10 Musical Sidemen (and Women) Who Made It Big

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We recently got sent a copy of Of Montreal and Regina Spektor multi-instrumental maestro K Ishibashi’s debut solo EP Room for Dream, and were most pleasantly surprised by what we heard. It’s an assured and polished debut, and makes Ishibashi the latest heir to a long rock’n’roll tradition: the sideman/woman who stepped out of the shadows and proved themselves a fine songwriter in their own right. Here’s a selection of ten examples from the annals of contemporary music.

Bright Whites by Kishi Bashi K Ishibashi In fairness, Ishibashi is no stranger to standing center stage – he fronts NYC-based combo Jupiter One. But still, Room for Dream is his solo debut, and thus marks his first journey into the spotlight alone. And it’s really good. The airy string textures of “Manchester” recall some of Owen Pallett’s more restrained moments, while joyous African-influenced single “Bright Whites” should be a fine choice for summer mixtapes everywhere, and Kevin Barnes lends his decidedly funky bass playing to “Evalyn, Summer Has Arrived”. Well worth investigating.

Wendy & Lisa

The ultra-talented duo formed part of Prince’s ultra-talented band The Revolution in the early 1980s, but as the Purple One’s fame grew, so did friction within the band, mainly because Wendy and Lisa felt they weren’t getting their dues for their contributions. The inevitable split followed, and the duo have been working together ever since, producing five albums and working on projects as diverse as collaborations with Grace Jones and Joni Mitchell to the theme music for Nurse Jackie, for which they won an Emmy.

Kim Deal

Kim Deal’s vocals and occasional songwriting contributions were important aspects of the Pixies’ early sound. Still, as the years went by, the band was increasingly dominated by Black Francis, and when they finally split, no-one expected that it’d be Deal who’d go on to the more acclaimed and consistent solo career. But while Francis made a series of progressively less interesting solo albums, Deal (re-)formed The Breeders and made two bona fide classics (Pod and Last Splash). Both Deal and her sister and bandmate Kelley have had their ups and downs over the years since, but have been on fine form ever since Kelley got out of drug rehab in the late ’90s, recording two more albums and touring extensively.

Roger Waters

It’s hard to see über control freak Roger Waters as just the bass player, but if Syd Barrett hadn’t completely lost his rag at the end of the 1960s and retreated into the oubliette of seclusion and mental illness from which he tragically never emerged, that’s exactly what Waters would have remained. His songwriting contributions to the band’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn were minimal, and it was only when Barrett became increasingly unable to function that Waters started to take over responsibility for writing the band’s material, tightening his grip as the years went by.

Jimmy Page

While we’re looking back to the late ‘60s, we should also mention the man who’s perhaps rock ‘n’ roll’s ultimate session musician made good: Jimmy Page. The young Page worked as a guitarist-for-hire throughout the mid- to late ‘60s, and his path to stardom in his own right didn’t begin until 1967, when he joined The Yardbirds as a replacement on guitar for his friend Jeff Beck. The group underwent several line-up changes over the next few years, so much so that Page decided it needed a new name. He went with The New Yardbirds for a while, before finally deciding on something completely different: Lead Zeppelin. He dropped the “a” in “Lead” to avoid possible mispronunciations, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Joan as Police Woman

Another session musician who’s gone onto a successful solo career, Joan Wasser has worked with everyone from Lou Reed to Elton John, but until she released her debut solo album in 2006, she was still best known to the general public as the girl who went out with Jeff Buckley. Three albums under the Joan as Police Woman moniker have changed that perception, happily.

Lou Barlow

After getting fired from Dinosaur Jr. for not getting along with the notoriously surly J. Mascis, Lou Barlow found himself at something of a loose end. The split turned out for the best, though, as it allowed Barlow to concentrate all his energies on Sebadoh, creating a body of work that’d be greatly influential on the development of lo-fi music. And just think, if he’d stayed in Dinosaur Jr., we’d never have seen the picture that adorned the cover of Bakesale, the one of his one-year-old self staring into a toilet.

A Hawk and a Hacksaw

The Athens, Georgia-based Elephant 6 collective has spawned many great projects – most notably, of course, Neutral Milk Hotel, who’ve been on indefinite hiatus since their marvellous 1998 LP In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. With Neutral Milk Hotel main man Jeff Magnum (who has, finally, lined up a few tour dates for the fall) largely a recluse, the other band members have had to find other ways to fulfil their creative urges, and the most notable post-NMH project is probably Jeremy Barnes’ Eastern European-influenced A Hawk and a Hacksaw. It’s funny to think that Barnes has working as A Hawk and a Hacksaw for substantially longer than he was in Neutral Milk Hotel, releasing five strange and fascinating albums.

Dave Grohl

Similarly, it’s strange to think that Foo Fighters have been around for 13 years longer than Dave Grohl was in Nirvana. Grohl’s solo career has been a long and fruitful one, made all the remarkable by the fact that instances of successful drumkit-to-microphone transitions are few and far between in rock. Speaking of which…

Phil Collins

No! Wait! We were only joking! Come back! We’ll never play “Sussudio” again! Promise!