“As a sideman, it’s your job to be invisible; you should be heard and not seen. You’ve got to know who you are and where you stand in the hierarchy. The hard thing for a sideman is that the better you are at your job the less people notice you, and that’s the whole point” – Keith Richards, The Story Of The Sideman.
David Bowie’s sideman of 40 years Earl Slick (Slicky) is our guide through one off documentary Rock ‘n’ Roll Guns For Hire: The Story of the Sidemen, that looks at the men and women behind some of the greatest songs of the 20th and 21st century. The Sidemen are often the forgotten ‘guns for hire’ that changed musical history.
The Story Of The Sideman is a unique account of what it feels like to live in the shadow of a star, a story of triumph and thwarted ambition. And it’s a story that has never been told. Through Slicky we will witness an alternative and unique view of rock and pop history with unprecedented interviews with some of the world’s most successful and famous frontmen, including Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Billy Joel as well as the sidemen past and present for Prince, David Bowie, John Lennon, Otis Reding, The Rolling Stones and Beyoncé.
Having worked with everyone from The Cure to the New York Dolls, from the Yardbirds to Eric Clapton and John Lennon as well as Bowie, Slicky shows us what it’s really like to be a Sideman, on stage, in the studio, and at home waiting for the phone to ring.
We learn how the perfect sideman is a solid, reliable and humble musician who allows their ego to be subsumed by the main star. That they must have an emotional and intellectual connection with their lead allowing their intuition to anticipate every move they make as well as the ability to learn an entire set list in a matter of days.
Image credit: Sean O’ Neil
Rock ‘n’ Roll Guns For Hire: The Story Of The Sideman airs Friday 7 July 2017 from 9.00pm-10.30pm on BBC Four