweat, and Tears' influential first album Child Is Father To The Man, rescued The Zombies' cult classic Odessey and Oracle from obscurity (as a record executive), directed rock's first super session (with Michael Bloomfield and Stephen Stills on Super Session), and discovered and then nurtured Lynyrd Skynryd, whose first three albums he produced. He also wrote Backstage Passes: Rock 'N' Roll Life In The Sixties (recently updated as Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards: Memoirs of a Rock 'N' Roll Survivor), one of the best books about rock 'n' roll ever.
Malcolm Young (AC/DC) - Always overshadowed by the band's hard living lead screachers (Bon Scott, and then after his death, Brian Johnson), not to mention brother Angus' headbobbing shenanigans, schoolboy costumes, and gloriously unhinged guitar runs, Malcolm is merely AC/DC's anchor. One of hard rock's greatest rhythm players, which is an essential element to any great groove band (and AC/DC are nothing if not that), Malcolm has also provided Godzilla sized riffed to many an arena ready anthem.
Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers Band) - Unsurprisingly overshadowed by the two brothers who the band is named after, Dickey Betts was arguably equally important. He wrote several of the band's most important songs ("In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed," "Ramblin' Man," "Jesssica"), and he had a smooth singing voice that was the perfect complement to Greg Allman's gritty blues growl. His guitar duels with master slide guitarist Duane Allman are deservedly legendary, especially those captured on the live At Fillmore East album, and after Duane's death in 1971 Betts' beautifully lyrical lead work enabled the band's continued success. His recent departure from the band notwithstanding (allegedly due to excessive alcoholism), Dickey Betts deserves long overdue credit as the band's secret weapon.
Eddie Hazel (Funkadelic) - The P-Funk empire was George Clinton's vision, Bootsy Collins provided the funky foundation, and Bernie Worrell was a fantastic keyboard player. But my favorite Funkadelic member was always Eddie Hazel. One of the greatest guitarists ever (black or white), Hazel could do it all. His greatest work came on Maggot Brain, especially the 10-minute title track, an improvised solo showcase. Before the song Clinton told Hazel to "play like your mother just died," and Hazel then proceeded to play the most gutwrenchingly intense and emotional guitar solo in the history of the world. I get chills just thinking about it.
Chris Wood (Traffic) - Steve Winwood was Traffic's voice and primary leader, and Dave Mason wrote many of Traffic's best songs. Even Jim Capaldi, a fine drummer, got to sing on occasion, but it was Chris Wood who provided much of the band's behind the scenes magic. A marvelous multi-instrumentalist who specialized in reed instruments (especially sax and flute), Wood's beautiful work gave songs such as "Freedom Rider"and "John Barleycorn" a haunting, ethereal quality that they otherwise would've lacked.
Chris Bell (Big Star) - Alex Chilton gets the bulk of the credit for this acclaimed cult band, but at the beginning it was Chilton who joined Chris Bell's band. Bell wrote, sang, and played guitar on many of the best songs on 1972's #1 Record before leaving the band, having grown frustrated by tensions between him and Chilton and the band's lack of commercial success. Rumors persist that he had a hand in writing several of the songs on Radio City (1974) as well, and his posthumous release (he died in a car accident in 1978) I am The Cosmos contained several more should've been classics. Special mention to Jody Stephens, an overlooked but dynamic rock drummer.
George Harrison (The Beatles) - Though only granted occasional songwriting credits due to John Lennon and Paul McCartney's dominance within the band, George Harrison nevertheless penned classic songs such as "If I Needed Someone,""While My Guitar Gently Weeps," "Here Comes The Sun," and "Something," the latter of which Frank Sinatra called "the greatest love song ever written" (though he thought Lennon and McCartney wrote it!). Harrison was also a beautifully tasteful guitar player whose mystical bent influenced the other Beatles. This spiritual side would become even more prominent during his subsequent solo career, which was highlighted by his spectacular first album, All Things Must Pass.
