Session Guitar: The Top 10 Session Guitarists of All Time
One of the most important things I can discuss with people who want to become session players is how they need to take a good long look at those who have gone before.
In the photo gallery below is a list of some of my faves—and a brief description of each player.
Some may be familiar, others may be obscure. Some are still active, some have gone on to that soundstage in the sky. No matter, we are looking at some of the top players of recent recorded history. Listen to them, study them, learn from them.
And now, in the photo gallery below, I offer up my top 10 session guitarists.
Let me know if you think I've missed anyone! Let’s hear some of your favorites.
Ron Zabrocki on Ron Zabrocki: I’m a session guitarist from New York, now living in Connecticut. I started playing at age 6, sight reading right off the bat. That’s how I was taught, so I just believed everyone started that way! I could pretty much sight read anything within a few years, and that aided me in becoming a session guy later in life. I took lessons from anyone I could and was fortunate enough to have some wonderful instructors, including John Scofield, Joe Pass and Alan DeMausse. I’ve played many jingle sessions, and even now I not only play them but have written a few. I’ve “ghosted” for a few people that shall remain nameless, but they get the credit and I got the money! I’ve played sessions in every style, from pop to jazz.
01. TOMMY TEDESCO: Tedesco's guitar playing has been heard thousands of times. Almost every major pop act from Elvis to the Beach Boys, and almost every TV show in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties used Tommy for his versatility and musicianship. Not to mention movie soundtrack work. Look up TT's discography, but be careful you don't hurt your jaw when it drops open to hit the computer keys below it.
02. LARRY CARLTON: "Mr. 335." Another player from the Seventies and Eighties, however, still active on the jazz and blues scene. Larry was known to play hundreds of sessions every year. His distinctive style and command of jazz, pop and blues created a smooth fusion synonymous with the LA studio sound. Just give his studio version of "Room 335" a listen.
03. STEVE LUKATHER: Many know Steve from his work with Toto. However, before he became popular in the pop/rock arena, he was a first-call session player specializing in rock soloing. He left his mark on recordings by Boz Skaggs, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney (and hundreds of others). Still killer, still active.
05. TIM PIERCE: Tim Pierce has been active on the session scene since the Eighties. From Rick Springfield to the Goo Goo Dolls to Meatloaf to Miley Cyrus, Tim is just an unstoppable studio powerhouse. Check him out and see how many of his recordings you own.
04. JIMMY PAGE: Before Jimmy Page started one of the world’s most popular groups, Led Zeppelin, he was a session player in England. He played on many of the pop hits of the day for Petula Clark, the Who and the Kinks. He also became a house producer, thus crafting his studio skills to work his magic on audiences throughout the world.
06. CORNELL DUPREE: A New York studio veteran, the late, great Cornell Dupree. His career spanned four decades in an incredibly competitive market. Cornell was called the ultimate un-showoff. He never overshadowed the singer. "Rainy Night in Georgia" by Brook Benton, Aretha Franklin’s "Respect" and Mariah Carey’s "Emotions" are some of this man’s most beautiful work.
07. NILE RODGERS: Niles might have the funkiest right hand on Earth. His playing has been around since the disco days of the Seventies. His group Chic defined an era of dance grooves, and his producing, writing and arranging skills offered him the opportunity to play on recordings for David Bowie, Sister Sledge, Diana Ross and countless others. When I am asked to give them a “Nile” in the studio, I know what they want.
08. BRENT MASON: The amazing Brent Mason. This Nashville session great has been a staple since the Nineties. His mind-boggling playing can be found on recordings by Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn and Shania Twain, to name a few. Check out his instructional video. Whether you like country or not, you will respect this man’s abilities.
09. GLEN CAMPBELL: Before Glen became a country-pop legend, he was part of LA's "Wrecking Crew." One of the busiest session guitarists, his playing can be heard on songs from the Beach Boys to Frank Sinatra. His technical ability and speed were his strengths.
10. STEVE CROPPER: Steve Cropper was in the Stax Records house band. He played on recordings for Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett and Sam & Dave. You may remember him from The Blues Brothers! One of the most influential guitarists of all time.