Feb 102021

Dave Davies doesn’t qualify. He’s not Keith but he was there at the beginning, there’s the whole knife-in-the-amplifier thing, and the whole brother-hate bit. Again, argue away.

Here’s a choice for the archetypal rock & roll sidekick – Richie Sambora. Would anyone know who he is if not for Bon Jovi? And yet he is rich and well-known and I don’t think you can chalk it up to the T.J. Hooker Effect (see: Heather Locklear).

I could put up a video of Sambora with or without Bon Jovi but what would be the point? The nature of the sidekick argues against it.

Which raise the questions, “Is a sidekick good? Necessary? A bad idea? Does rock & roll need a Robin or Dr. Watson?”

I’m interested in your input. What’s your definition? Who else qualifies? Who doesn’t?

I could only think of 4 more that fit my definition but I’ll hold them back for now.

What do you think?


  60 Responses to “The Sidekick in Rock & Roll”

  1. Good stuff, Al! I would never think of Keef as a sidekick, bit the Stones have had a series of sub-sidekicks.

    First, there was Brian Jones, who was a sort of Lost Sidekick, never quite belonging to Mick or Keith.

    Next came the Reluctant Sidekick, Mick Taylor, sub-sidekick to Keith.

    Keith finally got it right with Ron Wood, who was already experienced as sidekick to Rod Stewart.

  2. Ron Wood was not on my list and he’s a great one.

  3. I would say the ultimate sidekick is the maraca guy in the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

    It was so successful that Beck seemed to swipe the idea with his own tambourine/hype guy for a few years.

  4. I went looking for the name and found this headline….from last week!

    Danny Ray, James Brown’s longtime emcee and cape man, dies at 85

  5. It’s not Batman and that kid in the tights. It’s not the Lone Ranger and that guy who keeps saying Kemosabe.

    Danny Ray fits a lot of the characteristics except that no one knows his name. I’m a huge James Brown fan and I didn’t know the name until last week when he died. Did you?

    I think he does’t cut it. The Sidekick has to be known by his/her name; it’s just that it is always joined with the star.

    And I have to say I can’t think of a female sidekick. Extra points to whomever comes up with one.

  6. Danny Ray is an EXCELLENT one. He was a great…man!

    Is Mick Talbott (sp?), the keyboard guy in Style Council, a sidekick, or is that unfair to him? (How I miss being able to make Style Council references with Hrrundivbakshi in the house.)

    Pavement had a guy who was more cheerleader/sideman than actual band member, no?

  7. Just seeing Al’s not about the importance of name recognition. I do think the generation younger than me knows the name of the guy in Pavement who I have in mind.

  8. Bob Nastakowski, or something like that, Nastonovich. I could go look at the shelf but that wouldn’t be fair. He’s really a sidekick. He even worked as a guard with Malkmus at the Whitney or wherever it was in NYC.

    And I think denying Danny Ray is ridiculous. We’ll be having another talk, Mr. Al.

  9. Prince stole the Valet, Jerome, from Morris Day after Purple Rain. Of course Prince owned them all. He used that Jerome Schtick for a while.

  10. Clarence Clemons is probably the sidekick of all time. Although it must be noted that the whole E Street Band pushes the line toward sidekick.

  11. I think Garfunkel was actually a sidekick to Simon, but because he was so much taller than the diminutive one, Simon never could feel confident in his alpha role and resented Garfunkel forever.

  12. Female sidekick, but outside the Rock world. June Tyson was definitely a sidekick to Sun Ra.

  13. trigmogigmo

    Mike Campbell would be a good exemplar. Always there, key part of the sound, occasional writer or co-writer. Yet unknown to anyone who doesn’t know at least a little something about the band.

  14. Happiness Stan

    Interesting. The non rock sidekicks you list surely mainly exist in literature and film to provide a conduit between hero and the audience, through which the latter can relate to what it is the former does that’s so special, and give the hero someone to hero-splain to, patronise, or rescue I in the in unlikely event that they can’t find a blonde tired to a railway track. In this reading, Robin and Dr Watson qualify. I’m not familiar enough with the Line Ranger to pass judgement on Tonto, although my gut instinct is that he probably serves the same function as Friday in Robinson Crusoe and I’m not going down that route in this day and age. I don’t remember much about Mork and Mindy, but she probably holds up, since the plot didn’t revive around jumping into bed at the end. Doctor Who’s companions serve the same function, to provide a conduit between an alien and the viewer, likewise McCoy to Stock in the original Star Trek.

    Mick and Keef, Ray and Dave, Pete and Roger are, as you almost say, Laurel and Hardy. Each is so diminished by the absence of the other that it’s like eating with a peg on your nose. My first thought was Bernie Taupin, but think he fits here as well.

    I’m not sure about Garfunkel, since his purpose was to hit the notes Simon couldn’t and get women to look at the one who went home and sulked about stuff then write it all down so he could get to sleep at night. In that, he served his purpose, but Simon was the one trekking the story so didn’t, ultimately, need him. And Weller, likewise, assuming one buys into the premise that it hasn’t all been downhill since the glory days of the Style Council. As someone who thinks it has been downhill from the Jam, I’d offer Bruce Foxton, but am prepared to accept that’s labouring it rather.

    I don’t think Ginger counts, since her purpose and function was no greater in the narrative than a wooden chest and a tin cup in the Indiana Jones films. She is the archetypal objectified woman, and, if she wasn’t there, Joan Fontaine would have done just as well. That she was talented, smart and beautiful elevated her to the status Olivia de Havilland achieved in Errol Flynn movies, but ultimately still the statue in the Maltese Falcon or Rosebud in Citizen Kane.

    II’d offer Crazy Horse, whose collective sole function is to allow the essence of Neil to simply be, without either upstaging him or turning around in rehearsal and suggesting he might want to rein it in a bit. Ultimately that depends on which brand of Neil you enjoy most, I get the impression he considers then his sidekicks, though.

    Does (can) this literary trope even be made to fit once real life gets introduced?

  15. Happiness Stan

    Oh man, I need a bigger screen to type into.,

  16. Mike Campbell is the other uber-Sidekick I thought of along with Richie Sambora. I chose Sambora in my initial piece just so I could work in the T.J. Hooker reference.

  17. And while I would dispute the entire E Street band as Sidekick, Clemons definitely fits the bill.

    The question I had as I pondered the Sidekick question was: Does Miami Steve qualify? Or has he transcended the SIdekick role? He’s done an awful lot on his own – that great album with Southside Johnny, a great album’s worth of songs on his own, the Underground Garage, the acting roles, Sun City. And the groundbreaking use of the scarf in rock & roll It’s an impressive c.v.

    But I think in the end he’s the guy next to the Boss. He’s a Sidekick.

  18. Interesting. I think we are mixing up some of our official terms. Garfunkel is more of a 2nd banana than a sidekick. Mick Taylor, Denny Laine, Dave Gregory from XTC, and Pat Smear from the Foo Fighters are more hired guns than sidekicks. Clemons and the Brian Jones Massacre maracas guy, and Flavor Flav are mascots. You don’t really need them as sidekicks. They are there to improve the party atmosphere, but the main guy doesn’t really need them to get the music to where it needs to be. They also emanate their own individual vibe.

    Sidekick seems to be the guy you didn’t realize has a credit on a whole bunch of the songs. He’s the guy that gets invited back to the studio for the final mix without the rest of the band. He kind of follows the same general look as the main guy.

    I thought Mike Campbell first too.

  19. I love the notion of the E Street Band and Crazy Horse as a collective sidekick. I get chickenfrank’s point, too, but I think The Big Man is way more than a mascot. I’d say the same for Flavor Flav. To me, they are both what I’d call a foil, like Garfunkel once was to Simon. They provide a necessary contrast that puts the leader in proper perspective.

  20. I never followed Springsteen, so I’m commenting as a real amateur on the dynamics of the E Street Band. I would imagine though that Brooce would bring a song to the band and ask Clarence if he wanted to play sax or tambourine on it. Did he bounce musical and thematic issues off of him? I somehow think he would bounce those things off of band members who were playing a more important instrument. He was in the band so he could lean back to back with Brooce on stage. And Brooce just likes saying The Big Man.

