Richard Allen “Dick” Wagner (December 14, 1942 – July 30, 2014) was an American rock music guitarist, songwriter and author best known for his work with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed, and KISS. He also fronted his own Michigan-based bands, the Frost and the Bossmen.
Born in Oelwein, Iowa, Wagner grew up in the Saginaw, Michigan, area. His first band, called the Bossmen, was a favourite in the Detroit area and scored radio play with the Wagner-penned composition “Baby Boy”, “You’re The Girl For Me” and others. Wagner formed his next band, the Frost, with Donny Hartman, Bobby Rigg and Gordy Garris, in the late 1960s and built up a substantial following in the Michigan area. The band featured Wagner and Hartman on guitars and power background vocals. The band released three albums during their tenure together on Vanguard Records: 1969’s Frost Music and Rock and Roll Music, plus 1970’s Through the Eyes of Love. Wagner was the principal songwriter, arranger and lead singer of The Frost. Their live appearances brought out large crowds of young fans throughout the region.
In 1972, Wagner moved to New York and formed the short-lived group “Ursa Major”. The original line-up included Billy Joel on keyboards and Rick Mangone on drums. As Billy Joel had to leave the band for personal reasons, Wagner replaced him with former Amboy Dukes bassist Greg Arama. They released one seminal, acclaimed self-titled album as a power trio. The band toured nationally with Jeff Beck and then with Alice Cooper.
In 1973, Wagner was recruited by producer Bob Ezrin for Lou Reed’s band along with Steve Hunter. Wagner and Hunter were featured guitarists on Lou Reed’s dark and controversial 1973 studio album, Berlin. Soon after, Wagner and Hunter were joined by Prakash John, Pentti “Whitey” Glan and Ray Colcord for Lou Reed’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal Tour. As band leader and arranger, Wagner took the early Lou Reed songs that had been recorded by the Velvet Underground and rearranged them into a majestic, orchestral sound for the concert stage. The new arrangements left behind the laid back feeling that had been established by the prior Reed band and won Reed his first gold album. The band toured internationally with Reed, culminating in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal album, recorded live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December 1973.
It was during Wagner’s days with The Frost, that he first met Alice Cooper. Producer Bob Ezrin brought both Wagner and Steve Hunter into the studio to play guitar on the early Alice Cooper albums. Wagner had already featured on the band’s School’s Out album, notably for playing the memorable guitar solo on the track “My Stars”. Wagner continued to play lead guitar (sometimes uncredited) on every Alice Cooper Group album that followed, through the break up of the original group.
When the members of the original Alice Cooper group parted ways in 1974, Wagner officially teamed up with Alice Cooper and became his principal co-writer, lead guitarist and band director. Together they wrote their first concept album, Welcome to My Nightmare. Produced by Bob Ezrin, the album was released in 1975. The Nightmare Tour became the largest and longest touring rock show of the time. The live show also featured the duelling lead guitars of Wagner and Hunter in a guitar battle captured on the film of the same name. The film became a TV special and was released on home video in 1976. The world tour covered more than 120 cities over an eighteen month period. Wagner continued to co-write songs and play lead guitar on additional Cooper albums, including: Goes To Hell, The Alice Cooper Show Live, Lace and Whiskey, From the Inside (written by the team of Alice Cooper, Dick Wagner and Bernie Taupin), Zipper Catches Skin, DaDa and Hey Stoopid among others.
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One of the best-known songs written by Wagner is “Only Women Bleed”. Written during Wagner’s days with The Frost, Wagner was initially unhappy with his lyrics and did not release it. Once his collaboration with Alice Cooper started, Wagner played the song for him. Alice had a title for a song he had been wanting to write. Cooper and Wagner penned new lyrics and recorded it for Cooper’s album Welcome to My Nightmare. The song delivered a message against domestic abuse. Since its initial release in 1975 “Only Women Bleed” has since been covered by more than 30 artists, including Tina Turner, Etta James, Guns N’ Roses, Lita Ford, Carmen McRae and Tori Amos.
Following “Only Women Bleed”, Wagner co-wrote a series of hit power ballads with Alice Cooper, including “I Never Cry”, “You And Me” and “How You Gonna See Me Now”. (The latter written by Cooper, Wagner and Bernie Taupin.) Other songs co-written by Wagner brought him public recognition as a songwriting talent. First “Shine Silently” with Nils Lofgren, who performed it originally on his 1979 album Nils, then as part of Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band’s 1990 eponymous first album. “Just As I Am”, written by Wagner with Rob Hegel, was a hit record for Air Supply. At the behest of producer Bob Ezrin, Wagner flew to Toronto and recorded seven tracks of guitars on the Air Supply record. Another power ballad, “I Might As Well Be on Mars”, again with Alice Cooper, was featured on Cooper’s 1991 album Hey Stoopid.