Sterling Morrison and Maureen Tucker (Velvet Underground) - Lou Reed led this influential band, and John Cale greatly influenced the controlled chaos that was ever-present on the band's extreme first two albums. But Sterling Morrison was a vastly underrated guitar player who looked after the band's legacy long after they'd disbanded, and Maureen Tucker's uniquely thumping drumming style launched the beat of alternative rock. Special mention to Nico, whose singing cameos on Velvet Underground & Nico were unforgettable, and Doug Yule, who ably replaced Cale and who sang maybe my favorite VU song, the charming "Who Loves The Sun."
Terry Kath (Chicago) - A deep voiced singer and a wicked guitar player (Jimi Hendrix thought so), Terry Kath was the main reason early Chicago actually rocked. His bizarre death from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound robbed the band of their soul, and a commercially successful but artistically questionable career of sappy pop ballads has been the band's calling card ever since.
Al Jackson Jr. (Booker T. and the MG's) - Named after the groups keyboard player, containing a first rate bass player (Donald "Duck" Dunn) and a phenomenal guitarist (Steve Cropper), the secret weapon of the greatest house band of the '60s nevertheless was drummer Al Jackson Jr. Always keeping the funky beats coming with an impeccable sense of timing and taste, Jackson Jr. played on countless soul hits from the likes of Otis Redding and Sam and Dave, not to mention his own group's Hall Of Fame-worthy recordings. Jackson Jr. would later also provide the sinewy beats for Al Green on some of the sexiest soul records of the seventies.
John Entwistle (The Who) - One of the best bass players ever whose heavy thump often led the band's sound, Entwistle was also well regarded as the band's oddball "other songwriter" who penned Who classics such as "Boris The Spider"and "My Wife." Entwistle often stood motionless onstage while his bandmates went berserk, and he always seemed a rare stable presence within the band. Alas, he too succumbed to the life of excess so easily obtainable to rock stars, dying a drug related death earlier this year. Of course, by then his status as the secret weapon of The Who had long since been established.
Nicky Hopkins (The Rolling Stones, The Kinks, The Who, The Jeff Beck Group, Quicksilver Messenger Service) - Session man extraordinaire Nicky Hopkins was essential to many recordings by the above-mentioned bands (and others), a background ace in the hole who many regard as rock 'n' roll's best keyboard player ever. The Kinks even wrote a song in tribute to him ("Session Man"), and though among these bands he only briefly became a fully fledged member of The Jeff Beck Group and Quicksilver Messenger Service, his outstanding contributions (such as on The Rolling Stones' "She's A Rainbow") to all of them are damn near impossible to deny. Expect a Hall of Fame induction (sideman category) eventually.
Carl Wilson, Mike Love, Dennis Wilson, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston (The Beach Boys) - Common misconceptions about the Beach Boys are that a) they were a surf band, b) they peaked with Pet Sounds and then petered out, and c) Brian Wilson was the genius songwriter behind the band. Well, a and c are both true, but they were much more than just a surf band, and Wilson had plenty of songwriting help throughout the years (particularly post-Pet Sounds) from all of the above-mentioned members, who also provided the band's peerless vocal harmonies (along with Brian). Finally, one listen to Surf's Up or Sunflower should convince you that the Beach Boys were great long after Pet Sounds. P.S. These guys also kept the band going for 30-plus years after Brian quit touring with them.
Garth Hudson (The Band) - The Band were five virtuoso musicians. Robbie Robertson was the primary songwriter and an excellent, economical lead guitarist, while Rick Danko, Richard Manual, and Levon Helm were all multi-instrumentalists who sang. Yet it was Garth Hudson who was the band's best musician, and it was he who usually added that something special that made so many of The Band's songs unique. Though best known for his organ playing, one look at the credits for The Band (the band's second and best album) reveals Hudson to also be adept on the clavinette, piano, accordion, soprano, tenor/baritone saxophone, and trumpet. His solo spotlights highlighted many a Band concert, and when internal friction robbed the band of the camaraderie and all-for-one spirit that helped made their initial recordings such classics, Garth Hudson could still be counted on to keep things fresh and interesting.
