Dick Wagner was what you might call a ‘proper’ lead guitarist – flashy, technical, articulate but also melodic with a rich tone. The first time I noticed him was when he duelled with Steve Hunter (another guitarist in the same vein) on Lou Reed’s landmark live album Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal 1974. Harmony licks into expressive improvisations like a northern Allman Brothers that somehow fitted in with Lou Reed’s deadpan delivery and with Wagner’s arrangements made Reed sound like a pro rather than an art experiment. Wagner also played on Reed’s other masterpiece, Berlin 1973.
As a team Wagner and Hunter also appeared together on Alice Cooper’s post original band album, Welcome To My Nightmare 1975, and along with Prakash John on bass and Whitey Glan from the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal band, toured with the theatrical extravaganza that became a concert film (see below). Wagner also co wrote a substantial part of the album including the acclaimed Only Women Bleed. Wagner would go on to play on five more Alice Cooper albums – Alice Cooper Goes To Hell 1976, Lace And Whiskey 1977, From the Inside 1978, Zipper Catches Skin 1982 and Dada 1983.
Although Wagner did have his own bands including The Frost and Ursa Major, it was his indisputable skills as the archetypal lead guitarist that made him a more successful session musician rather than a band leader in his own right. He was a gun for hire and when Ace Frehley wasn’t making it to the sessions for Kiss’ fourth album Destroyer 1976, it was Dick Wagner who filled in.
Dick Wagner’s obituary from The Independent newspaper is linked below. Condolences to his friends and family, a great loss, may he rest in peace.