Unsung musicians who are more than guns for hire, the best sidemen in rock don’t always get their due, but are crucial to shaping a band’s sound.
Published on October 29, 2018 By Wyoming Reynolds
This list of the best sidemen in rock wouldn’t be complete without The Big Man. By the side of bandleader Bruce Springsteen, Clemons is perhaps the most recognisable sideman in music history. A towering, yet tender figure, Clemons’ appearance (standing a hulking 195.5cm) made him the antithesis to The Boss, as seen on the Born To Run album cover. As for his playing, Clemons’ booming tenor saxophone could signify either an epic change of pace or a mind-melting solo. Clemons was key to helping to differentiate The E Street Band’s sound as Springsteen was to shape it, and had an outsized stage presence always on the precipice of upstaging them all.
Steven Van Zandt
Steven Van Zandt has been Bruce Springsteen’s most trusted collaborator and effectively his consigliere since they met in the late 60s. In addition to being the perfect on-stage sideman, Van Zandt helped Springsteen shape his sound during his formative years – in particular, having a strong studio and writing presence on albums from Born To Run (he officially joined The E Street Band officially in 1975) to Born In The USA. In fact, “Little Steven” has been speculated to be the subject of songs such as ‘Two Hearts’ and ‘Bobby Jean’ from the peak Springsteen era. The E Street Band wasn’t the same after his departure, in 1984, and only after Springsteen and the group reunited, in 1999, did the band feel like a cohesive whole again. Like Ronnie Wood, Van Zandt would embark on his own solo career in the 80s, and he would go on to perform with Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes. While he still tours with The E Street Band, Van Zandt has recently stepped into the spotlight with a new solo record, Soulfire.