Vol. 9 No. 11
Kicking It Out With Keef
"Waddy Wachtel On "Talk Is Cheap"
by Joseph Bosso
Sharing the coveted guitar spot with Keith Richards is a privilege that has been awarded to a select few. Journeyman guitarist Waddy Wachtel might initially appear to be an unlikely choice to trade licks with the Iron Man of rock 'n' roll, but a close listen to his deft rhythm/lead style (best exemplified on Stevie Nicks' "Edge Of Seventeen") and compositional smarts ("Werewolves Of London") uncovers some striking similarities to Keith's own inimitable talents, illustrating why the savvy New York native easily fit the bill.
He's been making a living at slipping into the groove for most of his life. On of the first guitarists to crack the lucrative, early seventies Los Angeles studio scene, he has recorded and/or toured with the Everly Brothers, Carole King, Jackson Browne, Steve Perry, Warren Zevon and Linda Ronstadt among others. It was with Ronstadt that Waddy first achieved national recognition, crafting a tough, airtight sound that became synonymous with its era, a sound virtually re-created part by part on Talk Is Cheap's "How I Wish."
"I didn't notice that intially," Waddy sheepishly explains, "but now that I think about it, I can hear the way I played on Warren Zevon's 'Poor, Poor Pitiful Me,' and I can see the similarities. I'm just glad that it all worked so well. Keith and I have been long-time fans of each other, and we couldn't wait to play with each other."
Waiting to play guitar period has never been Waddy's forte. As a child in Jackson Heights, New York, the very sight of a guitar on television was enough to send the nine-year-old bonkers. "Rock 'n' roll was just hitting at that time. I don't think I had anything figured out, you know, why the guitar fascinated me so much. There was just something there."
Finally acquiring the precious ax, Waddy proved to be a precocious student, grilling his teacher for more information with each lesson. "We worked from the Mel Bay books. I would have a piece to play, and there'd be this accompanying piece that my teacher would play. He'd say, 'Go over your part and we'll play as soon as I come back,' and then he'd go out for a few minutes. By the time he came back and said 'Okay, let's play,' I'd say, 'Which part do you want me to play?' I always would learn his part too!"
After studying with the renowned Sal Salvador and woodshedding in local groups, Waddy migrated to Los Angeles with an act guided by Bud Cowsill, the household head/manager of the singing family. The band broke up soon after hitting L.A., but Waddy stayed and searched out work in his new locale. He helped run a rehearsal space/equipment rental business while he hustled sessions, finding the studio scene a tough nut to crack. One day, fate arrived in the form of an unassuming phone call.
"This friend of mine called me up for an audition and asked me to meet him at a studio. Once I arrive, he goes, 'The Everly Brothers are going on a European tour and they need a guitar player.' Now I had absolutely no road experience-none-but I said, 'That's me pal!' I adored the Everly Brothers, knew all their tunes, all the harmony parts, everything. So I go to the audition, and the leader of the band was also the piano player-Warren Zevon. And he would say, 'Okay, play the tune like this,' and I would say, 'That's not how it goes. It goes like this.' And Warren would go, 'What're you, crazy? I know how the song goes.' And the bass player just says, 'No Warren, I think he's right . . . '"
Touring the country with the Everly Brothers proved to be Waddy's ticket to the inside. Better gigs followed, better sessions. Waddy's versatile style and keen ear made him a natural for the then-burgeoning recording jungle. He arrived at most of these dates with a sunburst Les Paul, purchased from his friend Steven Stills. Unbelievably, it wouldn't be until the mid-seventies that Waddy, on the road with Carole King and faced with a broken Les Paul, finally bought his first Stratocaster. Thanks to the screaming solos like the one in Linda Ronstadt's "That'll Be The Day," Waddy's been heavily associated with the Strat sound.
Crisscrossing the States with various acts, Waddy would invariably meet up with Keith Richards. Gradually, they started jamming whenever and wherever they could, responding well to each other's rhythmic sensibilities and encyclopedic song recall.
"We spent a lot of time saying, 'Gee, wish we could do something someday.' This is with Keith, when he says something, he means it; the words don't become forgotten. Anytime we would hang out together, it was heaven. We'd play nothing but rhythm together for hours on end. Or, if we were sitting at a piano, playing these obscure country tunes, and say, there were other people there, well, we'' be the only ones who really could understand the subtle changes that make the tune work. So, as always, 'Hope we can work together someday . . . '"
Opportunity finally knocked when Keith, frantically working on Hail! Hail! Rock 'N' Roll and decidedly not working on a Stones lp, put in a call to Waddy. "He said, 'I'm doing it, and you're in. We're finally going to do what we've been talking about all this time.'
"The funny thing was that when I went to his apartment to listen to some of the tunes for the album, a lot of them were ballads. I listened to them and said, 'But . . . but . . . but . . . where are the fast songs?' And he said, 'But Waddy, that's why I called you!"
In sharp contrast to the slick eight-, twelve- and sixteen-track demos routinely circulated these days from musician to musician, Waddy would be handed a "bash-through" to work from, usually a rough, live documentation of Keith and Steve Jordan nailing down a song on just guitar and drums. The tapes would resemble a stream-of-consciousness, a musical volleying, until, as Waddy says, "they'd get it. Finally they'd lock in and there'd be this amazing song. I remember when I heard 'Take It So Hard,' I looked at the two of them and said, 'I get to play on this, right?' because it had the classic Keith intro."
Despite Waddy's years of session work, during which time every bit of guitar minutiae would be open to scrutiny, he fell right in line with Keith's rough-and-tumble manner of recording. "If you're a guitar player of my mindset, you don't want to belabor the point. You just want to rock 'n' roll. You know, these guys that go, 'Listen to that drum sound-I spent four hours getting that just right.' With us, we'd spend some time getting the drums to sound right, but that's what they'd sound like-just drums.
"We'd let things evolve just by playing. Like in the song 'How I Wish,' those guitar stabs, those syncopations. Nobody can play those parts like Keith. So I'd just go the other way and play straight through. So if Keith's doing this dotted eighth-note figure and I'm keeping the straight eighth-note going under that, when you hear it back, it sounds like ten guitars working together. Sometimes I'll throw a 'Keith' guitar part at him myself, but usually I try and hear where he's gonna go-we each stay in our little camps-and that's what makes it sound so effective."
It would only figure that Waddy's choice of guitars are all stock. "I don't like to spend a lot of time fixing guitars up," he explains. "To me, they sound a lot warmer and more honest when they're stock." He does his thing on a '54 cherry red Strat, a '56 sunburst Strat, his '59 sunburst Les Paul, a Gibson J-200 acoustic and the Kramer Ferrington acoustic/electric. Until very recently, Waddy was the proud owner of a mid-fifties blonde Telecaster, a guitar that fell victim to a most peculiar thief. "The guy had the indecency to take the guitar and leave me the case!" Waddy seethes. "Mark my words, I will find that guy!"
For amplification, Waddy went through his tried-and-true Music Man 210 HD (which gives him the exact amount of break-up he desires) and a Boogie Coliseum amp pushed through a cabinet housing two Celestion and two Boogie speakers. Effects are minimal, amounting to "Just a little Echoplex thrown in here and there. I also use a Goodrich volume pedal for swells and violin-type sounds."
Currently producing the Cruzados, Waddy is hyped up and ready to hit the road as one of the Expensive [sic] Winos when Keith tours select cities later this year. "It should be a lot of fun!" Waddy enthuses. "this is such a good record and I think you'll hear exactly that when we play. Keith is for real."
Thanks to blackcat submitting this to us.