The industry calls it "the sideman clause." The next time you're browsing through CDs at your favorite record store, check the not-so-fine print. Along with the work of the artist you're seeking, you might find a bonus musician or two. Or an unwelcome guest.
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).
Pulling out of the trenches of metal, it's clear that blues is yet another musical playground for frequent joint efforts. Just look at B.B. King's latest, Blues Summit. Robert Cray, John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor are but a few of the players working in harmony with B.B. and Lucille. Guy's latest sports Travis Tritt, Bonnie Raitt, and Paul Rodgers. Rodgers's latest showcases Slash, Jeff Beck, and Trevor Rabin. It's like some sonic chain letter.
And then there's the musicians you don't know how to categorize. Bonnie Raitt -- who dabbles in country and pop and blues -- seems to be on more records by other artists than she's cut herself: David Crosby, Emmylou Harris, Little Feat, Jackson Browne, John Prine, Ivan Neville.... Her new release spotlights Bruce Hornsby and Benmont Tench (the Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist who can be found guesting on thousands of current releases) as well as the Tower of Power horns, ubiquitous in their own right. Then Raitt shows up on Willie Nelson's new one. Her appearances helped John Lee Hooker win a Grammy and Charles Brown revive his career. If New Kids on the Block had only invited Raitt to play....
While it's easy to see how musicians from the same genre cluster together, cross pollination breaks down all preconceived notions as to what kind of players might sound good together. Metal first met hip-hop when Aerosmith joined Run-D.M.C. for the rappers' cover of "Walk This Way." Although the Motley Crue/2 Live Crew version of "Hangin' with the Homeboys" was axed by Elektra president Bob Krasnow in 1991, the song got made anyway, with locals Triple XXX subbing for the Crue.
Similar double-ups have been gnawing at conventional music standards: Anthrax paired with Public Enemy, Barry White with Big Daddy Kane, Faith No More with Boo-Ya Tribe. Hard-core rappers Onyx and hard-core rockers Biohazard team on a remix on the single "Slam." The group Guru, forsaking sampling, employs jazzers such as trumpeter Donald Byrd and saxman Courtney Pine. From the interesting to the bizarre: Ice-T and Slayer rework a medley of three songs by punk band the Exploited. That cut, as well as tracks by Stone Temple Pilots/Cypress Hill and Helmet/House of Pain will be part of the soundtrack for the movie Judgment Night.
One spectator to this overplayed sport is Tommy De Martino, the promotions manager for the label Guitar Recordings. "One reason for so many of these musicians getting together is the advanced technology in terms of studios and equipment," says De Martino. "Some of these players can really put down some polished stuff together and hey, it's not a bad thing to start new bands."
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Guitar Recordings is certainly not bashful when it comes to cameos. The label's list of "Steves" alone will snap a guitar string or two. Steve Vai, Steve Morse, Steve Stevens, and Steve Lukather can be found sharing favors. "We're trying to get big names on the label," explains De Martino. "We're a small instrumental-type label, and we want to branch out. Otherwise, it gets boring and generic." It's enough to make you think that there's something other than greed involved in some pairings. A prime example: guitarist Brad Gillis's solo album with singer Gregg Allman on two tracks. This working partnership had its roots in friendship. That the result included a single, "Honest to God," that cracked the Billboard charts was gravy. "If you're recording with different people, you get your name around," says De Martino. "Then with different projects under your belt, you're really in demand."
A frequent visitor to other musicians' material is guitarist Steve Morse. Although he doesn't consider himself "in great demand," he pops up in the CD credits of many musicians from every corner of the market: Peter Frampton, keyboardist T Lavitz, guitarists Jeff Watson and Eric Johnson, Triumph, Kansas, Lynyrd Skynyrd, bass and synth player Michael Manring.... For Morse, his drive to work with other artists comes from his curiosity. (Most of Morse's contributions have truly been favors to friends, although big money is rarely a factor in the making of a collaboration.) "I like to see how different people achieve a balance between efficiency and being satisfied," Morse says. "Some musicians will ask you for a favor and I'll say 'yes' even without hearing the music. But it is preferable when I'm part of something from the beginning and it grows from there."
Most recently, Morse's curiosity has brought his distinct style to the upcoming Dweezil Zappa CD. "He's a bright, unconventional type of player and I'm fascinated by people like that." Morse's instrumental playing and guest appearances don't exactly rocket him to the top of the pop charts, and it's safe to say he'll never get overplayed on radio. But according to Morse, there's more to reaching the top than just guesting around and making your name a studio buzzword.
"It's about attitude and maneuvering," explains Morse. "You have to be willing to play a whole game. The signals are sent out by the industry, through ads in the trades and such. When the industry sees this mounting attack, they go along with it. From the very beginning, a musician has to be willing to instigate an effort to appeal to the masses." That doesn't always mean bringing in Bonnie Raitt or KRS-1 to play on your record. But these days, it sure seems like a good idea.