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A sideman or sidewoman[1] is a professional musician who is hired to perform or record with a group of which he or she is not a regular band member. They often tour with solo artists as well as bands and jazz ensembles.[2] Sidemen and sidewomen are generally required to be adaptable to many different styles of music, and so able to fit smoothly into the group in which they are currently playing.[3] Sidemen and sidewomen are typically led by the group's bandleader, or, if there is no bandleader, by the lead singer.

Career progression

Often aspiring musicians start out as sidemen, playing rhythm guitar, comping on keyboards, or playing drum kit in the rhythm section or singing backing vocals for a well-known bandleader or singer. Once sidemen have become experienced with live performance and recording with established artists, some move on to develop their own sound, a recognized name, and fans of their own, or go on to form their own groups, at which point they become bandleaders and recruit their own sidemen and sidewomen.

Some examples of this are:

David Lindley
Lindley (1980) playing the pedal steel guitar

Some sidemen become famous for their musical specialties, and become highly sought-after by pop, rock, blues, jazz and country music bands. Examples of some of these include multi-instrumentalists. David Lindley is a multi-instrumentalist who has worked with such diverse musicians as Curtis Mayfield, Dolly Parton, Jackson Browne, and Hani Naser. Lindley used his time as a sideman to discover and master new instruments while on tour around the world, becoming proficient on ethnic instruments rarely seen in Western music genres. He has mastered so many that he admits to losing count, and instead placed a photo gallery of them on his website.[4]

Waddy Wachtel's guitar licks and experience have placed him as a bandleader while on tour with Stevie Nicks, and Chuck Leavell, who has toured with The Allman Brothers Band, but more often, is onstage with The Rolling Stones on keyboards.

Often sidemen go on to form their own groups and/or solo careers; for instance, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Pete Best acted as sidemen to Tony Sheridan before becoming famous as The Beatles, with the addition of Ringo Starr. Jimmy Page left his first attempts working in bands, to hone his skills as a session player, where he met John Paul Jones and sought and recruited Robert Plant and John Bonham to form Led Zeppelin. Bob Dylan's first recorded song was as a harmonica sideman on Harry Belafonte's cover of "Midnight Special".[5]

Other musicians may take time from their own bands to tour or record as a sideman for other artists, such as punk bassist Mike Watt with J Mascis and the Fog or Iggy and the Stooges.

Bernard Fowler, backup vocalist for The Rolling Stones


See also


  1. ^ Hinton, Kerry. Cool Careers Without College for Music Lovers. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2002. p. 57
  2. ^ Miskin, Paul D. (August 25, 2008). "Good Vibrations: The Evolution of Popular Music". Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  3. ^ Melvin, Gary. "A Guide to Being a Successful Sideman". Los Angeles, California: Musician Retrieved December 16, 2009.
  4. ^ Kotapish, Paul (2012). "Big little Music: The Weird and Wonderful World of String Wizard David Lindley". Cover Story, Acoustic Guitar Magazine. String Letter Publishing, Inc., David A. Lusterman, Publisher. Archived from the original on June 14, 2009. Retrieved December 13, 2012.
  5. ^ "Midnight Special by Leadbelly Songfacts". Retrieved 2014-05-24.

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