The "sideman" phenomenon has been around since the fine art of musical recording was first made possible. It has a rich tradition in jazz and blues and has carried over in a big way to the more modern forms of rock and rap. Today it's everywhere: Paul McCartney shows up on an Elvis Costello record, Johnny Cash sings on the new U2 disc, KRS-1 raps for R.E.M. and LL Cool J for Too Much Joy. Shawn Colvin, who got her first break guesting on a Greg Brown record, went on to stardom. When Colvin cut her Fat City album for Columbia, she was joined by David Lindley, Alex Acuna, Richard Thompson, Bela Fleck, Booker T. Jones, the Subdudes, Bruce Hornsby, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Chris Witley -- just about everybody in the biz (except, ironically enough, Brown himself).
You expect jazz musicians to play on each other's albums -- jamming is what the genre's all about. "The jazz community is small and all these cats know each other," says Carl Griffin, vice president of A&R at GRP Records in New York City. "The budgets for jazz are relatively small and many times they'll swap favors." You play on mine, I'll play on yours, and we'll never have to bother the accountants.
That works out fine as long as all the musicians involved are signed to the same label. Griffin says that's usually the case, but if someone wants to vacation from a competitor, it can be arranged through the two companies' A&R representatives.
According to Miami-based entertainment attorney Richard Wolfe, the ability to float from one label to another -- the sideman clause -- often requires a "courtesy credit" and has some restrictions on how the guest is billed. (Labels do have final say on such projects.)
According to GRP's Griffin, collaborations can help artists to cross over to other markets. A good example is the latest from saxman Eric Marienthal -- singer Carl Anderson provides a vocal track that has received attention in the urban market for Marienthal. (And none of this hinders Anderson's efforts to keep his own name out there.)
Jazz and pop cross successfully on the latest release by Bruce Hornsby -- it features saxophonist Branford Marsalis and guitarist Pat Metheny. Hornsby has little problem getting his stuff on pop radio, but without those two guests it's unlikely he would've made the cover of Jazziz magazine.
If you're gullible, you'll believe that this is all friendly teamwork on behalf of making better music. You will also buy real estate in Okefenokee. No record company wants to admit it, but there are some records where you just have to wonder if there was any other purpose to the guest artist's appearing than the chance to stuff another buck under the corporate mattress.
Among the hype created for The Coneheads is a soundtrack that includes the old Steppenwolf hit "Magic Carpet Ride" -- with Slash on guitar. His name, thanks mostly to its affiliation with Guns N' Roses, should turn profits despite the fact he completely ruins the song with his noisy playing. (Meanwhile, Gunners bassist Duff McKagan's solo album is due out this fall -- with guest appearances by Slash and Skid Row's Sebastian Bach.)
And what's behind the Infectious Grooves's "Therapy" -- where Ozzy Osbourne blares out lyrics and makes the tune even worse than it was to begin with?
Sometimes this gang-up mentality goes totally overboard. What's with Five Alive, which compiles Queen, George Michael, and Lisa Stansfield? Or what about the Seattle Scruffs CD A late Eighties demos from Soundgarden, Mother Love Bone, and Alice in Chains? Talk about packaging ploys.
Even within the realm of such sonic sludge, some of these bands have saturated the market with interesting side jobs. SAP, an EP that Alice in Chains put out before Dirt, featured Mudhoney and Soundgarden. According to a Columbia representative, there'll be a follow-up. What do you think the possibility is that it will be guestless?
Temple of the Dog brought together Chris Cornell and Matt Cameron (Soundgarden) and Stone Gossard and Jeff Ament (Pearl Jam). Mother Love Bone's CD also saves guest spots for Gossard and Ament. Maybe they could all just get together permanently and form one gigantic band.
The new George Lynch, Sacred Groove, dipped into the talent pool for singers Don Dokken and Ray Gillen (Badlands) and Deep Purple's Glen Hughes. (When Dokken missed one of the sessions, Nelson, who were readily available, joined the list.) The new Mercyful Fate has Lars Ulrich (Metallica) playing drums on one song. There's also a rumor that ex-Slayer drummer Dave Lombardo (who now has his own band with ex-Overkill guitarist Bobby Gustafson) might bring in Dave Mustaine (Megadeth) and Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers).