Dick Wagner, Legendary Guitarist, Passes Away at 71


From an article in the Detroit Free Press by Brian McCollum:

Dick Wagner, the Michigan-bred guitarist renowned for his work with Alice Cooper, the Frost, Lou Reed and others, died this morning in Scottsdale, Ariz. He was 71.

Wagner succumbed to respiratory failure at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea Medical Center, where he had been in intensive care for the past two weeks following a cardiac procedure.

The guitarist had famously overcome a series of medical issues during the past decade, retraining himself on guitar after a stroke paralyzed his left arm. He re-emerged to begin recording, writing and performing gigs, including a triumphant homecoming concert at the Magic Bag in November 2011.

Wagner was born in Iowa, moved with his family to Waterford as a child, and later settled in Saginaw. He was a key figure in southeastern Michigan’s emergent rock scene in the 1960s, a go-to guitarist who made his name with the Bossmen and the Frost.

He was eventually recruited by Alice Cooper for the milestone 1975 album “Welcome to My Nightmare,” and went on to A-list session work with the likes of Reed, Peter Gabriel and Rod Stewart. Rock lore has long held that Wagner was a secret hired hand on albums by several high-profile bands.

“He was just a humble and talented guy, and I think that's why Jack Douglas and those guys loved him — he was just this consummate pro,” said Brian Pastoria, a Detroit musician and studio operator who worked with Wagner in recent years. “I think Dick Wagner took Alice to another level in his career. He was already the showman at that point, but musically he had to show that he really had it.”

Wagner lived in Arizona in later years, but regularly made his way back to Michigan, including a June 29 show in Owosso, his final home state performance.

Wagner — who won acclaim and strong sales for his 2012 memoir “Not Only Women Bleed, Vignettes from the Heart of a Rock Musician” — remained prolific through the end, said manager and business partner Suzy Michaelson.

“He was very proud of his songwriting, and very proud that he was coming back and playing really, really well again after having been paralyzed, and all the different things he’d been through,” she said.

“Dick was a very honest guy,” Michaelson said. “There was a beautiful phrase he wrote last year — especially with the breathing problems he’s had: ‘Love is in the air. Breathe deep.’ He was just so full of love, so full of passion and kindness. He was such a kind person — loved meeting his fans. He’d sign for hours, until we got thrown out of the clubs because they wanted to close. Dick just wanted to be kind to people and make them feel good.”

Arrangements have not been set, but Michaelson said a memorial tribute will be held in Michigan.