    Same with Garfunkel. Was he really a foil? Again, just imagination, but if he would say, “Paul, I think you should move this verse and then double the chorus here” then Paul would say, “Shut Up, Art, you’re swimming in my wake.”

  21. cherguevara

    Does the sidekick make important musical contributions? Or are they there more for show? Linda McCartney vs Peter Hook, say.

  22. chickenfrank, I like your classification system, especially your details of the Sidekick.

    Mick Jones, anyone?

  23. chickenfrank, devastating analysis. Please move Danny Ray over to the mascot category.

    Also, Happiness Stan’s angle of the link between the audience and the other worldly main character applies very much to June Tyson. I just listened to my copy of “Saturnian Queen of the Sun Ra Arkestra,” which collects some well known Sun Ra numbers which feature her. The Tyson focused pieces pull you in with the plaintive earthiness of her voice on the chants, and humanize even the most far out Sun Ra pieces like Astro Black.

  24. I’ll see you one Mick Jones and raise you one Joe Perry.

  25. BigSteve

    I immediately thought of James Brown and Danny Ray too, primarily because I’d just seen the obituary. There’s also Bobby Byrd, who had been an original member of the Famous Flames. In 1970 he re-emerged as the Godfather’s sidekick, and you can hear the interplay between them on numerous 70s funk classics.

  26. BigSteve

    David Bowie had Mick Ronson as his sidekick in the 70s, and then Reeves Gabrels in the 80s and 90s.

  27. I like when JB sings/talks to his guitarist: “Hey, Cheese?”, “What about Cheese?” It’s a cool nickname.

  28. BigSteve

    Was Walter Becker the sidekick of Donald Fagen? We may think of them as comprising a duo, but Fagen is the voice and frontman of Steely Dan, and Becker always seemed to be at best second in command.

  29. I like Mick Ronson; he’s a multi-Sidekick, going on to be Ian Hunter’s sidekick even as he got co-billing.

  30. I’m throwing Bob Neuwirth into the ring. He was Dylan’s sidekick for three years or so, maybe more. He fulfilled the sidekick role well. He was smart enough to know that his talents as a painter were fairly limited and chucked all that to be Dylan’s well paid quintessential flunky. All that is readily apparent in Don’t Look Back. He’s a solid Ed McMahon, a dependable backslapper, defender, Guy Friday, you name it.

    That said, I enjoy his appearance in Sorcese’s No Direction Home, especially when he gives his take on the whole 60s art scene. I can’t find the exact quote, but it goes something like this: “In those days art was not dollar driven; respect was given to those who had something to say. Did you see the show by so and so? Did he have anything to say?” I want to believe that a lot of went on during the sixties was actually like that. If not, that’s fine. I’m fine with the false comfort of what might have been.

  31. Sidekicks aren’t Sidekicks if they are around for 3 years of a 60 year career.

    I’ll give you Tony Garnier though.

  32. I respectfully disagree with the part of your definition regarding time. 3 years is a pretty good chunk of time.

  33. Does anyone remember the visceral hatred that Great 48 expressed regarding Neuwirth?

    EPG: Is Bobby Keys a Keef sidekick or merely a “Hanger-on?”

    Where does that leave Neuwirth?

  34. I’m backing EPG on Neuwirth! He turned that 3-year stint as a working sidekick into an established place in history!

  35. I also recently read an interview with Ron Stoner regarding the Rolling Thunder Tour. Boy, did he hate Neuwirth!

  36. Hot damn, Geo! Bobby Keys! Yes! Can’t speak for Al’s sidekick criteria, but he fits mine to a tee: low on talent, and because of that, smart enough to transition into dependable back slapper, defender, and Guy Friday for horse, coke, and mandrax runs! You get a free pass for a week! No Airplane / Starship jabs for seven days! You earned it!

