From The Frost and Ursa Major to key roles in Lou Reed and Alice Cooper’s bands, he was the hard rock sound of the Motor City.
By Fred Mills
That’s him at the clarion call beginning of Lou Reed’s epochal Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal live album, peeling (pealing?) off the introductory licks to “Sweet Jane”: and thus it was, the mighty Dick Wagner, who has been heard over the years on records by Reed and Alice Cooper, even Aerosmith, Rod Stewart, Hall & Oates and Kiss – not to mention his early work with proto-punk acts The Frost and Ursa Major. Wagner passed away today, July 30, at the age of 71.
Rolling Stone reports that he had been hospitalized in Scottsdale, Ariz., for respiratory failure, having undergone a cardiac procedure two weeks ago.
Wagner got his start in Detroit where, having worked with Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison and subsequently spotted by Cooper, wound up on key tours for the School’s Out and Billion Dollar Babies albums. That led to the gig with Reed, which paired him with Steve Hunter, and the aforementioned live recordings. The rest is history.
Cooper issued a statement that read, “Even though we know it’s inevitable, we never expect to suddenly lose close friends and collaborators. 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 onstage, but in the studio and writing…. 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 & roll and to his family.”
A memorial is being planned for Detroit. Wagner had moved to Arizona in 2005, eventually publishing a memoir titled Not Only Women Bleed: Vignettes From the Heart of a Rock Musician. His family issued a statement saying on his website, “Dick had a huge heart, which is perhaps why it gave him so much trouble, it was simply too full of love, of music and life. His creativity and passion will live on forever in the legacy he has left for us, in his music and his words. We have so much of him to celebrate.”