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Dick Wagner

Dick Wagner

Real Gone Music 2014

Review by David Bowling

 

Dick, or Richard, Wagner (1942-2014) was a guitarist you may not have heard of but if you had any interest in rock music during the last three decades of the 20th century you probably heard him.

He was a session guitarist deluxe who had a long association with Alice Cooper. He also played with some of rock’s leading lights including Peter Gabriel, Burton Cummings, Lou Reed, and Kiss, for whom he played the acoustic guitar part on their hit single “Beth.”

His career began during the late 1960’s as the guitarist for the Michigan based power rock group Frost, who have been inducted into the state’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. After a short stop in the New York based power trio Ursa Major, he settled in to his role as a session guitarist. In 1978 he tried to grab the brass ring but his self-titled debut album under went one of the more unusual commercial failures in rock and  roll history.

He released the album under his name Richard Wagner. Music stores all across the country consigned it to their classical section and there it sat, until now. Real Gone Music has just reissued the album under the title Dick Wagner,” so as not to have the same confusion.

Wagner is an in your face rock and roll guitarist with excellent technique and exquisite tone. When he keeps it fairly simple and lets the emphasis remain on his guitar, he comes off well and one can only lament that he never received solo commercial success. At times, however, he tries to be a little to creative and his music becomes a bit cluttered.

“Some Things Go On Forever” ebbs and flows but leaves room for Wagner’s solo excursions. “Don’t Stop The Music” may sound a bit dated but it is a melodic guitar basic anthem that would have fit top 40 radio at the time of its release. “Go Down Together” contains what may be his best pure solo, while “Small Town Boy” moves in a creative direction with some Caribbean influences.

“Motor City Showdown” extends out to over six minutes and contains strings, and somewhat out-of-place lyrics, which move the focus away from what he does best.

Dick or Richard Wagner may have deserved better but his legacy will remain as a successful and prolific sideman whose contributions will be heard and appreciated for decades.

His debut album is a good listen as it presents his strengths and weakness but through it all it reveals a master guitarist at work.

Rating: ***

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