Guitar, producer, songwriter
Robert “Waddy” Wachtel has played and worked with a who’s who of rock throughout his years as a session musician—Bob Dylan, The Everly Brothers, Iggy Pop, Keith Richards, Linda Ronstadt, and Warren Zevon, among many other musicians and vocalists. In the 1984 book The Guitar, Wachtel’s sound was described as “the churning, badass end of the guitar’s spectrum of sounds,” and he was said to have the ability to play “fullblown gutsy raunch or sweet Mexican-flavored licks with equal ease. He is a high-energy player.” Wachtel’s talent has placed him in the company of esteemed session guitarists Ry Cooder, David Lindley and Lowell George. His behind the scenes contributions include credits as producer and songwriter.
Wachtel toured with The Everly Brothers, but began gaining attention as a session artist after backing Carole King during the recording and subsequent tour supporting her Thoroughbred album in the 1970s. He is credited with being one of a group of musicians in Los Angeles that gave rock songs recorded in the 1970s and 1980s a decidedly raucous Southern California flair. Dave DiMartino, in Singer-Songwriters: Pop Music’s Performer-Composers, from A to Zevon, called them “the L.A. session-musician ’mafia’ that dominated most recordings of the genre and era.” These musicians included Andrew Gold, a multi-instrumental musician; Russ Kunkle, drums; Leland Sklar, bass; Jai Winding on piano; and a group of backing singers including Glenn Frey, J.D. Souther, Linda Ronstadt and Wendy Waldman.
Wachtel appeared on numerous rock recordings in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Frequent associates were Ronstadt, Karla Bonoff, and Zevon. “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” was included on Zevon’s 1976 self-titled album, a song which was covered successfully by Ronstadt a year later on her Simple Dreams album. Wachtel appears on both recordings. In 1978, again with Zevon, Wachtel worked on the Excitable Boy album. With Zevon he penned the classic “Werewolves of London” and co-produced the album with Jackson Browne.
During the early 1980s Wachtel began working with Stevie Nicks after she embarked on a solo career apart from Fleetwood Mac. Wachtel created the memorable guitar sound on her hit “Edge of Seventeen.” He also played guitar on hersubsequent recordings The Wild Heart and Rock a Little.
Wachtel was among the session musicians hired by Bob Seger in 1983 to record The Distance. Seger had long been recording as Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band. This album was issued as a Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band project, but other musicians were brought in. Using
For the Record…
Born May 24, 1947, in New York, NY; married to Annie Wachtel.
Started career as touring musician with the Everly Brothers; worked as a studio musician and became noticed in 1970s after working and touring with Carole King; made notable recordings with artists Linda Ronstadt, Warren Zevon and Stevie Nicks through the 1980s; worked as producer with artists including Zevon, Ronstadt, The Church, George Thorogood and others into the late 1990s, as well as continuing work as a studio musician; as a songwriter, Wachtel penned songs recorded by Zevon, Ronstadt, and the duet “Her Town Too” recorded by J.D. Souther and James Taylor.
Addresses: Management —Nick M. Ben-Meir, 652 N. Doheny Dr., Los Angeles, CA 90069.
musicians-for-hire was said to have upset Silver Bullet Band guitarist Drew Abbott, causing him to quit the band. Other artists with whom Wachtel has worked include the Motels, Rod Stewart, Spinal Tap, Ron Wood, and Bonnie Raitt.
What is a studio musician? As explained by Richie Unterberger in his essay in All Music Guide to Rock: The Best CDs, Albums & Tapes: Rock, Pop, Soul, R&B and Rap, these are musicians “who are not stars in their own right, but have done much to shape the course of rock music. Even today, when most session musicians are routinely credited on album jackets, they enjoy far less recognition that the performers they back in the studio. … Session players are credited on most album sleeves these days, it’s true, but the level of public recognition remains much lower than artists that work under their own name.”
Wachtel is perhaps best known for his enduring association with Keith Richards, with whom he has played guitar, written music, and co-produced recordings during Richards’s creative breaks from The Rolling Stones. The duo met in the mid-1970s and worked together on a single track on Tom Waits’ Bone Machine. Soon after, Richards decided to go solo.
Richards assembled an eclectic group of musicians in the late 1980s including Wachtel, Ivan Neville, and Steve Jordan. His backing band became known as X-Pensive Winos after they were seen drinking an expensive vintage wine behind some speakers during a studio session. For 1988’s Talk is Cheap, Wachtel played guitars and served as the album’s production consultant. With Richards, Wachtel and Steve Jordan collaborated on production of the 1992 Main Offender album on which Wachtel also played guitars and piano, sang backing vocals, and assisted with songwriting. “…Waddy was a great breakthrough,” Richards said in the 1998 Victor Bokris biography Keith Richards: The Biography. “He’s got a better and mathematical brain than Steve [Jordan] or I have.”
