Dick Wagner: 1942-2014


Dick Wagner
, one of rock and roll’s unsung session guitarists, has passed away.  He was 71.

Wagner was best known as a go-to guitarist for producer Bob Ezrin and has quite the list of credits to his name. Some of his most notable credits include playing on albums for Alice Cooper (School’s Out, Muscle of Love, Billion Dollar Babies, Welcome to My Nightmare), Lou Reed (Berlin, Rock N’ Roll Animal) and KISS (Destroyer).

Wagner was a prominent guitarist on the Detroit music scene of the 1960s and fronted The Frost.  It was during that time where Wagner wrote one of his best-known songs “Only Women Bleed,” which was on Cooper’s Welcome to My Nightmare and has been recorded by a number of musicians since, including Tina Turner, Etta James, Lita Ford and Tori Amos.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Wagner died due to respiratory failure two weeks after undergoing a cardiac procedure.  While he may have been in Scottsdale, Ariz. during his time of death, he was always a Detroit guy.

“He did so much for Detroit,” said Doug Podell, Wagner’s friend and radio personality at Detroit’s WCSX.  “He always helped out with benefits, food drives and at the Capuchin Soup Kitchen.  He was always there when you need him. He will be incredibly missed.”

As news of Wagner's death has spread, the tributes from all over the rock world have been coming in:

"Even though we know it's inevitable, we never expect to suddenly lose close friends and collaborators,” said Alice Cooper.  “Dick Wagner and I shared as many laughs as we did hit records.  He was one of a kind.  He is irreplaceable.  His brand of playing and writing is not seen anymore, and there are very few people that I enjoyed working with as much as I enjoyed working with Dick Wagner.  A lot of my radio success in my solo career had to do with my relationship with Dick Wagner.  Not just on stage, but in the studio and writing.  Some of my biggest singles were ballads what I wrote with Dick Wagner.  Most of "Welcome To My Nightmare" was written with Dick.  There was just a magic in the way we wrote together.  He was always able to find exactly the right chord to match perfectly with what I was doing.  I think that we always think our friends will be around as long as we are, so to hear of Dick's passing comes as a sudden shock and an enormous loss for me, Rock N Roll and to his family."

 "Dick Wagner was the consummate gentleman axeman. (He) will be missed," KISS' Gene Simmons said in a statement on Wednesday, noting that Wagner played the "blistering" guitar solo on the "Destroyer" track "Sweet Pain."

Ray Goodman of the SRC and Detroit Wheels, who's known Wagner since the late 60s and has been his de facto band leader since 2011, told Billboard that "he was such a unique talent. I consider him the best and brightest of my generation. He could write a song about anything. He had the gift, something he was innately born with -- along with his very quick, droll sense of humor, another thing I'm going to miss dearly."

"He sang and played very well, which is obvious, but his songwriting ability was really good, and it was probably underestimated," said Scott Morgan of the Rationals, another friend of Wagner's since the mid-60s.

"Dick was a stellar player and his work with Steve Hunter on Lou Reed's Rock&Roll Animal is legendary," said KISS' Paul Stanley.  "He also did great work with Alice Cooper and uncredited ghosting on Destroyer and albums by some of our contemporaries. A huge talent with a huge tone and huge heart. A great unsung hero."

"RIP #DickWagner I'll always remember him as a fine songwriter w/ a real gift for melody & a formidable rock guitar player," said Bob Seger (via Twitter.)