Memories, Music & Majesty: Remembering the Legacy of Dick Wagner

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music,   From Issue 795   By: Robert E Martin

21st August, 2014     0

Dick Wagner lived a life from which the fairy dust of Rock ‘n Roll Dreams are born, taking the unique challenges that confront each of us in different ways and using his talent, creative vision, and determination to make music that was memorable, poignant, transcendent, and an important addition to the tapestry of popular music that will endure the test of time.

With his recent passing on July 30th from respiratory failure following the most recent of several cardiac procedures, and having spent many magical and fundamental years of his life in Saginaw, polishing his chops and perfecting his artistry with groups like The Bossmen and The Frost, not only has our region lost a pivotal musical artist of international acclaim; but we have lost an engaging and charitable soul, who with his work with the Remember the Child  Foundation and numerous other charities, reached beyond the din of the crowd to proactively leave our world a better place.

With a stellar career that spanned four decades, Wagner wrote over 300 songs in his lifetime, including numerous hits for Alice Cooper such as I Never Cry and Only Women Bleed, along with writing hits for groups such as Air Supply and co-writing seminal albums such as Berlin with songwriters such as Lou Reed.

Although they never fully reached their true potential, Wagner’s work with The Frost in the 1970s became staples of that seminal period of Michigan Rock that gave birth to other such era-defining bands as The Stooges, Bob Seger, MC5 and Grand Funk Railroad. As the 1970s progressed, Wagner’s incredible musicianship and guitar playing was utilized on such groundbreaking albums as Aerosmith’s Get Your Wings and Kiss’s Destroyer.

Wagner was born in Iowa but grew up in the Detroit area and moved to Saginaw when he formed The Bossmen and The Frost.  As a self-taught guitarist, Wagner was enlisted to back Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison on one-off gigs. Following his work with The Frost, Wagner formed Ursa Major and worked with legendary producer Bob Ezrin, who paved the way for Wagner’s numerous & memorable contributions for Kiss, Alice Cooper and Lou Reed – most notably his guitar work with Steve Hunter on Reed’s Rock & Roll Animal.  To this day his five-minute intro on Sweet Jane stands as one of the most incredibly articulated guitar intros in the lexicon of modern Rock.

In the 1990s Wagner returned to Saginaw to open a recording studio with the goal of harvesting and shaping the talents of local and regional talent.  He worked with many notable musicians during this period, recording & producing blues guitarist and singer/songwriter Matt Besey’s debut release, along with many others.  During this period Wagner also worked on many fresh arrangements of his newer and older material with the late classical musical director Leo Najar, most notably towards a benefit project of music & concert material to fund the Remember the Child Foundation.

Several years ago Wagner moved to Scottsdale, Arizona, where he continued to write and record new music; most notably, his recent collaboration with Alice Cooper on Welcome to My Nightmare II along with writing & recording the title song Grande Days for the recent cinematic documentary on the Grande Ballroom entitled Louder Than Love.  He also just completed work with local reggae/rock artists The Process on their forthcoming release.

Possessed with a vocal range that could reach for the stars, an uncanny ability to weave harmonic tapestries into his songwriting, and arguably one of the more accomplished lead guitarists of our time, the creative legacy of Richard Wagner thankfully possesses enough strength, relevance, and vitality to assure him solid positioning amidst other fallen heroes populating the hallways of rock ‘n roll immortality.





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