Waddy Wachtel Looks Back on ‘Magical’ Work With Rolling Stones
Guitarist Waddy Wachtel has been a familiar presence in the liner notes of music fans worldwide for decades, thanks to his participation in literally thousands of sessions.
Working with a wide array of artists has been a blessing to the musician. "Let me put it this way. I’m the musical director for Stevie Nicks, I’m on the road right now with Joe Walsh and I’m the other guitar player in Keith Richards’ solo band," Wachtel recalls explaining to a journalist in recent years. "I think I’m okay. I’m doing okay right now. Thank God or whoever.....I thank the pick in my hand for having done all of this."
Currently, after playing on so many albums for other people, he's turned the focus to writing and performing his own music as part of the Immediate Family.
The band features fellow session legends Danny Kortchmar (guitars, vocals), Leland Sklar (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums) and guitarist/vocalist Steve Postell, who Wachtel jokes is "the new guy" in the lineup. "I've only known him for about 10 years or so."
The group recently shared a video for their latest single, "Fair Warning" and will release their self-titled full length album on Aug. 27. We spoke with Wachtel, who was more than happy to share some of his fondest session memories.
Working with the Rolling Stones on 1997's Bridges to Babylon album.
I was in the studio for the whole album. Keith called me when they got into town and said, “We’re here, come on over.” When I got there, it was Ronnie [Wood], who wasn’t in town yet. We just started playing. And then when Woody showed up, he gave me this dirty look. [Wachtel laughs]. It was like, “What, are you takin’ my job? What are you doin’ here?” I went, “Hey man, I didn’t hire me!” [Laughs] So the three of us, you know, we all love each other dearly anyway, but it was great.
Jim Keltner and I, I’m proud to say, were there every night of the making of that album, which went on for a couple of months. Every night, we were at the studio with the Rolling Stones, playing great stuff and wondering what we were going to play next. Figuring out what to play. Going back in and playing some more. It was a magical period of my life and Jim’s.
We’d pass each other in the hallway and just look at each other and go, “We’re still here, right? This is amazing.” Every night, we were there. All of the sudden, Mick [Jagger] just said to me, “Waddy, come here, you’ve got to play on this song.” I went, “What?” He said, “Yeah, you gotta do the Keith stuff on this song. He doesn’t want to do it.” Or something like that. I went, “Really? Oh, okay.” So I did the Keith stuff!
Listen to 'Saint of Me' by the Rolling Stones
Working with Ringo Starr.
"You gotta come play on this...." [Wachtel imitates Joe Walsh, who produced Ringo’s 1983 album Old Wave]. I brought this band I had produced, Hardchoir, to sing some backgrounds on it. We went up to Santa Barbara and spent a night. I played a couple of tracks and the boys sang on one or two songs.
[For 1992’s Time Takes Time,] on the songs that Peter Asher produced, Ringo played drums on them. That was unbelievably sensational. His drums are set up and he sat down and hit the high hat. I just about melted. I went, “Oh my God.” I looked at my dear friend Bob Glaub, who was playing bass on the song. We were sitting next to each other. I looked at him and went, “Bob, that’s the high hat from ‘Getting Better,’ that’s that fuckin’ sound, man!”
I went over to Ringo and I went, “Ringo, is that the high hat that you used on ‘Gettin’ Better,?” He goes, “It’s the only one I’ve got.” I said, “I doubt that very much! But that’s it, isn’t it?” He goes, “Yep, this is the one!” You’d recognize it too! You hear that [Wachtel imitates the sound] like that and it’s that sound. I went crazy, you know, I went nuts.
We had a great time. Ringo is a doll. Sweet as can be. Funny man. Serious, serious musician and great.
Listen to 'Going Down' by Ringo Starr from Old Wave
Helping bring Steve Perry's "Oh Sherrie" to life.
Steve came to Record One, which was the studio we were all working out of. He had heard of the studio, so he wanted to check it out. He just showed up one night and I met him. He came by a couple of times and he’s a very sweet cat, a lovely guy. So I met him once or twice in the studio. We’d spoken a little bit. I said, “It’s really nice to meet you. I love Sam Cooke too.” He went, “What?” I said, “You know, Sam Cooke, the way you sing?” He does a lot of Sam Cooke in his voice. We got along well. So they called me to come play on ["Oh Sherrie"]. I’m so glad they did.
Niko Bolas, who [worked on] that record [1984's Street Talk] with Steve, is an amazing engineer as well and a beautiful producer. They called me and said, “Waddy, we’ve got this tune that really needs your rhythm on it. That dirty eighth note rhythm that you do.” I’d met Steve once or twice at the studio. They played me the song and I said, “Oh, this is great. I know exactly what to do on this rhythm part.” We did it and it went very well. Niko said, “Okay, man, that’s it, you’re done.” I went, “What do you mean, I’m done?”
He goes, “What?” I said, “Well, what about that solo spot?” He goes, “Oh yeah, Steve is thinking of putting a saxophone there.” I went, “Saxophone? No, he’s not!” [Laughs] “I know what needs to go there!” Because I could hear it in my head. What you hear on the record is what I was hearing in my head. “Give me a track!” He goes, “Okay!” He gave me a track and I played the solo. Steve comes in and goes, “What is that?” He goes, “That’s fantastic, what is that?” I go, “What do you mean, what is it? That’s the solo. That’s your solo on your record. That’s what it is!” He goes, “Oh man, that’s perfect!”
Steve and I tailored up the last [part of the song] and decided which way those last couple of notes should go. But basically, the solo is what I laid down. Because I could hear it! I said, “You’re not putting a saxophone on this! This is a guitar record, man!” You know, it’s got all of that synthesizer stuff, but now that the rhythm guitar is on it, it’s dictating what the solo needs to be and it needs to be this. I played it for him and we all happily agreed.
I did some [further] stuff for him [at his studio], almost a year ago by now, probably. It was cool.
Listen to 'Oh Sherrie' by Steve Perry