Wachtel produced the 1997 George Thorogood recording Rockin’ My Life Away. Wachtel reportedly had gone to see Thorogood play and subsequently decided he wanted to work with him. “Waddy Wachtel, as you know, has this great body of work from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. He’s everybody’s guy. It came to my attention that he wanted to work with me. I never knew about his work until he worked with Keith Richards,” said Thorogood in an online interview. “I said ’Keith with a studio musician? I don’t know about that.’ But Waddy is a unique case and I went to see the Expensive (sic) Winos live and he supplied the guitar on that tour. I said ’okay, this is kinda funky, this makes it.’ I met him and the problem was shutting the two of us up (laughter) to get us to play the music. It was like finding this long lost soul brother that you’d lost around 13 or 14 years of age. His whole childhood was mirrored of mine, completely. The difference between us is that he mastered the guitar. He’s another genius.”
Wachtel reunited with Ronstadt 1998 to play on her album We Ran. He also co-wrote and produced “I Go To Pieces,” and wrote and produced “Damage.” “[T]he two happiest parts of making this album were reuniting with Bernie [Leadon of The Eagles] and working again with Waddy Wachtel,” said Ronstadt. “It was Waddy who first taught me how to phrase rock n’ roll. He taught me how to find dynamics in all that howling and swirling of those coliseums we played in.” In addition to touring coliseums with Ronstadt, Wachtel supported many musicians on the road whose albums he appeared on including Zevon, James Taylor, and Nicks.
Whether it is punchy riffs, raw energy, or musical embroidery, Wachtel has provided accompaniment and support to rock’s elite for more than three decades. “That was why people would hire me,” Wachtel told Musician’s David Simons in 1999, “because they needed that rock & roll statement.” Watchel shows no signs of slowing down. He broadened his resume further in the late 1990s when he was hired as musical director for comic Adam Sandler.
(with Karla Bonoff)
Karla Bonoff, Columbia, 1977.
Restless Nights, Columbia, 1979.
Wild Heart of the Young, Columbia, 1982.
(with Stevie Nicks)
Bella Donna, WEA, 1981.
The Wild Heart, 1983.
Rock a Little, EMI, 1985.
(with Keith Richards and the X-Pensive Winos)
Talk is Cheap, Virgin, 1988.
Live at the Hollywood Palladium (Dec. 15, 1988), Virgin, 1991.
Main Offender, Virgin, 1992.
(with Linda Ronstadt)
Simple Dreams, Asylum, 1977
Living in the U.S.A., Asylum, 1978.
Mad Love, Asylum, 1980.
Get Closer, Asylum, 1982.
We Ran, Elektra, 1998.
(with James Taylor)
In the Pocket, Warner Brothers, 1976.
Flag, CBS, 1979.
Dad Loves His Work, CBS, 1981.
(with Warren Zevon)
Warren Zevon, Asylum, 1976.
Excitable Boy, Asylum, 1978.
Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, Asylum, 1980.
The Envoy, Asylum, 1982.
Mr. Bad Example, Giant, 1991.
(with The Church)
Starfish (includes “Under the Milky Way,” co-producer), Arista, 1988.
Gold Afternoon Fix, 1991.
Circle of Souls, Hands of Faith, Hollywood, 1991.
Gilby Clarke, Pawn Shop Guitars, Virgin, 1994.
Bryan Ferry, The Bride Stripped Bare, Reprise, 1978.
George Thorogood, Rockin’ My Life Away, EMI, 1997.
Bacon, Tony, editor, 1000 Great Guitarists, GPI Books/Miller Freeman Books, 1994.
Bokris, Victor, Keith Richards: The Biography, De Capo Press, 1998.
Booth, Stanley, Keith Richards: Standing in the Shadows, St. Martin’s Press.
DiMartino, Dave, Singer-Songwriters: Pop Music’s Performer-Composers, from A to Zevon, Billboard Books, 1994.
Erlewine, Michael, Vladimir Bogdanov, and Chris Woodstra, editors, All Music Guide to Rock: The Best CDs, Albums & Tapes: Rock, Pop, Soul, R&BandRap, Miller Freeman Books, 1995.
Santoro, Gene, editor, The Guitar, Quarto Marketing, Ltd., 1984.
Billboard Daily Music Update, May 4, 1998.
Entertainment Weekly, July 29, 1994
Los Angeles Times, October 16, 1998.
Musician, April 1999.
Playboy, December 1990.
Elektra Online, http://www.elektra.com/retro/ronstadt/index.html
George Thorogood Interview, http://www.rocknet.com/may97/georget.html
Additonal information was taken from liner notes by Kurt Loder for the X-Pensive Winos, 1991, and provided by Waddy Wachtel.
—Linda Dailey Paulson
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