  37. cherguevara

    Sax is the ultimate sidekick instrument. It’s mobile. It isn’t appropriate at all times, so the player has ample time to horse around on stage. It doesn’t lend itself toward songwriting so the player isn’t as integral to the group as others. It could be replaced by any other melody instrument played by a utility player – a guitar lead, a keyboard sound. If a sax player isn’t a sidekick in a rock band, then they’re hanging back as part of a human backline, or they play a 2nd instrument, like Steve Berlin playing keys in Lobos.

  38. trigmogigmo

    Big Steve, good call on Bowie’s various sidekicks. I was thinking about Gabrels, but also what about Carlos Alomar, Mike Garson, or even Tony Visconti? Is there a limit on how many sidekicks you can have before they are no longer individually important enough to be sidekicks? The E Street Band individuals can’t all be sidekicks.

    Denny Laine and Linda? I still don’t know if Wings can truly be considered a band, although they did 1 big tour. But that’s beside the point.

    Lisa Coleman and Wendy Melvoin were key supports in the Prince world.

    Simon Gallup (The Cure).

    Steve Bartek (Oingo Boingo).

  39. cherguevara

    Lenny Kaye (Patti Smith) ?

  40. Lenny Kaye was on my short list as well!

  41. BigSteve

    Bowie, man of many sidekicks. But was Iggy his sidekick in the 70s, or was he Iggy’s sidekick?

  42. BigSteve

    The discussion of the Morris Day thing with Jerome shouldn’t obscure the fact that maracas player Jerome Green was Bo Diddley’s foil, maybe the original rock & roll sidekick.

  43. I’m gonna say that Bowie was Iggy’s sidekick. I think he was very envious of Iggy’s, shall we say, lust for life. Bowie had more money, talent, ambition, etc. than Iggy, but he didn’t have that thing that makes Iggy’s version of China Girl so much more compelling than Bowie’s. So he willingly tagged along as a sidekick playing keyboards facelessly on a tour in venues that he had long since outgrown, hoping that some of that Iggy stench would rub off on him. It didn’t.

  44. Also, cue the story about Gus Cordovox playing the maracas with Bo Diddley when the Ben Vaughn Combo opened and served as Bo’s backup band at City Gardens.

  45. Jerome from Bo Diddly’s Band and Bobby Keys seem like ultimate examples of sidekicks to me. I’m on board with EPG’s concept. A sidekick is more about personality that talent. I think people like Mike Campbell, Walter Becker, and Mick Ronson make too much of an artistic contribution to be considered sidekicks.

  46. Are you saying that Walter Becker doesn’t have a lot of personality?

  47. BigSteve

    Come on, have you heard his solo album?

  48. cherguevara

    Can a lead singer be a sidekick if they’re not the songwriter? Daltrey? David Lee Roth? Whomever is singing for Santana?

  49. CDM, Jerome Green is a great call. Nice one!

  50. H. Munster

    Dave Mason was a star in his own right, but I can imagine Traffic being essentially the same band with a different guitarist. Steve Winwood, on the other hand…

  51. Well, this thread has gone it’s own way. I don’t even count Dave Davies as a Sidekick but here we have David Bowie, Dave Mason, Walter Becker and a host of others nominated.

    I will say, if the person can’t even be named – the singer in Santana – then I would say they can’t be a Sidekick. The Green Hornet and what’s-his-name?

  52. His name is Kato…and he was the star. Bruce Friggin’ Lee!

  53. Al and the rest of the RTH gang, me and the wife have listened to all the Bob Dylan Theme Time Radio and Ben Vaughn podcasts. All have been superb. Any other suggestions?

    Hope to hear from you soon!

  54. You listened to all of the Radio Theme Time shows? There were about a hundred of them, weren’t there?

  55. Didn’t know there were that many? Are there others elsewhere, not found on the Theme Time Radio website? If so, please send me a link to where I might find them.

  56. They are all here –

    The menu at the top has the three seasons and then move around from those pages.

  57. Looks like we have listened to them all!!!!

  58. The other Sidekick I thought of when first considering this thread was Steve Nieve.

  59. hrrundivbakshi

    Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Oates.

  60. Hey, show some respect for Oates. He cowrote a bunch of their hits and sang their first hit.

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