Guitarist Dick Wagner Dead at 71; Worked with Alice Cooper, Lou Reed

Guitarist Dick Wagner, who was best known for his work with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed, died today in Scottsdale, Arizona. He was 71.

Wagner had contracted a lung infection after heart surgery and died following respiratory failure, Billboard reports.

Only last week, Wagner posted this message to fans through his Facebook account: “I love you all very much. I can't wait to play for you all again one day soon. Thank you for all your kind wishes.”

Alice Cooper was among the first to pay his respects:

“Even though we know it's inevitable, we never expect to suddenly lose close friends and collaborators,” he said. “Dick Wagner and I shared as many laughs as we did hit records. He was one of a kind. He is irreplaceable.

“His brand of playing and writing is not seen anymore, and there are very few people that I enjoyed working with as much as I enjoyed working with Dick Wagner. A lot of my radio success in my solo career had to do with my relationship with Dick Wagner. Not just on stage, but in the studio and writing.

“Some of my biggest singles were ballads what I wrote with Dick Wagner. Most of Welcome to My Nightmare was written with Dick."

Gene Simmons of Kiss described Wagner as “the consummate gentleman axeman” in his tribute.

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 shows.

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

In 1972, Wagner moved to New York and formed Ursa Major, which included Billy Joel on keyboards and Rick Mangone on drums. The band toured with Jeff Beck and then with Cooper.

In 1973, Wagner was recruited by Bob Ezrin for Lou Reed's band, along with guitarist Steve Hunter. Soon after, Wagner and Hunter were joined by Prakash John, Pentti "Whitey" Glan and Ray Colcord for Reed's Rock 'n' Roll Animal tour. The band toured internationally with Reed, culminating in the Rock 'n' Roll Animal album, which was recorded live at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in December 1973.

Wagner was recruited by Cooper for his 1975 album, Welcome to My Nightmare, and went on to work with a host of A-list artists, including Peter Gabriel and Rod Stewart. Legend 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,” Brian Pastoria, a Detroit musician and studio operator who worked with Wagner, told the Detroit Free Press. “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 released the 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,” Michaelson told the Detroit Free Press.

Michaelson said a memorial tribute will take place in Michigan.

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