Dick Wagner, Esteemed Guitarist Who Played with Alice Cooper and Others, Dies in Scottsdale

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Dick Wagner, a guitarist who during his career worked with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, Aerosmith, KISS and the Frost, died at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center this morning. He was 71.

Wagner, a Detroit-bred guitarist, moved to Arizona roughly a decade ago. He had struggled with his health since 2006, when a stroke left him partially paralyzed and threatened to end his playing days. But he recovered and resumed performing in 2011 and was doing so through 2013.

Wagner performed with, wrote songs with, or played on albums for many notable artists, including Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Kiss, Lou Reed, The Frost, Peter Gabriel, Meat Loaf, Steve Perry, Etta James, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Air Supply, Hall & Oates, Ringo Starr, Guns & Roses, Tori Amos, and Frank Sinatra during his career as a studio musician. But one of his crowning achievements was his work with Cooper.

After Cooper split with his original band, he ended up working with Wagner and guitarist Steve Hunter. The collaboration would prove fruitful. Cooper and Wagner co-wrote many of Cooper's biggest hits, including most of the landmark 1975 album Welcome to my Nightmare. Wagner also wrote "Only Women Bleed," and Cooper and he co-wrote the lyrics.

Wagner and Valley of the Sun resident Hunter formed a killer guitar team. Before they started working with Cooper, a producer brought them together to play in Lou Reed's touring band in 1973. The chemistry was instant, Hunter says.

"I just remember [that from] the first day of rehearsal, it sounded great from the every beginning," Hunter tells New Times. "It always seems that whatever I played, he played the exact opposite, and it fit together like a glove.

"It's one of those rarer things, especially with guitar players, to find another guitar player that you work so well with."

See also: Steve Hunter Takes the Spotlight for The Manhattan Blues Project

The pair clicked well with Reed -- Reed's album Berlin had just come out, and they played on both the European and American tours for the album. Reed's 1974 live album, Rock n Roll Animal, features Wagner and Hunter on guitar. The album reached number 45 on the Billboard Pop charts. One of the pair's solos from that album landed on Gibson guitar company's Top 50 Solos of All Time list -- "Sweet Jane."

Hunter says he and Wagner had an easy friendship. One of Hunter's favorite memories with Wagner comes from touring with Alice Cooper in the '70s.

"We did some gigs that were just amazing to me," Hunter recalls. "We played Madison Square Garden in New York with Alice, and it was sold out in two, three hours. I just remember when Dick and I walked out on stage, it just sort of hit me that, 'My God, there's a lot of people here.' Dick and I kind of looked at each other and said, 'Wow!'

"I think Dick and I had a great time together. We had a little guitar duel in the middle of the show where we appeared to get into a fight. It was really funny. I used to have a blood capsule in my mouth. He would take a swing at me and I'd bite down on it. ... Those are fond memories. Some of the most fond memories are in the studio. ... The creative energy and the amount of playing and everything coming out of us in those days was just amazing, to me. When I think back on it, I think it was one of my most fond experiences. We made some great music together, and it was really wonderful."

As news of Wagner's death spread, many musicians have released statements of condolence.

"Dick Wagner was the consummate gentleman axeman. (He) will be missed," Kiss' Gene Simmons told Billboard. Paul Stanley told Billboard that "Dick was a stellar player, and his work with Steve Hunter on Lou Reed's Rock n Roll Animal is legendary. He also did great work with Alice Cooper and uncredited ghosting on Destroyer and albums by some of our contemporaries. A huge talent with a huge tone and huge heart. A great unsung hero."

Manager Suzy Michelson told the Detroit Free Press that a memorial was planned for Michigan, but no word yet on plans for one in Phoenix.

Correction: Initially, the fourth paragraph of this blog incorrectly swapped Steve Hunter's last name for Dick Wagner's.

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