Dick Wagner, the guitarist and songwriter who worked with the likes of Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and KISS, died on Wednesday of respiratory failure after undergoing heart surgery in early July. He was 71.
Wagner had gone in the hospital on July 8 with breathing difficulties but doctors also discovered a partially blocked artery. He underwent surgery to clear 30% of the artery but continued to suffer from a lung infection.
Dick played his last show on July 2 in Windsor, ON and had, as late as Monday, July 21, been still communicating with fans on Facebook. He was in an induced coma at the time of his passing.
Wagner’s website carries his picture and the following message:
t is with a heavy heart and great sorrow we have to let you know that Dick Wagner has left this world. Dick had a huge heart, which is perhaps why it gave him so much trouble, it was simply too full of love, of music and life. His creativity and passion will live on forever in the legacy he has left for us, in his music and his words. We have so much of him to celebrate. Dick was prolific not only in the tangible realm of what we can see and hear but in the boundless energy of his spirit, which will never die. He was a fighter, but in the end his body couldn’t keep up with his spirit, and so he lays to rest. Dick said in 2013, “Love is in the air. Breathe deep.” Take Dick’s advice into your own hearts, and notice all of the beauty in the world, even when it seems cruel and unfair.
Desert Dreams Records & the Family of Dick Wagner
Wagner was born in Iowa but raised in Saginaw, MI. He had much local success during the 60′s and early-70′s in the Michigan area, first with his band the Bossmen, who had local Detroit hits with songs like Baby Boy and You’re the Girl For Me and, later, with The Frost.
In 1972, Dick moved to New York and formed Ursa Major with a young Billy Joel and Rick Mangone and, after Joel left the band, Greg Arama of the Amboy Dukes. It was during a tour supporting their only album that Wagner got to know Alice Cooper.
Dick was asked to join Lou Reed’s band where he played guitar, along with Steve Hunter, on the classic Berlin. Wagner ended up taking over the lead for Reed’s group and rearranged much of his music into a more grandeur sound which was showcased on the live album Rock N Roll Animal.
On the side, Wagner was also working regularly with Alice Cooper, playing guitar on the School’s Out, Billion Dollar Babies and Muscle of Love albums. After the Alice Cooper band broke up in 1974, Dick became Alice’s co-writer, band director and lead guitarist. The pair wrote the Welcome to My Nightmare album following it with one of the biggest tours to date in rock. They continued their collaboration into the nineties including such songs as Only Women Bleed, I Never Cry and You and Me.
At the same time, Wagner was guesting on numerous other albums including KISS’ Destroyer and Revenge, Peter Gabriel’s solo debut and the debut of Grand Funk’s Mark Farner. His songs were recorded not only by Cooper but by artists such as Air Supply (Just as I Am) and Nils Lofgren (Shine Silently). He also released a number of solo albums throughout his career.
In 2005, Wagner moved to Phoenix, AZ where he continued to write and produce for a variety of artists. His health began to go downhill in 2007 after suffering a heart attack but he remained active in music through until his final hospitalization. During this time, he also write his autobiography Non Only Women Bleed, Vignettes From the Heart of a Rock Musician (2013).
Two solos by Wagner and Steve Hunter are included in Gibson’s top 50 guitar solos of all time on Lou Reed’s Sweet Jane (#25) and Aerosmith’s Train Kept a Rollin’ (#41)
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