Bob Gaudio (The Four Seasons) - Though Frankie Valli's unforgettably high-pitched falsetto dominated the headlines (and the charts), Bob Gaudio was the band's chief songwriter (with producer Bob Crewe) and guiding force. Like the Beach Boys, his signature was inventive vocal harmonies, albeit with a doo-wop flavor, but he also had a knack for tough rhythm tracks with a distinctly urban touch. After Valli left the band Gaudio still scored a #1 hit with "December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)," and he later became a much sought after producer who worked with the superstar likes of Michael Jackson, Barbara Streisand, and Frank Sinatra.
John Lord (Deep Purple) - Deep Purple (Mark II, their "classic" lineup) were one of those bands whose five members were all important. Richie Blackmore was a brilliant guitarist whose classically inspired playing influenced many a future shredder, shrieker Ian Gillan set the standard for the heavy metal vocalist on songs such as "Child In Time," and the rhythm section of Roger Glover (bass player, writer, producer) and jazz-trained Ian Paice (drums) was formidable. But it was John Lord's eerie, atmospheric keyboards that gave many of Deep Purple's songs a gothic flavor, making them a pioneering band whose sound remains singular to this day. Members have come and gone throughout the years, but John Lord has always been there as the true core of Deep Purple.
Leroi Moore/Carter Beauford (Dave Matthews Band) - The allure of this band has always been their superior musicianship. Dave Matthews writes the songs, sings, and plays a fine acoustic guitar, while Stefan Lessard and Boyd Tinsley add flavoring to the band's hybrid sound. But the more I listen to the Dave Matthews Band the more I realize that the heart of the band, and its most impressive performers, are Leroi Moore and Carter Beauford. Moore shines on sax and flute and solos more than Matthews or anyone else (and this is first and foremost a jam band), while Beauford is a blur of hands, funkily filling in all the gaps of the band's full-bodied sound.
Mick Ronson (David Bowie) - David Bowie's best albums have almost always featured at least one inspired collaborator by his side. Tony Visconti, Brian Eno, Rick Wakeman, Mike Garson, and Carlos Alomar were among some of the more notable names who were essential to making Bowie's albums classics. But the best collaborator from his best period (1969-1973) was guitarist Mick Ronson. An edgy player who ensured that Bowie's "glam" period rocked, Ronson deserves almost equal billing on albums such as The Man Who Sold The World (an early, overlooked hard rock album), Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, and Aladdin Sane. Bowie went on to do a lot of great things, but many fans (yours truly included) feel like this period was his best, in large part due to the underrated guitar heroics of Ronson. Mick later served in a similar secret weapon capacity for Mott The Hoople/ Ian Hunter before releasing several worthwhile solo albums of his own.
Ronnie Lane/ Ian MacLagan (The Small Faces, The Faces) - The Small Faces were dominated by pint sized but big voiced Steve Marriott, while his larger replacements (Rod Stewart and Ron Wood) likewise dominated The Faces. Drummer Kenny Jones was good enough to (inadequately) replace Keith Moon in The Who, but the secret weapons of the aforementioned bands were really Ronnie Lane and Ian MacLagan. Lane played guitar, wrote or co-wrote many of both band's songs, and even occasionally sang in a plaintive manner. For his part, MacLagan's highly distinctive, rollicking piano/organ runs jump-started the band's party 'till you drop personas.
Jeff "Skunk" Baxter, Elliott Randall, Denny Dias, Larry Carlton (Steely Dan) - Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were Steely Dan, and their sophisticated songwriting, provocative lyrics, and immaculate production were signature components of Steely Dan's laid back sound. Yet is was often one of these session stars (some of whom were originally fully-fledged band members) who lent the spectacular guitar solos that made many a good song great. They all had their moments on guitar, as did several other session players (such as Rick Derringer and Jay Graydon) and Becker himself, but Baxter's solo on "My Old School" is my personal favorite.
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