One of the songs Wagner is most proud of is “Remember The Child”, a song he wrote to address the issue of child abuse. Written from the point of view of a child, the lyrics and song melody deliver a powerful and poignant message to adults that a child will forever remember the love or abuse of their childhood. New York Times best selling author, John Bradshaw, selected “Remember The Child” as the theme song for his award winning PBS television special, “Homecoming: Reclaiming and Healing Your Inner Child”. Bradshaw invited Wagner to join him on his nationwide tour to perform the song as a cathartic and healing piece of music to the thousands who attended Bradshaw’s lectures and seminars. Embraced by psychiatrists and psychologists in their practices, the song has been used as a tool to evoke emotion from patients who are unable to express feelings. In 1996, Wagner was invited by Leo Najar, conductor of the Saginaw Bay Symphony Orchestra to perform a two and a half hour concert of his songs with the symphony. Wagner entitled the concert, “The Remember The Child Concert”, raising funds for child abuse agencies in central Michigan through his “Remember The Child Foundation”.
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A film about the work of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter, entitled “Rock and Roll Animals”, was in production in 2007 by Noble Savage Productions. In filmed interviews, Alice Cooper talks about hiring Dick Wagner, writing with him and hiring the greatest guitar players to be in his band. Fred Mandel, keyboardist with the Alice Cooper Band was also interviewed. The film was never completed, but the clips are on YouTube.
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In 2007, Wagner suffered a massive heart attack and stroke. After arriving DOA at a Scottsdale hospital, he spent two weeks in a coma, awakening with a paralyzed left arm. While recovering from his heart attack, Wagner continued to write songs and began writing his memoirs, which ultimately became his book, Not Only Women Bleed.
As he slowly recovered from his heart attack and stroke, Wagner manifested unusual symptoms, including difficulty walking and concentrating, loss of balance, and symptoms of dementia, threatening his music career and his life. In 2011, Wagner was diagnosed with Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus (NPH), a type of dementia which affects, among other things, fine motor skills and gait. In late 2011, after successful surgery at Barrow Neurological Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, Wagner was able to make a significant recovery, regaining almost all of the dexterity which had been lost over the course of the disorder’s progression.
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In 2010, Gibson.com honored the guitar tandem of Dick Wagner and Steve Hunter with two places in the Top 50 Guitar Solos of All Time – #25 for “Intro to Sweet Jane” (Lou Reed), and as #41 “Train Kept A Rollin’ (Aerosmith). In 2012, Gibson published Riff This Way: Aerosmith’s Top 10 Riff-Heavy Tracks, placing Dick Wagner with two winning guitar solos: The #1 Best Aerosmith Guitar Solo for his lead guitar on “Same Old Song and Dance”, and also #4, honouring his performance as lead guitarist with Steve Hunter on “Train Kept A Rollin'”. Wagner has won a number of BMI Songwriter awards and other international music awards; and his work has been featured on albums earning more than 35 Gold and Platinum records.
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In 2013 and 2014, after suffering more than six years of extreme health adversities: two heart attacks, a stroke, a paralysed left arm, a diagnosis of hydrocephalus (NPH) two brain surgeries, a pacemaker and more, Wagner’s guitar playing facilities had returned, and he fully resumed performing, touring, writing songs and producing music. His book tour for Not Only Women Bleed took him to more than 40 states. With personal appearances in documentary films and writing film scores, Wagner had three songs featured in the multi-award winning documentary “Louder than Love” (including the opening song and the closing credits song.) Leading up to his death, Wagner’s projects included producing and writing for Danish rock star, Maryann Cotton, in a concept album and TV project reminiscent of Wagner’s shock rock history, a featuring in the forthcoming third solo album of the Italian rocker Chris Catena, entitled Return of the Freak.
On July 30, 2014, Wagner died of respiratory failure at the age of 71. He had contracted a lung infection as a complication of recent heart surgery. . . . . . . . . . .
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths…
30: Robert Halmi, Sr., 90, Hungarian-born American Emmy Award-winning producer, founder of Sonar Entertainment, brain aneurism; Dick Wagner, 71, American rock guitarist (The Frost, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed) and songwriter (Only Women Bleed), lung infection following heart surgery.
29: Giorgio Gaslini, 84, Italian pianist and composer, complications from a fall.
25: Carlo Bergonzi, 90, Italian operatic tenor; Richard Larter, 85, English-born Australian pop artist.
24: Ik-Hwan Bae, 57, South Korean violinist; Christian Falk, 52, Swedish singer and bassist (Imperiet), pancreatic cancer (death announced on this date); Sushilarani Patel, 96, Indian singer, recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award (2002), heart attack; Yoo Chae-yeong, 40, South Korean singer, stomach cancer.
23: Mohan Nadkarni, 91, Indian musicologist (The Times of India), chest infection; Saado Ali Warsame, Somali singer-songwriter and politician, MP, shot.
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