In The Style Of Dick Wagner

By Miguel Ángel Ariza

Mercenaries. Paid men. Or, as the Americans say, 'hired guns'. And among all the incredible studio and live guitarists of the 1970s, one pair stood out from all others through the decade. If you wanted to have the best couple of guitarists that your money could afford for your new piece, you had to call Steve Hunter and his partner in the years when the recording studios had more grams of cocaine than cables; our protagonist of today: Richard 'Dick' Wagner.


Although Wagner enjoyed some fame in his native Detroit with the band The Frost, there are three projects to which we associate Dick Wagner's career.
The first of them - and with which he burst the speakers of the record players of half the world and managed to become a musician of reference - involved his union with the authentic ‘dark God of rock’ Lou Reed. Shortly after recording the mythical Berlin with the former Velvet Underground singer, and already as musical director of his tours, he re-oriented the career of his 'boss' to the most powerful rock ever made by the New Yorker with the wild Rock and Roll Animal, an album on which, along with the aforementioned Steve Hunter, there is nothing left to do but surrender to this couple of animals who produced that new version of Sweet Jane that should be studied in music schools around the world....and schools in general as well.



At that time Wagner’s main guitar was a Gibson Les Paul TV Special. He also used a classic - the Echoplex - with that characteristic 'outdated' sound produced by the MXR Phaser. A little later, as the decade went by and the sounds became harder and harder, he produced his sound with one of the first B.C. Rich Eagles, with some pickups that Di Marzio made to measure for Wagner and Hunter; always through 100 watt amps and Marshall speakers. Around that time one of his key musical relationships began and one which Dick will always be remembered for: with Alice Cooper. Apart from keeping his status as musical director on hundreds of concerts that lasted years, it is also his most important musical union because Alice Cooper found in him a splendid songwriter who ‘cast his spell’ on some of his greatest hits such as 'Only women bleed'.



Thirdly we're going to talk about the quantity and quality of his contributions for other huge bands of that time. Perhaps the most important was Kiss, a band whose members were not too technical and who of course did not hesitate to hire experienced guitarists like Wagner for the recording of albums, like the one that once became the most successful of their career to that point: Destroyer of 1976.


But there are many other bands that have required the mastery of this brilliant guitarist and composer; some of them quite striking as they have in their ranks guitarists who are much better known than Mr. Wagner: specifically we are talking about Aerosmith and
Joe Perry who had (or wanted) to use Wagner and Hunter to record on songs like Train Kept a' Rollin' from their 1974 album Get your Wings.


This is Rock and Roll friends, and to tell you the truth, we simple listeners of the mastery of these spectacular guitarists are always satisfied with a good song, whoever plays... what is also true is that in the 70's they had quite clear that a song improved a lot if who was in charge of recording the guitars was Mr. Dick Wagner.