Waddy Wachtel Article: The Record, February 1983

THE RECORD

Publisher: Marty Ostrow

Vol. 2, No. 4

February, 1983

 

RX: Then Add Waddy Wachtel . . .

By Dan Forte

 

“Waddy will show up at two places at the same time,” nods David Lindley.  “I’ve seen him do that. ‘I saw Waddy last night.’ ‘Oh, so did I—in Santa Barbara.’”

 

One glance at Waddy Wachtel’s recording and touring credits is ample evidence to suggest that the mop-topped guitarist may well have mastered the art of bilocation.  For the past ten years he’s scarcely taken a day off, ranking with the ubiquitous Lindley and a few others as Los Angeles’ busiest accompanists.  His lyrical sensibilities have highlighted records by Randy Newman, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, the Motels, Bonnie Raitt, Carole King, and countless others.  He played guitar on Stevie Nicks’ solo album, Bella Donna, and then he went on to be the only guitarist in her handpicked touring outfit.

 

In 1982 alone, Wachtel produced a new album with his longtime partner, Warren Zevon, along with Zevon and Greg Ladanyi; managed to squeeze in sessions for Bob Seger, Marty Balin, Kim Carnes, Ringo Starr, and others; and began work producing a rock trio he discovered called Siren.  Oh, yes—he’s also got his own band, Ronin, set to record a second album “as soon as we all get our schedules straight.”

 

The New York-born Wachtel got his first big break in 1970, shortly after moving west, when he landed a job with the Everly Brothers.  Not only did he get to accompany two of his idols, but the pianist who auditioned him for the gig—Warren Zevon—became on of his strongest musical and personal allies.  “Warren and I formed a very solid understanding of each other,” says Waddy, who has played on four of Zevon’s five LPs and co-produced Excitable Boy and The Envoy.

 

“When I played with the Everlys”, recounts Wachtel, “What’s when I got a volume pedal and wanted to play real beautiful ‘statement’ kind of things.  So that’s what I started out being known for, instead of straight-out rock.”  His experience accompanying the Brothers proved indispensible when producer Lou Adler called him to play on Carole King’s Thoroughbred album.  “What? Me?” he exclaims, recalling his reaction to Adler’s call.  I kept playing back the tape message:   “Lou Adler . . . call me.’ And Carole and I loved each other immediately.  Same barber, you know—we look like brother and sister.”

 

For a 35-year-old guitarist, Waddy’s primary influences are not all that surprising.  “I started playing jazz forever,” he states.  “Johnny Smith, Kenny Burrell, Herb Ellis. I studied with Sal Salvador in New York when I was 16.  I learned how to read, but I started cheating on it, because my ear is very quick.  Early on Duane Eddy killed me, and then the Ventures.  Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton were amazing influences.  Jimi Hendrix was unbelievable, and I respect Jimmy Page incredibly, too.  Keith Richards’ soloing back then was not that much different from what I did anyway, but later I started hearing his five-string rhythm bits, and that influenced me a lot.  Then there’s the people I’ve come to know and play with, like David Lindley and Danny Kortchmar.  Kootch hipped me to playing rhythm; I hipped him to slowing down and playing the melody.  David and I both do play melody, so we can’t work together, because we kind of both do the same thing—a different way, but we fill up that same space.”

 

Wachtel’s main axe is a ’59 sunburst Les Paul he bought from Stephen Stills.  “I tried out about 24 of Stephen’s guitars,” he recalls, “and this one just screamed with treble on it.  Les Pauls are usually darker sounding.”  When his pride and joy fell over on stage and broke, he replaced with his first Fender, a ’56 sunburst Stratocaster.  “I grew up thinking that only Gibsons were ‘real’ guitars,” he admits, “but then I realized that a Fender is a rock ‘n’ roll machine, and very important.  I have another Strat that’s a ’63, and a ’53 Telecaster that’s gorgeous.”

 

The rest of Wachtel’s setup consists of the bare essentials, a Music Man amp and a Goodrich volume pedal.  “The amp is a 210 with a 410 bottom,” he relates, “and I just crank the shit out of it.  Even on the pretty things I play that sound like violin lines, they sound that way because the amp is wipe open, screaming loud—when you fade in that 

note, it has so much grit and sustain.  I don’t use any effects, except for the volume pedal.  My knowledge of electronics is so vast that every time I go into the studio to play a solo with my volume pedal I have to pick the thing up to see which jack is instrument and which one is amplifier.  ‘Let’s see, ‘out’ means amplifier . . . Will somebody plug this thing in, will ya?’”

 

Although much of his lofty reputation is based on his ability to interpret and sonically comment on a ballad, Wachtel sees himself first and foremost as a rocker.  “I’m giving it the backbone,” he explains, “but I’m doing it from a musical counterpoint place.  Warren played ‘Let Nothing Come Between You’ for me before we started sessions for The Envoy, and I said, ‘Oh, it’s great.’ He said, ‘You don’t think it’s too corny?’ I said ‘Well, Warren, I won’t hear the words for about another eight months.  I’m thinking from the bass up.  That’s how I usually listen to music for the first time.  I’m still learning the words to Stones tunes from twenty years ago.  I come to a song through the music, the melody, and the sound of the voice.”

 

Submitted by blackcat

 

 


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